In my young life I have seen and felt both the power of the Internet and that of hormonal teenagers. I have been those hormones. I have waited for hours in queue halls at comic cons with hundreds of people dressed as things both familiar and not. I’ve done that…very recently. So when I say that the Hunger Games Victory Tour in advance of the release of the film version of Catching Fire (out November 22), was one of my favorite nerd experiences. Know that I don’t say that lightly.
I’ve been told there are mythical creatures called “People Who Haven’t Read the Hunger Games Trilogy,” so everyone else, bear with me for a moment. In the second book of Suzanne Collins’s series, Catching Fire, the two main characters are dragged all around the country for the government to show off in a propaganda extravaganza called the Victory Tour. In a stroke of morbid genius, someone hit on the idea of sending the new brood of past victors in the upcoming film adaptation of Catching Fire on a mall tour of America, very directly calling it the Hunger Games Victory Tour. Of course I exploited every social contact I possess in order to gain access.
I was lucky enough to not only catch the event from the press pit at the Mall of America on November 5, but was treated to the real-life version of my favorite character from the books, Finnick Odair, portrayed by the Britishly adorable and sexy-haired Sam Claflin. He was welcomed by the shrill screams of a rotunda full of teenagers along with Jena Malone, who plays the angry, axe wielding Johanna Mason; Meta Golding as the deadly Enobaria; and Bruno Gunn who, unsurprisingly, plays the hulking Brutus. The four basked on stage for a 20-minute Q&A before signing posters for 150 breathless fans.
I’ve seen other teen events at the Mall of America before, both on TV and in person, and seen plenty of the shaking, sleep-deprived superfans who camp out for days to get the best spots at these things. People camped out for days for this too, but this event was different. Fans were encouraged to bring food donations for the event partners, Feeding America and the World Food Programme, and a booth of exclusive tour merchandise was available, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofits. Charities buck for attention all the time, but these organizations’ highly visible involvement on the tour fit very well with themes in the books and movies. Granted, solving world hunger crises was not the main topic of conversation in a horde of people who were about to meet their Quarter Quell Tributes, but the success of other teen series that center around human rights issues speaks to the relevance of the idea.
The global ideas in the books and movies beyond other bland offerings to teenagers also helped account, I think, for the wide variety of fans who ditched work or school on a Tuesday to see the actors. Everything from what looked like people old enough to be grandparents to a boy who couldn’t have been in middle school yet wearing a District 12 training shirt were all packed in together waiting for perhaps the only thing that would draw them all to the same place at the same time.
That’s one of the things I love most about the mainstreaming of nerd culture right now: the diversity of people its appealing to and their enthusiasm about going out and getting together for the stuff they love. Nerd culture and the sci-fi world have always been about a place for inclusion and critical thought in the face of a mainstream culture that didn’t have the patience or the interest in those things. And don’t kid yourself: The Hunger Games is absolutely nerd territory. It’s adventure and love triangles, but it’s a fantasy, set in the future, populated by frequent historical references to ancient Rome and revolves around themes of outsiders, human rights and moral complexity. And I couldn’t be happier to see it out literally on parade, with young girls screaming for the cute boy who plays an emotionally complicated survivor of abuse and institutionalized oppression.
My three favorite girls at the event were strangers when they got in line. By the time I met them as the event was starting they were new BFFs in matching tour t-shirts; they suggested to the moderators that the whole crowd should do the district salute at the same time together. They were shivering and shrieking with excitement about getting to meet the actors (they made a special sign for Sam Claflin), but the thing they asked for was for the crowd to perform the hand signal that starts an uprising against the corrupt government in the books. I stood right next to four movie stars for an hour, but I kept turning around to take pictures of those girls and the hundreds of other people giving the salute in their t-shirts decrying world hunger because that’s what I thought was the most awesome thing about the night.