The dystopian world of The Hunger Games franchise is at war, and it seems as though no war can be fought in the past, present or future without some form of propaganda. The first two films in the series showed the fascistic Capitol of Panem using the gladiatorial combat of The Hunger Games themselves as a way to quell rebellion by distracting the masses. The new film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, now shows the heroes of the revolution using the exact same techniques to spur the oppressed to action, by transforming Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) into an iconic figurehead, complete with her own theme song.
The power of cinema to attract an audience has long been used for the purposes of propaganda, i.e. to instill and/or perpetuate social, political or religious ideas through a series of manipulative techniques. Propaganda films use straw man arguments, unassailable heroes, demonized villains, eye-catching iconography and simplistic “us vs. them” narratives to sell the message of a government, group or even a single individual with a specific agenda. Propaganda is propaganda whether or not you personally agree with the message; it’s defined by the way that it conveys an idea, not by the idea itself.
Because the techniques of propaganda films are, by their very definition, extremely effective, it’s important to call attention to them so audiences can recognize when they are being pandered to. Some of the most significant films ever made have been propaganda films, specifically because they have had an enormous impact on people who did not recognize the red flags of the medium being used to manipulate the message. Then again, sometimes the propaganda techniques are so cartoonishly overt that they are unmistakable, and hard for anyone to take seriously.
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting examples of propaganda throughout the history of filmmaking, to highlight the different breeds of propaganda, to raise awareness of how it’s used, and to highlight the long history of calculated cinematic manipulations that have influenced the storytelling of The Hunger Games.
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