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Easy, Breezy, Brutal: CoverGirl Gets “The Hunger Games” Wrong

November 22, 2013

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By Casey Cipriani

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the film adaptation of the second novel in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling, dystopian young adult series, hits theaters tomorrow. In anticipation of the release, CoverGirl has created an elaborate makeup line called “The Capitol Collection” Inspired by The Capitol, the most affluent and fashion forward of the series’ 12 Districts, the line transforms each district “into a high-couture Capitol reinterpretation through intricate makeup and a highly stylized wardrobe.”

Cross-promoting products related to upcoming films is not a new concept in Hollywood. From soundtracks, to toys, to food items, studios have used this alternative marketing method for years. Earlier this year, “The Great Gatsby” teamed up with Tiffany and Brooks Brothers to bring back some of the fashion of the flapper 20s. McDonalds had toys from a number of films this year including “Smurfs 2” and “Epic.” But while the Gatsby fashions were marketed towards adults and toys are pretty much always aimed towards children, products might be on a slippery slope when the core audience of a book or film is teenage girls.

A CoverGirl representative declined to identify the line’s target market or comment on the collection, but with advertisements in Seventeen magazine and commercials airing on The CW during some of the network’s teen-oriented shows, it’s safe to say that the brand is taking advantage of “The Hunger Games’ ” established fan base of teenage girls.

But does an overly garish makeup line completely contradict the female empowerment and anti-classist messages that Collins’ novels champion? The problem with the CoverGirl line is two-fold. Firstly, it presents unrealistic looks that no woman would ever wear in public. Sure, fashion does this a lot, but most of fashion is marketed towards adult women. Teenage girls bombarded with images of women through the fashion and beauty industries might not yet recognize the unattainable nature of much of what they’re presented with. Products tied-in to a movie with a young adult audience could increase that confusion.

Secondly, the line appears to be applauding The Capitol, the district that is, in essence, the villain of the stories. The Capitol is supposed to represent shallowness, materialism, ignorance and elitism. Oh yeah, and they plan an annual sporting event wherein children are outright murdered by each other as a threatening device to keep Panem’s citizens in line. Should their style be something that fans of the film emulate?

“The Capitol embodies everything Katniss hates in the world,” wrote MockingJay.net, adding that the campaign “disturbingly glorifies” The Hunger Games as an event.

Collins’ novels have been applauded for presenting a strong female protagonist that teenage girls can look up to and for sending a message that society puts some of its values in the wrong place. CoverGirl’s focus on the lifestyle of shallow, materialistic citizens of The Capitol might very well contradict that message.

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District 4: Fishy Haute Couture

One of the criticisms of the first “Hunger Games” film was that we didn’t get to see enough of the Capitol and it’s opulent and futuristic design.

“With the first movie they wanted to be conservative,” Marla Backer, an analyst at Ascendiant Capital, told The Wrap. “They did not know if they had a ‘Star Wars’ on their hands and they were dealing with a relatively unknown property. The second time around this is a known quantity, so you’re seeing more branding opportunities.”

When costume designer Trish Summerville was hired for the second film, she and director Francis Lawrence decided to amp up the high-end fashion.

“We wanted to take the clothing up a notch,” Summerville told the Financial Times.

In The Capitol, wealthy citizens don high-end fashions that are futuristic, extravagant and experimental. The other 11 Districts are not as wealthy, some of them devastatingly poor. Each maintains a specialized industry like agriculture or mining. But the interpretation of the outlying districts is as if a Capitol citizen were plying dress up as, even mocking, the outlying districts.

Lee Orlando, an administrator of ‘The Hunger Games” fan site The Hob told me that CoverGirl’s focus on the Capitol may be missing the point.

“The materialism is the antithesis of what Katniss strives for and what she eventually sets out to expose and destroy,” she said.

She found the idea of citizens of The Capitol dressing in opulent costumes that represent the industries of the impoverished districts is particularly bothersome.

“In the agricultural and poor Districts, people are too busy to be able to make this type of look work for them,” she said. “Perhaps in their secret reveries some women might want to look this way, but the cost would be too high as they would have to compete to ever get close enough to The Capitol to get this dream.”

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District 10: Chicken Chic

But journalist and author Mark Harris, who has written extensively on the portrayal of women in entertainment thinks that CoverGirl’s makeup line doesn’t necessarily counter the message of the novels or film.

“‘The Hunger Games’ series, the books, perhaps, even more than the movie(s), is very skillfully having it both ways,” he wrote via e-mail. “For all the political underpinnings about class disparities and income inequity, and for all the degree to which The Capitol citizens are portrayed as materialistic and grotesque, and for all the blood and savagery in the novels, they are also books that pause for lengthy and enthusiastic descriptions of fashion. Katniss’ very survival may be at stake, but Collins pays plenty of attention to her stylist, to amazing descriptions of her costuming and makeup, and to the lux trappings of the reality show she’s a part of.”

In that case, the collection might in fact be incredibly meta. The concept of clueless, wealthy designers presenting their interpretation of the outlying Districts supports the idea presented by the novels that you can distract the general public from the atrocities of a competition wherein children are slaughtered if there is enough entertainment and luxury thrown in.

Will teenagers get that message? Can they differentiate between commentary that the line might be making on the Capitol’s ignorance and their desire to live the fantasy?

I asked my own 14-year-old cousin Sara, a fan of the books and the first film, what she thought of the line. Thankfully she saw through the dramatic marketing. She noted that while the looks were artistic and interesting, these products toting high-end fashion and elaborate makeup routines aren’t really conducive to the life of an actual teenager.

“I think it’s cool,” she said, “but it’s not like I would go out in it.”

She even caught on to the idea that the entire line is coming from the materialistic perspective of the Capitol.

“I don’t think it has to do with the actual story,’ She said. “It’s more about parading them around. The way they [CoverGirl] did it is the way the Capitol would do it. ”

Perhaps I’m not giving teens enough credit, they can see through marketing schemes just like any adult. With two more “Hunger Games” films to come, there will no doubt be more opportunities for branded merchandise to hit shelves. The second film might have been the most appropriate of them all to take advantage of the themes of fashion and fantasy. One hopes that with the third novel’s intense matters of revolution, death and the violent restructuring of entire countries, “Hunger Games” merchandize might go in a different direction than makeup.

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