Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy is a sensation, spawning a hit 2012 movie and reaching millions of fans. As an aficionado of manga, Japan's popular illustrated narratives, I couldn't help but be struck by how much the work reminded me of Koushun Takami's Battle Royale   which had exploded onto the Japanese scene years earlier in 1999, spawning controversy and fervent admirers. Both are primarily for teenagers; both feature teen protagonists battling to the death in a sort of Lord of the Flies-meets-Survivor scenario; both are read by adults. Both have spawned discussion about their respective merits vis-a-vis each other and their suitability for young readers. 


The similarities between the setting and action in Battle Royale and Hunger Games are indeed striking. Both take place in dystopian universes, similar to our own but more sinister and totalitarian; both feature sets of teenagers selected from the population and isolated in an area with daily timed danger zones, issued with survival backpacks, and ordered to fight to the death until only one survivor remains. The ultimate purpose is to keep the population at large cowed and incapable of organized resistance to authority. 


The love stories, characters, and features of the teen protagonists differ in each book but for a while the internet was alive with very heated debates among those who decried Collins's later work as imitative and those who praised her for independently creating a scenario and compelling characters in an entirely different cultural context. The issue brings up the anxiety of influence, of course: In our hyperlinked, media-saturated culture it sometimes seems everything in popular culture is simultaneously influenced by everything else. But the "flame wars" (virulently negative personal attacks) in some internet chat rooms about HG vs BR were quite heated--and many were marked by lots of !!!!!!, ALL CAPS, and ?!?!?! passages. (That ?! has a name; it's the interrobang, and it's been used for more years than you might think.)


Looking at some of the discussions online made me think of how much the internet and digital communication has changed our conversations, our punctuation, and our grammar. A recent piece in the The New York Times 's Opinionator blog column, "The Point of Exclamation," by Ben Yagoda, made much of how young adults use more than what the author considers their fair share of exclamation points.


Terry Plum of Holyoke, MA, notes in the comments section on the Opinionator in the comments sections notes: 


Dr. L. Allen Smith, highly respected professor of library science at Simmons College in Boston, used to say in his famous Reference class: 

"I see nothing in the literature of librarianship that would demand the use of exclamation points. If you were born before 1960, you have three exclamation points for life. If you were born after 1960, you get six. Some of you are in debt."


I'll freely admit that I'm quite glad I was born after 1960, and that I've far exceeded my quota. But I would respectfully argue that online communication has not so much changed our overall grammar and punctuation usage as it has given us a whole new register in which to communicate. One in which I think Hunger Games is WAY too much like Battle Royale!!!!!


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Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services and the College of Mount Saint Vincent Language Institute.


by cories on ‎08-09-2012 07:15 PM

Wasn't it Terry Pratchet who said/wrote something to the effect that using more than 3 exclamation marks at once was a sign of insanity?


The interesting thing about YA is that new readers appear all the time, young people who had no idea about previous works.  There are fans of HG who weren't born when BR was out.  There are kids who thought Eva Ibbotson's "The Secret of Platform 13" ripped off Harry Potter.  There are kids who thought Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries books ripped off the Princess Diaries movies (at least I think the author in question was Meg Cabot; it could have been another author whose works were made into films).  Teens who think that the latest vampire craze is all for them are surprised by "Nosferatu" and my favorite of the vampire films of the 1970s, "Love at First Bite".  It's fun to watch them find "new to them" books and tropes and to see how old themes are recycled to catch the attention of today's young people.

by kamas716 on ‎08-11-2012 05:15 AM

I think what is more interesting/disturbing than the use of unneccessary puncuation (or in some cases the complete lack of appropriate puncuation) is how entrenched so many people get in one position or another.  Having read some of the comments about THG v. BR, it seems that people will start acting like four year olds at the drop of a hat.  I'm not sure if they are just uable to see another point, or are unwilling to do so.  But, they act like they have a personal stake in whether or not this or that happens to be real or true when they are merely fans. 


It's rather disheartening when I try to envision our future.  But, then I take a look at the politics section of the paper and see the same things occurring already.  One political party could declare that the sky is blue today, and the other will adamantly defend that the sky is plaid with a paisley border.

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎08-16-2012 09:53 AM

@cories That's a very good point you make. The immediate frame of reference for popular culture is so small today; it's instant cultural amnesia. And in a larger sense, we no longer have a standard body of classics with which everyone is presumed to be familiar--like the Odyssey, Iliad, the Bible--and so at the same time that technology and hip-hop combined to make "sampling" and cut-and-paste composition nearly ubiquitious, it's also more and more difficult for readers to recognize cultural references and riffs on previous works.


I'm always surprised when people in their 40s and 50s say things like, "Wow, so that Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider . . . that's a reference to the Book of Revelation?" And as an old classicist, I'm always happy to point out a main source of the plot in a classic cult film: "You're kidding: the Warriors (1979) is based on an old Greek story? (Xenophon's Anabasis)?" 

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