Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 12, 2011

Sticks and stones

But the entertainment value of the Hunger Games for the people of the Capitol doesn’t revolve around silly love stories. Oh, no. As I’ve alluded to, the true entertainment lies in the violence.

The entire Games, from every tributes’ perspective, is videotaped and broadcasted across Panem. And everyone must watch the nightly show. Of course such an exciting diversion would never be missed by the people of the Capitol, however even the devastated families of the tributes must watch, often witnessing the brutal murders of their own children.

The contestants face all types of adversaries from the harsh conditions of the locations of the Games to their cold-blooded competitors to even their own inner demons. While there are very few reality television shows today that feature competitors in situations that are seriously life-threatening, I think that there are many reality shows that poke and prod their contestants into emotional instability. Instead of being like the Romans at the Colosseum, relishing in the physical pain of others, we are watching the psychological pain of participants on shows like 16 & Pregnant, Wife Swap or Survivor.

While I recognize the obvious differences between the Hunger Games and these reality shows (the contestants are voluntary, for examples) I think that our attraction to watching others in psychological or emotional pain is nearly as disturbing as an attraction to watching those in physical pain. After doing a bit of research, I found out that I might feel that way because these very different types of pain may be more similar than we think.

The similarity between reality TV and ancient bloodsport is compounded when considering neuroscientific and psychological evidence showing quite a bit of similarity between socially painful events like rejection and physical pain. At a purely linguistic level, people tend to describe their rejection experiences using words commonly associated with physical pain. Rejected people say their feelings were “hurt,” that they felt “crushed” or even “broken-hearted.” This similarity extends beyond mere metaphor. Experiencing rejection activates the same brain regions that become activated when people experience physical pain.

“Reality TV: Harmless Entertainment or Bloodsport?” by C. Nathan DeWall, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

Why are we so fascinated by the pain of others? What really is the difference between the below clip from Maury and the below clip of the Hunger Games (an excellent fan-made video)?



  1. Interesting comparison between physical pain and psychological pain. It is actually a little disturbing how our society does seem to have focused on watching the pain of participants in the shows you mentioned and so many others. I agree I think many of these shows they may in a way drive them to emotional instability. You start to wonder how much is actually “reality.” Its interesting to think about your motivation about why you find a certain show entertaining.

    • You’re right, sometimes I begin to wonder what reality is after watching more than an hour of “reality” tv! I am intrigued by the idea of what motivates me to find a certain show entertaining. Sometimes its the plot, sometimes its the characters and other times I really have no idea but I keep watching!

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