Fan Activism: HPA creates Fantastic Activist Tumblr Campaign with We Are The Districts

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Again, props to The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) for acting on Suzanne Collin’s critique of social inequalities that define The Hunger Games dystopian world and for taking fan activism out into the world again. Looking through the posts, HPA has partnered with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and members are posting pics of their three-fingered salutes!

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HPA defines the goals of We are the Districts as

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And HPA has created a set of badges representing key social concerns

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I love HPA. Thank you. You can check it out here:

The Harry Potter Alliance Launches New Fan Site: Odds In Our Favor ‘Taking back the narrative’ of Catching Fire


Thank you HPA for kickstarting a campaign to counter the crass commercialism of Lionsgate’s marketing campaign for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire!

From the new site:

“Who controls the narrative? The rich and powerful tell us that if we put our heads down and work hard, we can overcome the odds and join the ranks of the victors — the wealthy and privileged few. However, it’s increasingly clear that the game is rigged, and that we have an important role to play: At best, we are the loyal consumers. At worst, we are the ones who slip through the cracks.

And that’s why we’re taking back the narrative. The Hunger Games explores numerous themes that are relevant to the imbalances that exist in our world. In Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen solidifies her role as a symbol for change and sets the resistance in motion. Thus, the release of the Catching Fire film represents a perfect opportunity to establish a dialogue about our own problems and set the wheels in motion for positive change. Instead, Catching Fire is being used as an opportunity to sell makeup and fast-food sandwiches.

And we have a very simple response to that: Not on our watch…”

Fans are posting selfies with the three finger salute – love this!


you can join here:

Patti Smith, Katniss Everdeen, & Kenneth Cole: where is our counter culture revolution today?

I was lucky enough to catch Patti Smith at Massey Hall in Toronto last night & it was a fantastic two hour-ish show – Lenny Kaye on guitar & Patti with a voice I swear hasn’t aged. She opened with Dancing Barefoot, ad libbed a, hysterically funny spoken word piece on Nicole Kidman, TIFF, & Kidman’s gorgeous gown & red hair, dedicated This is the Girl to Amy Winehouse & connected that dedication back to Maria Callas singing on the same Massey Hall stage.  She did a beautiful version of Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, changing the last line to ‘Beautiful John…’, sang a kicking Horses into Gloria, and had the audience up, dancing & singing throughout.

At points in the show, politics were front & center with Patti weaving in protests on the handling of Snowden & Syria. What she ended with pulled me up short as after pulling out the strings on her guitar, she held it up and said: ‘Like Katniss Everdeen, I raise my bow, & send an arrow to you’ & then left the stage.

If you know the trilogy, you know that’s a call for a revolution against a corrupt & oppressive regime, in Collins’ The Hunger Games, the Capitol city of Panem. For Patti, clearly the current regime in Washington.

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Contrast Patti’s integration of punk’s counter-culture stance with Collins’ critique with Kenneth Cole’s crassly commercial tweet referencing Syria, which he has defended as an edgy engagement with issues: “I’ve always used my platform to provoke dialogue about important issues, including HIV AIDS, war and homelessness.”

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Reading further on Cole’s past forays into provocation, I was most struck by how Cole’s phrasing & tone are a dead ringer for the messaging Lionsgate is using in its promotion of the Capitol as the society to role play in through its marketing campaigns for The Hunger Games & now Catching Fire. Here from the Capitol Couture Tumblr page

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Surely, Lionsgate will recognize at some point how problematic it is to promote The Hunger Games brand asking fans to side with those who revel in the deaths of the Tributes. Fans are being quite vocal in how uncomfortable & misplaced this marketing is. On the, one blogger recently wrote:

‘In 2011 and 2012, I’m sure a lot of you can remember fawning all over every new image or piece of marketing. Capitol Couture was wicked cool and the .PN domains were amazing. The nail polish was an awkward topic, but lots of us still wanted them. Effie’s butterfly eyelashes were amazing and we all hurried to get our Panem ID cards where we were placed into one of the 12 districts.

But somehow this time around, things are different. I know I’m not alone. And maybe it’s because deep down, the real Hunger Games fan in me still lives. And that part of me–the part that was drawn to a girl’s will to protect her family from government oppression at all costs–just doesn’t care about Capitol fashions that are sort of just weird and too Capitol for my liking. It annoys me that Lionsgate feels the need to use the hashtag #UrAHungerGamesFan, leaving me mildly insulted that a series with such a serious message is being dumbed down so much in official marketing…’

Another fan here:

‘So they’re marketing THG by missing the entire point about the vileness of the Capital in THG. Coo, coo.’

And another exchange here opened up how to shift the marketing to the real themes of the series:

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Firmly committed however, Lionsgate most recently blithley announced the launch of a fashion line on

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Sigh… but then really, what am I thinking? that a major studio would advocate for the 99%? This is just a movie after all and it’s likely that co-opting fan empathy for Collins’ vision of the beginnings of a revolution in Catching Fire & the desire for societal change for a marketing campaign would be just as bad.

So it was fantastic to see Patti Smith, grey haired mother of two, still rocking, still punk, closing her show with this reference to Katniss’ disruptive power.  Her closing line, unlike Lionsgate’s messaging, was right on target, connecting her life, experience, and political views with a younger generation’s passion for something more than just fashion, consumerism & nail polish.

You have to Love Lionsgate’s Commitment to the Dark Side: Catching Fire’s Misfired Marketing…

With November 22 now 2 months & 22 days away, you have to love Lionsgate’s commitment to marketing the vacuous superficial lifestyle of the Capitol Panem, which if you’ve read The Hunger Games Trilogy, you know is functionally a hyped up runway version of the Death Star.

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Cover Girl’s commercial above proclaims: ’12 districts . 12 looks. 1 collection’ – Hurray! no mention of brutality & deaths here!

Check out the Capitol Couture Tumblr page which has just launched its fall fashion issue, glamourizing the first of many could-be or soon-to-be-dead ‘stars’ of the games.

If you know Johanna’s story, you know that because of her choices (won’t say what), her loved ones are killed in retaliation.  And that she is tortured at a later point… won’t go into details.

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Yet meanwhile over on Capitol Couture we have this fashion mag blurb. The last line seems pointedly weird given that Collins’ makes the lack of agency and control the Tributes have over their bodies such a key theme of the series: ‘During make up, Mason doesn’t fidget as her artist adheres three-inch eyelashes to her lower…’

In The Hunger Games, Cinna warns Katniss not to resist & to do everything that her stylists want her to do. The implication is pretty clear that to resist is to risk extreme punishment or death, perhaps not one’s own death, but one’s loved ones potentially.

Check out the glamourized pic of Mags below & the accompanying text which also misreads the works, as Collins via Katniss is explicit in her presentation of Panem as a society that eschews aging, preferring extreme plastic surgery and thinness in a rejection of ‘aging with dignity and grace.’

That we have a ratings score on pout is a bit of an obscenity, to be blunt.

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I continue to be mystified by Lionsgate’s focus on the Capitol in promoting the film. In the lead up to the launch of The Hunger Games, Lionsgate & China Glaze teamed up with the Capitol Colours, with a line of 12 colours, one for each district and fantastic polish names like Foie Gras, Agro, Smoke and Ashes…

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One blogger posted a breakdown of the colours in the spirit of Capitol Couture here with enticing yet paradoxical descriptions such as:

‘Smoke & Ashes (District 12- Mining): Even though I’m not typically drawn to black nail polishes, I had to have this one (the fact that it is district 12’s color and I may or may not be in love with 2 of district 12’s leading men may have something to do with this).  The finely milled glitter flecks found in Smoke & Ashes are a mixture of blue, green, silver and purple, making this polish resemble the night sky – OBSESSED!’

Yes, indeed, paradoxical as the smoke and ashes are  increasingly unpleasant  as the series continues. The decision to market cosmetics to promote the film was fabulously expressed by Tim Palen, Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer, who said:

“Having a nail polish for the rabid young girl fan base to relate to our movie on a personal level feels smart.”

Monica Corcoran Harel quoted Palen in a biting article in NY Times in March 2012, ‘Forget the Plot. What Nail Polish Is She Wearing?‘ and her criticism is just as valid in the push to the second film as it was in the first:

“…[because] the film’s characters are too busy murdering each other to get manicures, the nail polishes are sold as products worn by the extras…”

Fans over at The Hunger But Mostly Death Games, thankfully, parodied the marketing campaign, launching their own line of nail polish, with colours replicating the pus oozing tracker jacker stings that kill Glimmer and numerous other brutal details of Collins’ series.


So here we go again, now with major ads out in Vogue & other magazines, this time with Cover Girl partnering. Now you have to admire an ad that so blatantly promotes the Capitol in Cover Girl’s enthusiastic endorsement of Panem: ‘Coming to the Capitol this Fall’!

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So in the fictional world of The Hunger Games, Cover Girl is then the make-up of choice of the stylists who handle the body modifications & glamourizing of those 24 Tributes, 23 of whom will die? Surely, someone in house has read the book or has a son or daughter who has read the series!

“Capitol Fashionistas have a very big reason to look forward to autumn. Just announced, a premiere line of beauty products brought to you by the perennial COVERGIRL — The Capitol Collection — will soon arrive to glam the glamorous. This Collection promises to inspire a new era of expressive beauty through make-up.  Keep tabs on Capitol Couture for exclusive reveals and get ready to discover a new ‘you’ this fall.”

What oh what will this marketing campaign do next? It’s very deja vu to revisit my case study on the campaign for the first film, here, and see exactly the same problematic choices being replayed. Given how dark this series is, you really don’t want to be on the Dark Side. And the Dark Side doesn’t fare well in the end either.

The comments on Cover Girl’s commercial are predominantly critical:

‘any one feel a little bit scared out now’

‘To agree with them others: When this came on TV… I nearly shat nightlock’

‘Btw I’ve got nothing against people who like/use lots of makeup – but to do a promotion around this?!? *shakes head*’

Even the raves show tinges of guilt at buying in to the commercial sell:

‘Does it make me a crazy district 1 person if I am like.. super excited to waste my money and buy all of it? Because.. I am.’

So…. yet again, I’m hanging in to see how long it’s going to take for Lionsgate to shift the focus from the unequivocally evil Panem to the counter forces that Katniss represents. Seriously. What is Lionsgate going to do for The Mockingjay??? Promote a make-up line for civil war? for terrorism? Seriously.

Meanwhile, over on Minecraft The Hunger Games are running 24/7

A few weeks back, my neighbour’s 8 year old son spent almost over an hour carefully spelling out ‘Minecraft’ in foot and half high multi-coloured letters on the sidewalk in front of his house and mine. When I asked him why he liked the game, he said: ‘It’s entertaining…. And it’s really good for spatial stuff and building things.’ His eyes lit up and he started describing all the things he’d built, the CN Tower, a castle, and various objects from volcanos to dynamite. Later this week he’s going to show me what he’s made and I can’t wait.

Minecraft is huge – an online game sandbox that allows anyone to build pretty much anything, developed by Markus ‘Notch’ Persson. Not only was Notch awarded the BAFTA Special Award in March 2012 for ‘significant contribution to a sector,’ Minecraft is now the best selling XBox Live Arcade game ever, with over 2 million games sold.  So when a friend’s 14 year old son, Alex, told me he spent a ton of time playing in online versions of The Hunger Games built in Minecraft, I ever curious, immediately asked if he would show me. As he played through a number of games, he filled me in on the rules – it’s an open game world, any one can play, games usually have 8 players, though there are lots of variations.

You log in, choose an active game in the game world antechamber or lobby & then wait for a unanimous vote for the game to begin. During the interim, players can chat, form alliances & move around the environment. When it does start, following the rules of Suzanne Collin’s imagined game, you have to wait for the countdown, make a mad dash for the treasure pile to score weapons, armor, and consumables to maintain your health. Some game mods like Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Minecraft 1.2.5  foreground details such as how ‘ Mocking-jay pins can be used to ally with characters who do not attack you. such as Peeta, or Katniss’ and the attributes of weapons:

  • The Spear (throwable)
  • The Knife (stackable and throwable)
  • Katniss’s Bow (same as normal bow)
  • Night-lock (poisons and blinds you)
  • Night-lock Sapling
  • Cornucopia block (gold and silver
  • It introduces mutts!
  • Cornucopia Pack (found in cornocopia, right click to obtain item)
  • sponsor package (given randomly)
  • And the Mocking-jay pin

Other games outline a rigorous protocol to stay faithful to the original novels: ‘ We will be following the rules laid out in the book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins as closely as we can manage. Players will start in a lobby area; each player will enter a room, which will then be closed around them. The players will then be teleported to the arena, as soon as they arrive at the arena, the game begins. There will be chests of supplies nearby. Take whatever action you wish to ensure victory, be that fighting for the initial supplies or making a run for it and making your own gear. There are also a few chests with useful gear in them, but they are hidden throughout the level….’ <>


If you know the game environment already so you know where the treasure caches are, you might choose to race to find the hidden caches so you can load up your inventory to protect yourself and begin slaying those less fortunate. Some games will have preset time restrictions (2 minutes? more? less?) before the killing can begin.

Any one can create a Hunger Game, and my guide told me about the epic game launched spring 2012, Minecraft Hunger Games ‘Free for All,’ which was built to host 150 players, with seriously extensive environments, game play, and many many hidden caches of weapons and supplies. The games I watched Alex play tended to be short, as he failed to score weapons in all but one of his games so he spent much of his game time racing away from others, repeating ‘I’m so dead, I’m so dead, I’m gonna die…’ When he did find a sword, the tables immediately flipped and he took off in pursuit of other players to kill them before he was spotted. Now, as he played he had the advantage of a tracking mod (paid for) which showed him where all of the other players were in the game world. As I watched, he confirmed that the players he was pursuing were blissfully unaware of his stalking until he killed them, unless of course, they had the same game mod.

And herein lies a beautiful lesson in the logic of fan adaptation. Where Collin’s novels are complex and layered in their politics and social critique, filled with ambivalences re. characters and the world depicted and an underlying rejection of contemporary American society, fans have taken the core of the action – kill/be killed within a specific set of rules & environment – and invested enormous amounts of time and creativity in remodelling Collin’s arena as a first-person shooter game.

Yet, if the games strip the novels down to a super simple narrative form, this phenomenon exists because of the commitment of individual modders spending hours building games to surprise and amaze others. What is really remarkable is that this explosion of creativity is possible because of the supportive stance the indie game developers Mojang (team of 2!) have taken. In a Gamasutra interview from January 2012, now lead developer Jens “Jeb” Bergensten talked at length about Minecraft’s indie process: ‘..we are such a small team that we can’t compete with the rest of the world with content. So, there’s a change in priorities, that we really need to open up the game for other developers to add mods, and share mods, and run servers more easily. So, what I mean is I will work less on features, and more on the engine part of the game.’

Numerous players are posting their game videos on YouTube, though again Alex informed me you had to buy the camera mod to record player games. These basic machinima videos – unscripted, unedited – are hysterical in their own way, particularly as you often find the disjunction between the first person pov negotiating through the virtual world with occasional, rapid fight sequences and then the parallel audio of individual players narrating their game play experience.

Not surprisingly, other properties have been rebuilt in Minecraft, most notably perhaps, Zelda Adventure, a 10 hour remake of The Legend of Zelda, which still appears to be playable online. Meaning that Nintendo, who have been ferociously guarded of their IP in the past, have chose to let this game continue. Lionsgate has resisted pushing the catch phrase ‘Let the games begin,’ and the extensive social media campaign deliberately avoids letting fans actually play the games in all aspects of their social media campaign. With 2 novels still to adapt and 3 films projected ahead, fans have gleefully bypassed  studio to play directly in The Hunger Games and have taken control of their own engagement. Given the rate of game modding underway, who knows what fans and modders will have created by the time the next film is released? May the (r)evolution of fan generated content continue…

some works cited – for a full list of YouTube links – contact me:

Gamasutra ‘Talking the Future of Minecraft’

Hunger Games Mod for Minecraft

Positron Servers Hunger Games

Minecraft Hunger Games Server – YouTube

Minecraft Hunger Games Survival Captain Sparkles Part 2 – YouTube

MC Survival Games Servers – Ep3  – YouTube

Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Showcase (And Gameplay) (Part 1)  – YouTube

Zelda Adventure –  – YouTube

‘Transmedia Engagement: Participatory Culture to Activism’ – The Hunger Games & Metrics of Success

The following is a talk I gave June 1 in Toronto which sprang from my ongoing interest in The Hunger Games as a transmedia campaign. I wrote an earlier blog post, ‘Why The Hunger Games is Not Harry Potter, and Why You Should Care,’ in response to finishing the novels, which were far more disturbing than I had expected. Further mulling on Geoffrey Long’s How to Ride a Lion: A Call for a Higher Transmedia Criticism and Jeff Gomez & Fabian Niciezo’s “6 Reasons Why ‘the Avengers’ is Crushing it at the Box Office” resulted in this case study on ‘Transmedia Engagement: Participatory Culture to Activism.’ Your thoughts are welcome!

[slideshare id=13211730&doc=transmediaengagement-participatoryculturetoactivism-120605134233-phpapp01]

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