as well as a Hunger Games magazine and necklace!
(If you have any doubt that Hunger Games is the next cultural phenomenon, then you haven’t read the books. It’s coming. It is, in fact, already here.)
You don’t have to be a rabid fan of kidlit (like me) to know that these books (and movies) have a world-wide impact on popular culture. Lots of comparisons are being made between the books/movies (Ava Jae has a wonderful analysis of what makes a bestseller), but I think there are several ingredients that go into elevating a bestselling book to phenomenon status.
Ingredient #1: Fun for the Whole Family
These books all cross generations. Harry Potter reaches even the littlest kids, donning their cloaks and waving their wizarding wands, and sets the gold standard for cross-generational appeal. Twilight and Hunger Games are a little too steamy and/or violent for the little kids, but they manage to gather up everyone from adolescents (and sometimes pre-adolescents) up to 80 year old grandmas in their cultural nets.
Ingredient #2: Internet Generation
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Harry Potter phenomenon grew up in a time that the internet was becoming integrated in our lives. Beginning with the first book, an entire fandom found each other online, writing fanfiction and bonding over their love of Hermoine, Harry, and Ron (not to mention Snape and Draco – have you SEEN the fanfic for Draco? *whew* *fans self*). The first novel came out in 1997, the first movie in 2001. The worldwideweb was a mere five years old in 1997, and Web 2.0 was still a misty eyed dream. But these tools enabled Ingredient #3 to happen.
Ingredient #3: Shared Experience
There is a buzz of shared experience that sweeps through our lives now, in the post-2000 years, that didn’t happen before the change of the millenium hurtled us all into the future. Whether it’s a viral dog video or a crazy talented Canadian drummer, the world bonds over these shared experiences at the speed of electrons. Kidlit books/movies provide an infrastructure for a shared experience that has tremendous depth and staying power. They give you compelling conflicts (Hunger Games) and aching love stories (Twilight) and richly imagined universes (Harry Potter) that create an imaginary playground that we can all romp through together. The rolling thunder of word-of-mouth gains an amplitude that was difficult to attain before the world was quite so connected.
Star Wars and Star Trek missed this buzz creation, because they were born too soon. Which doesn’t mean that their fandoms don’t endure (they do), but the younger fans came to the worlds long after they were created. My kids are huge fans of Star Trek, although they’ve only seen a couple of the movies and a few episodes. They play Star Trek Online, and have stuffed tribbles that vibrate across the table, and imagine what Borg Tribble would look like. Star Trek has reinvented itself for the new generation, which is great for merchandising dollars, but it’s old news for those who were there the first time around (the adults).
So while I enjoy watching them rediscover the awesomeness that is Captain Picard and I will be eternally grateful to J.J. Abrams for Star Trek The Reboot, the buzz isn’t there in the same way as when I discovered Star Trek for the first time. It’s only the post-internet-enabled phenomenons that manage to sweep through the world all at once, capturing generations across the globe in one wildfire of excitement. And sharing that excitement with my 13 yo Dark Omen, as we discover the awesomeness of Hunger Games together, is what makes it special.
Katniss is indeed the Girl on Fire, and the Hunger Games is far from burning out.
May the Odds Ever Be in Your Favor.