“‘Hunger Games’ is the kind of film everyone should watch precisely because everyone is watching it,” said Professor Kristen Ghodsee of the gender and women’s studies program. “It is a cultural phenomenon that fuels itself.”

On Thursday evening, a screening of “The Hunger Games” was shown in Smith Auditorium. The showing preceded a panel discussing its importance in popular culture and film gendering.

Ghodsee was joined by English and Film Studies Professor Aviva Briefel and Falmouth Memorial librarian Jeanne Madden to discuss themes of gender, viewer engagement and dystopian societies. 

Ghodsee said that her program decided to screen “The Hunger Games” “because it is the first commercially successful, young adult blockbuster with a female lead.” The film out-grossed the “Twilight” saga by a substantial amount on its opening night. 

“It’s a real difference—in ‘Twilight,’ 80 percent of audiences were female,” said Ghodsee.

Ghodsee said that by desexualizing Katniss —the female protagonist—and literally putting men and women on an equal playing field, “Hunger Games” has become a cultural phenomenon. 

“What happened among young adults that made it more acceptable for young men to go see this?” asked Ghodsee, suggesting that it might have to do with the author’s avoidance of sketching a needy femme fatale as her heroine. 

For those unfamiliar with “The Hunger Games”—a popular book trilogy recently adapted for the screen—tells the story of 12 to 18 year olds who must fight to the death all while it is televised to the nation of Panem. 

According to Madden, the “books were off the shelves for young men” at Falmouth Memorial due to their popularity. However, it seems to her that there is more behind this than fight scenes and action sequences.

Madden, a self-proclaimed dystopian fiction buff, proposed that the reason young adults are drawn to this genre is because—as adolescents—they exist in a kind of dystopia themselves.  She said she believes this feeling of understanding carries over to mature audiences because “everyone can identify with” that feeling of having to fend for yourself in a world that does not appear to have your best interests at heart. 

Professor Briefel spoke about the fidelity to the print version and the film’s play with voyeurism. Briefel drew on the idea that in the books, the tributes are constantly filmed during the games, and argued that by adapting the books to film, a new lens of viewership is added. Audiences watching the movie may find the incessant recording of the tributes by government officials disturbing, and yet they too are looking on. 

“How does it not make us feel complicit, guilty almost, of buying a ticket?” asked Briefel. “The film works hard to do this by making us forget our position as viewing subjects.” It may just be the case that the film invites its audience to self-reflection in ways the book cannot. 

Briefel also touched on the feminization of Katniss during the games and the elaborate dress worn by the citizens of Panem’s Capitol, the richest and most opulent district. She saw this transformation not as a conformance to gender roles but as a critique of the dissipation and disillusionment of Panem’s elite society.