Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers! You get a special today due to the fact my own personal schedule made it impossible to do my blog on time this week. Instead of one blog post, I’ll be posting two!
First off, I just wanted to share my recent Backing Steam column, in which I interview Professor Elemental. Lovely chap, the Professor. I’d love to speak with him more in the future. Even more lovely is that he has since reached his goal on Crowdfunder! Splendid!
Anyway, to what I promised to post.
You know how they teach you in school that every rectangle is a square, but not every square is a rectangle?
That’s how I feel about Retrofuturism and Steampunk.
Steampunk is Retrofuturism. There’s no doubt about that. It’s what happens when the Victorians get a hold of our technology, or when we have to depend on advanced steam technology to get things done.
However, people tend to forget that not all Retrofuturism is Steampunk. Retrofuturism is a blending of old and new technologies and concepts. This can be Dieselpunk, Da Vinci’s technology advancing the Renaissance, or, in today’s case, a dystopian future where most of the world is in desperate poverty.
The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of Retrofuturism in mainstream media. However, I haven’t seen many people who share the same opinion. I can get enough opinions about the love triangle or the battle to the death (more on that next week), but I’ve only known one other person who’s recognized the Retrofuture elements of The Hunger Games.
Well, that’s what I’m here to do. Here are my six reasons that Retrofuturists need to pay attention to The Hunger Games. Spoilers follow!
1.) The setting dichotomy – The Hunger Games deals a lot with the settings of the District 12 and the Capitol and how different they are. The Capitol is pure luxury and technology that we only dream of today. District 12, however, is extremely poverty stricken and feels like it’s mostly out of place. Most of the districts from the reader’s understanding are. Their technologies are no where near as advanced as The Capitol’s. They live a life that doesn’t feel like a future society, so the Capitol lifestyle sticks out like a sore thumb.
It’s not just the setting though…
2.) The District 12 lifestyle – Getting to know life in District 12 feels like what would happen if people from the Coal Mining South held onto their traditions while the rest of the world collapsed and rebuilt around them. Life in 12 revolves around the mine and it’s very much set up like a mining town. The differences in culture definitely stand out in Mockingjay during the wedding scene in District 13. Where 13 is probably what many sci-fi writers had in mind when they came up with a militaristic utopia, for a brief moment, they get a shock of 12 culture when they celebrate with folk dancing and a fiddle player.
3.) The fashion – As I mentioned in my Effie post, Capitol fashion takes well after Neo-Victorian fashion with big hats, big bustles, big ruffles, and sleek suits. However, the clothes of the other districts, while simple, do have a twist of the old. Take Katniss’ Reaping dress compared to Effie’s for example. It’s such a similar vein of time at two different ends of the spectrum. If you hadn’t told me that The Hunger Games was set in the future, I wouldn’t have known any better.
4.) The technological imbalance and dystopia – From my personal experience, while many Retrofuturists believe in utopianism, they LOVE some dystopia. Especially when there’s a certain technological imbalance with who has access to what, who can make something out of nothing, and how the technology is used to keep those who can’t access it down. This happens a LOT in The Hunger Games, the biggest example being Lavinia’s capture in the woods of District 12 and subsequent punishment. Also, the main character in this science fiction series hunts with a bow and arrow. That’s about as archaic/anachronistic as you can get in a society such as Panem’s.
5.) The music – I’m reviewing the soundtrack next week, but oh man, I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the tracklisting. Seriously. Look at it. I don’t want to know any Steampunk/Retrofuturist who doesn’t want to hear most of that. Plus, along with their contributions to the soundtrack, Arcade Fire and The Carolina Chocolate Drops have also contributed to James Newton Howard’s score, which is sure to incorporate many of the retrofuturistic elements, but I cannot stop thinking about the fact that Arcade Fire wrote The Capitol anthem.
6.) The anachronistic elements help tell a timeless story – This one is sort of self explanatory. While science fiction is used as a way to tell stories of the fantastic that somehow relate back to our current society, it’s my personal belief that these stories are more effective if there’s something about it that is not quite current. This is part of the reason why Firefly was such a great series. Even though it was set in space, the more anachronistic elements of the show helped tell a very timeless, human story about survival and family. The Hunger Games does a lot of this as well. Through Katniss and what she experiences, we get a very intense story about survival, poverty, and (in the later books) dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s made even more real by the fact Katniss isn’t living with the colorful Capitol beings or surrounded by the highest technology when we initially meet her.
My fellow Retrofuturists, I hope that my list had convinced you. If it did, I will see you at the Games. If not, well, I guess the odds (and my writing) weren’t in my favor.
Stay tuned to this blog today. Later, I will be talking about the brilliant irony of Lionsgate’s marketing for the film.