Fandom, Paratexts and The Hunger Games

Introduction

Within my essay the concepts of ‘paratexts’ and ‘fandom’ will be applied in relation to ‘The Hunger Games’, which is my chosen case study. These concepts will discuss how they have influenced and aided the franchise to become and remain cross-platform.

The concept of ‘cross-platform’ has become increasingly popular recently due to the development of new and different technologies, with social media fast becoming the primary resource for keeping up to date with information over physical distribution methods. The term explores ‘new ideas for content considered in the context of a wide range of distribution possibilities…and not just a single delivery platform such as print or linear television’ (Doyle, 2015), and can easily be applied to many mainstream and niche franchises, meaning that not only is cross-platform a good way of distributing to users, but is also a good opportunity for consumers to become prosumers, meaning they can become more active and involved within the franchise they choose to show an interest in. This can be a good way of increasing recognition, as by having fan loyalty within the franchise, they may then decide to promote the book, or film, to a wider audience.

During my media rich essay I will explore the concepts of fandom and paratexts and  discuss the relationship between them in the way that they both bring consumers into the production element of a franchise, but also how they differ from each other. These concepts will further be applied and analysed towards my chosen case study which is ‘The Hunger Games’, a sequel of 3 books authored by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010), which were soon turned into a sequel of action films (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) due to the extreme success of the novels, particularly within a younger audience who followed the plot and took an interest in the characters. The first book is actually called ‘The Hunger Games’, the second called ‘Catching Fire’ and the third called ‘Mockingjay’, with the last installment having two films produced; ‘Mockingjay – part 1’ and ‘Mockingjay – part 2’. I believe that my case study is an accurate example of promoting cross-platform due to a single platform of books being turned into motion picture, with the success of both resulting in the introduction of merchandise for hardcore fans. Also the development within the social media sites have made it clear to distinguish how the franchise is cross-platform. Within my essay I will also consider how my chosen contexts have helped the franchise remain popular to this present day, even if new books and films within The Hunger Games have stopped being released.

As a consumer of the franchise, I am intrigued to engage with the fandom culture within The Hunger Games as so far I haven’t engaged with any further media within the franchise other than the main books and films when they first came out. I would like to further investigate into the plot and the characters, as I believe there is more to it than just the plot showcased in the films in particular which the fandom will go into more detail about to answer my interest.

Conceptualisation

The concept of ‘fandom’ was put forward by Henry Jenkins, which introduces the idea of a community within a subculture that share an enjoyment and passion towards a certain subject, whether that be a TV show, book, film, band, sports team, or other (Jenkins, 2009). As the concept of fandom has grown, it is more clearer to see how it is more of a collective community in which all genders and race are brought together as well as a platform for fans to speak their mind (Gray, 2007). Jenkins puts across the idea how the concept of fandom encourages fans to share their creativity with one another within an ‘informal mentorship’ situation where experienced members pass on knowledge to others. Often fandoms, or fan cultures, will have dedicated names towards the popular culture they are interested in to distinguish them from other fandoms. This is especially present in music fandoms over other cultures, for example, fans of Ariana Grande naming themselves as ‘Arianators’, Justin Bieber as ‘Beliebers’, Ed Sheeran as ‘Sheerios’ to name a few. Fandoms tend to be extremely involved in their chosen interest, for example attending every concert an artist will put on in their area, or attending every game a team plays, etc. However by doing this a fandom culture can be branded and accused ‘obsessive’ in their behaviours, with others thinking it to be abnormal for someone to be so interested in a franchise that they dedicate most of their life to it. The concept of fandom can usually be distinguished to a younger audience and generation due to the power of social media enabling them to become a bigger part of the franchise by always keeping up to date with information. Fandoms are very popular in terms of film, the most popular including Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Star Wars and Marvel.

A concept within fandom is Participatory Culture, which extends on from fandom because fans have the opportunity to create text within the franchise (Jenkins, 2009). A popular example of this is fan fiction, which is where fans will write fiction stories that haven’t been produced by the main author about certain fictional characters within the franchise, changing the outcomes to their desire which can further build the characters. This allows consumers to transition to prosumers, which can make them feel like they are a part of the main story.

The concept of Paratexts can be defined as a main text of a franchise that is surrounded by many other smaller texts (Genette, 1997). These can be used to promote the main franchise, such as posters or adverts. Fan fiction can fall under the concept of paratexts as well as participatory culture as it is further promotes the franchise, enhancing their similarities in the fact that they involve consumers of the franchise more to build a bigger fanbase. The concept of paratexts is used to gain recognition for the chosen franchise, advertising in places where everyone will be able to see, such as posters on bus stops and tube stations, on buses and on billboards, making it impossible to not see them.

Another concept within the topic of paratextuality is intertextuality, which is where a franchise will reference another meaning within the film/book etc. One of the examples mentioned in ‘Sold Show Separately’ is ‘West Side Story’, which spins off the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. By doing this a franchise is able to gain popularity through already well-known stories that have been remade and differed from the original.

The Hunger Games trilogy follows the main female protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl who lives in the fictional place ‘Panem’. Panem has 12 districts inside of it, and each year, 2 people from each district within Panem are forced to take part in the Hunger Games, where they have to fight to the death in order to survive, noting that only one person is able to survive each year. Collins draws her inspiration of the cruel plot from the traditional Roman gladiator games where gladiators were made to fight in front of a large crowd of people, much like the ‘tributes’ having to fight in front of the whole capital. Within the first film, Katniss’ sister Primrose is selected to take part from district 12, however considering she is only young and Katniss realises she would die taking part in the games, she volunteers to take her place, much to the excitement of everyone else within Panem. This enforces the idea of bravery and women empowerment, which could be a factor in why the trilogy is so popular and still popular to this day. She is paired with Peeta Mellark, also in district 12, who she instantly remembers as the boy from the bakery, who had a crush on her since they were young. Katniss remembers how Peeta would burn bread to feed to her family to prevent them from starving, and she appreciates him for doing it. As training for the games begin, Katniss learns of Peeta’s feelings towards her and they are branded as ‘lovers’ by the capitol which gains them popularity and hope to win the Hunger Games, even though Katniss doesn’t feel the same. When the games have commenced, Katniss and Peeta defend themselves and attack the others, making alliances and enemies along the way. They end up being the last two standing, and after hearing an earlier announcement that if two people from the same district are left then they can both win, they both await to be let out of the arena. However, when it comes to this situation, the announcement is revoked and they are not allowed to win. In an act of sacrifice, they both give each other weapons but neither want to win on their own, so they acquire a handful of poisonous berries and get ready to take them, before being told that they can in fact both win. The story can be interpreted in different ways, the two main being either that Katniss is seen as the main female protagonist who is independent and courageous, or that there is an evident love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, another character who plays a big role within the trilogy after confessing his love for Katniss.

Figure 1

The trilogy was clearly proven popular in the box office, with figures as of 2018 reaching over 1 billion dollars (see figure one). Having famous actors such as Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne would have helped in the popularity and success due to the audience being already familiar with each actor’s previous work, therefore watching the film even if they aren’t aware of the plot as they believe it will be good anyway. Surprisingly, revenue from the first film isn’t as high as the second film, however this may be due to the amount of promotion and advertising that came before ‘Catching Fire’ compared to ‘The Hunger Games’. After watching the following YouTube video (see video below), it is clear to see why Catching Fire was so much more popular in terms of box office figures than the other films, as it is clear to see how much more promotion went into it. By making the audience more involved such as having to find clues to unlock character portraits across various different social media platforms this may encourage more people to go and see the film when it comes out, as the franchise is giving across a message that their fans are able to get more involved within the trilogy. By also having a soundtrack to the film, fans can further be involved within the trilogy.

Analysis of the case study

In regards to my chosen concepts, The Hunger Games utilises these to a full extent in order to maximise its audience who hopefully then become fans of the franchise. In regards to the Hunger Games fandom, they name themselves as ‘Tributes’, much resembling the tributes who compete in the games. One notable phrase from the trilogy is when Katniss says, “I volunteer as tribute” when defending her sister, and this phrase has become very popular not only within the fandom but with a large majority of people, even creating ‘memes’ out of it (see figure two). This means that people who may not have read the books or watched the films will still know the reference if they were regular users of social media, gaining recognition to the franchise. There is also a big number of fan fiction stories about the trilogy, as well as various fandom websites which give information about the trilogy, such as the characters, plot, and the different media platforms. The fandom within The Hunger Games tends to ‘ship’ characters a lot, meaning they pair two people together who they think would be good in a relationship together. The obvious and most popular ship within the franchise is Katniss and Peeta, however there are lots of variations that include lots of other characters who appear in the films.

Figure 2

The Hunger Games has a very strong advertising platform in which the franchise utilises multiple different platforms and paratexts, enhancing how the franchise is very much cross-platform. The slogan ‘May the odds be ever in your favour’ proved popular being broadcasted on posters, and the catchy whistle made an impression on the adverts. There was even a song released called ‘The Hanging Tree’ which is meant to resemble the melody that Katniss’ father would sing as he collected the bread from Peeta’s family (see video below). However, the main success of the franchise’s advertising campaign comes from it’s social media sites, aiming it at a young audience, who are the main target audience for the trilogy. The official Facebook page has over 20 million likes, where you can find extras including videos, photos and various memes about the characters and the plot. YouTube has been an effective way of promoting the films, with all of the film trailers being easily accessible, and various behind the scenes footage such as interviews with the cast which helps build a relationship between the consumers and the characters. The tumblr page introduced ‘Capitol Couture’, an extension from the film where the tributes parade before entering the games wearing eccentric fashion styles. Tumblr is also a good places for the fandom to post content about the franchise which can explain different points about the story that may not be obvious to the mainstream public. Other social media platforms such as twitter, Pinterest and instagram are also effective for posting content related to the trilogy, but the main ones are Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr.

I believe that I have chosen the best and most effective two concepts in regards to my chosen case study. This is because, in terms of fandom, due to most fandoms being more evident in the teenage generation because of social media and new technologies, The Hunger Games is the perfect franchise to have a fandom culture a part of it. The Hunger Games targets a younger audience so they may be able to sympathise with the characters, most of them being teenagers, more. By then doing this there is a higher chance of there being a big fandom culture within the franchise as opposed to a film targeting an older audience who don’t engage with social media anywhere near as much as a younger audience will. Regarding paratextuality, The Hunger Games has one of the biggest and well known advertising campaign with memorable attributes such as the famous slogans and tunes in order for people to recognise which franchise it belongs to. This also gains recognition for the trilogy of people who may not be hardcore fans of The Hunger Games, as if the phrases ‘May the odds be ever in your favour’ and ‘I volunteer as tribute’ were to be mentioned then the franchise would be instantly acknowledged.

Reflection

As a consumer of The Hunger Games, I don’t find myself a part of the popular fandom however after conducting my analysis I am now willing to engage more within the culture, whether that is visiting the websites in order to find more out about the plot that I may have missed when reading the books and watching the films, reading fan fiction to discover different possible endings to the story that weren’t covered in the trilogy, or looking at fan art and videos to see how invested other people are into the franchise, and to become more invested myself. I still believe that to someone else having not analysed the franchise, this particular fandom may be branded obsessive due to the amount of content the fandom produce, however after engaging more with the plot via websites rather than just reading the books and watching the films, I do not believe this to be the case as I can see how this relates to the actual trilogy and is not pointless. After analysing my case study, it has made me realise how effective advertising and promoting is for a franchise in order to maximise popularity and revenue, as proven in the difference in box office revenue from the second Hunger Games film compared to the rest, as the franchise realised how an advertising campaign was vital. Essentially, paratextuality in my opinion is necessary for a franchise to be successful as by using different texts and platforms to promote, they can distribute to the maximum amount of people as possible, increasing recognition of people not following the franchise.

I also realise how important fandoms are to a franchise, as before my analysis I believed the concept was a minor culture that wasn’t associated too much with the actual franchise. Now I have concluded how franchise not only converts consumers into prosumers making the concept an internal importance, but it further promotes and advertises alternate ways of looking at the story which can be inspiration for future decisions for the franchise, which there may be more opportunities to reach a bigger audience. I also believe that due to the high popularity of the Hunger Games fandom, this is why the trilogy remains still so popular to this day,  as opposed to peaking when it first came out and significantly dropping in popularity. The plot is very strong which may also contribute, as most of the consumers who read the books and watched the films will be able to remember most of the plot even if they are not hardcore fans, which doesn’t happen with all blockbuster films. After studying and analysing my particular case study, I believe that I will not just invest more time into engaging with The Hunger Games franchise, but with multiple other franchises that have a strong fandom base and paratextuality. It would be interesting to then analyse those franchises and compare to my chosen case study in the similarities and differences between how they utilise these concepts and how successful this is proven to be.

Conclusion

To conclude my media rich essay, I believe that the concepts of fandom with participatory culture and paratexts with intertextuality have massively contributed to helping my chosen case study, The Hunger Games, become cross-platform. The concepts have also helped the books and films remain just as popular as they did when they were first released which can be considered unusual for a film last released four years ago. By a franchise being cross-platform, they are able to reach a wider audience of people who may not normally consume their products but end up liking it and consuming it, as opposed to a single platform book or film that only targets an audience who tend to follow the style of product therefore only reaches a more niche audience and not making as much revenue due to less popularity. The Hunger Games have used social media effectively in this sense in order to do so whilst letting fans be able to promote the franchise themselves by publishing their own content. By conducting my media rich essay, I have been able to engage with The Hunger Games to a larger extent than I usually would if I hadn’t have conducted my analysis which is beneficial to me as it has raised my awareness on my media consumption and how I wish to change it from now. I believe my views and thoughts on the concepts regarding my essay have changed throughout my analysis.

All feedback and comments regarding my media rich essay are much appreciated.

References

Doyle, G. (2015) ‘Multi-platform media and the miracle of the loaves and fishes’, Journal of media business studies, (1), p. 49. Available at: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbl&AN=vdc.100050619287.0×000001&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 20 May 2019).

EconomistsTalkArt.org. (2016). MULTI-PLATFORM MEDIA: HAS DIGITIZATION REALLY GIVEN US MORE FOR LESS?. [online] Available at: https://economiststalkart.org/2016/01/12/multi-platform-media-has-digitization-really-given-us-more-for-less/ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2019].

En.wikipedia.org. (2019). The Hunger Games. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunger_Games [Accessed 16 May 2019].

Gray, J., Sandvoss, C. and Harrington, C. L. (2017) Fandom. [electronic resource] : identities and communities in a mediated world. New York : New York University Press, [2017]. Available at: https://search-ebscohost-com.libezproxy.bournemouth.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00012a&AN=bourne.980457&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 20 May 2019).

Gray, J 2010, Show Sold Separately : Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, New York University Press, New York. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [20 May 2019].

Haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu. (2019). Fandom and Participatory Culture – Subcultures and Sociology. [online] Available at: https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultural-theory-and-theorists/fandom-and-participatory-culture/ [Accessed 18 May 2019].

Imgflip.com. (2014). I Volunteer as Tribute Meme Generator – Imgflip. [online] Available at: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/30432722/I-Volunteer-as-Tribute [Accessed 20 May 2019].

Statista. (2018). The Hunger Games domestic and global box office revenue 2018 | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/608201/box-office-revenue-hunger-games/ [Accessed 13 May 2019].

Thehungergames.fandom.com. (2019). The Hunger Games Wiki. [online] Available at: https://thehungergames.fandom.com/wiki/The_Hunger_Games_Wiki [Accessed 20 May 2019].

YouTube. (2014). The Hanging Tree’ James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence (Audio). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3hTW9e20d8 [Accessed 20 May 2019].

YouTube. (2014). The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Integrated Marketing Campaign Overview. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNaDjJ-lsKQ [Accessed 20 May 2019].

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