Ever heard of ‘Generation K’? No, I hadn’t either, until the upcoming release of the final Hunger Games film resulted in a spate of articles about the teenagers who have grown up with heroine Katniss Everdeen.
The term has been coined by economist and academic Noreena Hertz, who did a study of more than a thousand British and American teenage girls to find out about their hopes and fears for the future. The results were fairly alarming.
I discovered that unlike those currently aged between 20 and 30, the “Yes we can” generation, who grew up believing the world was their oyster, for Generation K the world is less oyster, more Hobbesian nightmare. This is the generation who’ve had Al Qaeda piped into their living rooms and smartphones and seen their parents and other loved ones lose their jobs. A generation for whom there are disturbing echoes of the dystopian landscape Katniss encounters in The Hunger Games’ District 12. Unequal, violent, hard.
Hertz identifies three factors that link the world of The Hunger Games to the experiences of Western teenagers born between 1995 and 2002 – the omnipresence of technology, the effects of the recession, and threats like Islamic extremism and global warming. It’s not hard to see how these combined forces have led to an atmosphere of anxiety and even dread among today’s teens.
Ultimately, the message of The Hunger Games is that everything’s not going to be OK. – Laurie Penny
I’m a late 80s kid, so my heroes were Harry, Hermione and Ron, rather than Katniss, Peeta and Gale. The Guardian‘s Sarah Hughes notes the contrast between these two franchises – Harry Potter is in many ways a very old-fashioned story, featuring demarcated forces of good and evil, wise adult mentor figures, and a (largely) happy ending. In Panem, the nightmare isn’t just hardship or violence: it’s the way that truth shifts and distorts until there’s no solid ground to stand on.
Katniss is the perfect heroine for a generation fighting a constant battle to distinguish between the way things look and the way things actually are. A blunt-talking straight arrow in a world of silver-tongued corruption, she can barely resist being dragged under by forces far beyond her control. Any authority figure she might look up to is either scheming or useless: and her most real, meaningful relationship turns out to be the one that she’s play-acting for the cameras. Disillusionment, compromise and complicity are the order of the day.
Every generation of young people probably likes to believe that adults are against them or have let them down, but Generation K has ample justification. The teenagers flooding to the cinema to see Mockingjay: Part 2 are there to see Jennifer Lawrence bring down fighter planes with a bow and arrow, of course – but perhaps they’re also hungry to see their own experiences echoed onscreen. Angry about the injustices of the present, and scared of what the future holds. Ready, like Katniss, to stand up for a better world.
- What do you think might be behind the current popularity of the Hunger Games series and other Young Adult dystopian fiction? Why do these stories appeal to you personally? What, if anything, makes The Hunger Games a particularly distinct or well-done example of the genre?
- Katniss has been described as a groundbreaking heroine. What makes the character appealing, and what does Jennifer Lawrence bring to the role? How does Katniss compare and contrast with other well-known film heroines? What would you say are the character’s personal strengths and weaknesses?
The Hunger Games was the first thing I’d read in years that could become a creative political stimulus for young people. – Actor Donald Sutherland
- What does it mean to be ‘real’ in the world of Panem, and why is this so significant? How do the characters approach the struggle for truth and authenticity? What might this struggle tell us about our own society?
- What moral compromises do Katniss and other characters make throughout the series? To what extent were these compromises necessary for the greater good? In your view, is it possible to win the fight against evil without making moral compromises?
- How did you react to Mockingjay: Part 2 and the way it concluded the series? Did you feel it was a satisfying ending, and why or why not? How much hope does the film seem to hold for Katniss’s future – and by proxy, for the futures of the young people in the audience?