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Dystopian Future Televised Death Competitions

Here’s my idea for a movie. In the dystopian future, a mysterious but likeable hero, through a series of unique and dangerous circumstances, reluctantly gets entered into a televised competition where they will have to compete for their life in order to find the unknown object that will make them a champion. Along the way, the hero not only curbs the favor of the viewers, but also becomes a symbol for the sentiment of social change which has been rising in recent years. In the end, not only does the hero succeed in winning the competition, but also ignites a rebellion and overthrows the oppressive government that runs the competition.

Sound familiar?

If you recognize this as a strikingly similar plot to the Hunger Games, you are not mistaken. However, you would also be correct if you noticed that this plot also resembles other movies, namely 1987’s The Running Man and 1975’s Death Race 2000. Then there’s also the popular Japanese book/manga/movie Battle Royale, which also has a similar premise. With the world currently being consumed by Hunger Games fanatics, this is a good time to dissect why this plot is so appealing to people, and why it keeps popping up in popular fiction.

Rebellion isn’t anything new. Acting up against the social norm is one of the most important ingredients of modern cult-classics, see Fight Club or V for Vendetta, or even classic books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984. Revolution appeals so strongly to us because of our inherent patriotism. Throughout our youths we are all taught about George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. and doing things we believe in even if others don’t agree.  It’s safe to say that movies about rebellion are popular, because they inspire us, and make us feel like we are taking action, without even having to lift a finger.

These movies with concurrent plots all feature rebellion against future government regimes. For some reason we as a society have lost confidence in government, and it seems reasonable to us that in the near future we are all going to be subjects of oppressive leaders. Under these leaders, we believe that we will lose our liberty and live under constant fear of government punishment. Why are we so pessimistic? It’s true that many people have lost trust in the government, and with the threats of war, pollution, and debt constantly looming over us, it makes sense that it is difficult for some to see a positive future.

Another key factor to stories of revolution in the dystopian future is the televised competition. Not only do these competitions capture our love for sports and games, they feature extreme violence. This is based on the assumption that society is becoming more accepting of death and murder, but it is actually based more upon the government’s need to establish dominance over its citizens. These movies know that our love for television media is constantly increasing, so if these futuristic governments knew anything, they would know that the best way to control people is to give them what they want – excitement, drama, and violence in the form of a deadly competition – while also showing citizens their absolute power over everyone. In essence, these televised competitions are used to entertain people, as well as control them. In addition, these competitions are so integral in the functioning of the government, that destroying the game is the first step in overthrowing the government. This concept is nowhere near new since the Romans had gladiator games and chariot races, and those were basically used to make people happy enough so that they wouldn’t rebel. The Romans even had their own rebellion, led by slave and former gladiator Spartacus, who, for similar reasons of resentment for the government, has inspired movies and television programs today.

Among all of these ingredients, the most important aspect of all is the reluctant hero who participates in the competition and not only defies their expectations, but also ignites the social rebellion. Since this hero comes from a troubled past, he resents the government for both his inclusion in the game but also his past struggles in life. Through a series of lucky circumstances, he shows glimpses of a capability to win, all the while trying to find a way to make his victory meaningful. Why are we obsessed with these heroes? Probably because they are what we wish we could be: strong, passionate, good. We know that the hero is the underdog, and that he has to win, even if we could never ourselves do the same.

The dystopian future death competition rebellion genre is certainly a unique one, regardless of how easy the formula to create one is. No other genre gives us the entertainment, the horror, and the good intentions that this one provides. This genre holds an air of importance that gives it a deeper meaning to all who consume it. Nevertheless, soon the market will be saturated. No matter how much they appeal to us, giving us familiar yet different stories, standard yet outstanding heroes, and an overall optimistic view of humanity, people are going to get sick of them soon. Hunger Games may be the ultimate culmination of this genre, and I doubt any other story will ever become as popular, but the genre is becoming cliche. In order to keep the significance that this genre holds, then producers are going to have to stop making them until a new quality story comes around. Until then, there are plenty of other important social themes that movies can address.