The transformation of storytelling on class

‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The White Lotus’ use different genres to observe class

Perspectives on social class in media ranges.

Commentaries on social and economic class are common in Hollywood. 

The dystopian tale of The Hunger Games and its depictions of power imbalances in the world of Panem had a chokehold on many of us in our early teen years. Now, The White Lotus, which has erupted in popularity in recent months, has taken a realist and satirical approach to look at the interactions between the rich and poor. 

The Hunger Games holds up today as a poignant depiction of the pitfalls of social and economic oppression. The story is exciting and affecting, terrifying and beautiful. It’s a rare specimen and a precedent for what is possible in the often-belittled YA genre.

Panem is a fractured world, one which lends itself to divisions across social and economic boundaries. Each district is responsible for producing a single category of goods while being geographically and socially isolated. 

Wealth is concentrated within the Capitol, but inequity occurs between the districts and within them. Starving children within the districts can exchange extra food for additional entries into the annual selection of tributes for the Hunger Games.

The Capitol is in complete economic and social control of the districts. Through their economic division of production throughout the Districts, the Capitol prevents any District from becoming self-sufficient—they will always rely upon the Capitol’s redistribution of goods. 

This division is integral to the Capitol maintaining its power, with the Hunger Games serving as a violent, horrific embodiment of the rift between districts and their submission to the Capitol. 

Katniss, however, challenges the lower class’s reliance upon the Capitol. She’s the provider for her family, poaching in the forests and providing food for her sister and mother. Within the Hunger Games, too, and with her and Peeta’s refusal to kill each other, the tributes from District 12 have enacted a paradigm shift: the Capitol is reliant upon the districts. 

Without them, there would be no Hunger Games. There would be no wealth nor Capitol. Katniss’s domestic self-reliance and refusal to play along with the Hunger Games destabilizes this relationship of dominance between the upper and lower classes.

In a sense, Katniss threatens the Capitol because she has become the Capitol. She is a provider, and her family and the Capitol rely on her. There is, then, within The Hunger Games, a reading advocating self-reliance and the importance of labouring classes in the creation of wealth. 

Meanwhile, HBO’s critically acclaimed The White Lotus depicts a starkly different interpretation of class in a drama-comedy that follows the luxurious White Lotus resorts worldwide and the interactions between the workers and the guests. 

The obnoxious rich are shown in all their glory—the good, the bad and the ignorant—as viewers receive a realistic portrayal of the indifference of the wealthy and the pressures of the working class to cater to them. The show’s first season does this in depth as it navigates themes of colonialism, race, and class across its seven episodes. 

Taking place at the White Lotus’s Hawaii location, the guests are a newlywed couple, in which the husband is the definition of the entitled rich white guy trope; a family of four and their daughter’s friend, who decides to fight Hawaii’s colonialism by encouraging one of the workers to steal from said family; and the elusive Tanya, who latches on to one of the workers by promising an investment in her business after the passing of her mother. 

Tensions between the workers and the guests arise quickly as notions of respect, ownership, and manipulation are investigated through the series. 

Armond, the resort manager, finds himself dealing with the husband in the newlywed couple who is unsatisfied with his room simply because it’s not the biggest on the island. As Armond navigates dealing with a guest who becomes obsessed with the lucrative “Pineapple Suite” he finds himself in a precarious position due to the power imbalance between the two. 

Kai, a resort worker, opens up to the friend of the family guests about the lasting legacy of colonialism on the island and how he’s still privy to the consequences of it—only to lose his job when their ignorance plays into the continuance of said legacy. 

Belinda, the resort masseuse, is at the service of Tanya after promising she will invest in her business—only to be left high and dry for the entire course of the show.  

The White Lotus uses realism to display the power imbalances between economic classes, while The Hunger Games does so through surrealist dystopia. Both tell of the tale of the wealthy’s exploitation of the lower class and how they make themselves feel better about it. 

While mainstream media used to use exaggerated depictions of the implications of class to avoid them hitting too close to home, a decade later, we see the relationships of power and status in a franker and satirical show. 

It seems bombastic tales of revolution in this case have been replaced by stories of realistic engagements between the rich and the poor. 

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