Consume

Let’s do this. I have been mulling this over long enough I probably missed the window of relevance. I blame having a day job.

The FSF encourages people to not use the word consumer. By and large, I agree with this. Interacting with something means you are not just consuming it, you are understanding or interpreting it. Generally, I view listening to music or watching movies or reading books as consumption. Even though you are interacting with it on some internal level, you take it in and you don’t necessarily put it out (changed or otherwise). However, I see people moving away from that. They are implicitly, or explicitly, taking part in the creation of a work–or the world of the work–through design or serendipity.

Which brings me to the Protomen. And The Hunger Games.

By and large, fans of The Hunger Games and the Protomen are missing the point.

The Protomen are a group of musicians with stage names, costumes, and makeup who have created and perform a rock opera based on the Megaman games.

A photo  of two members of the Protomen at a concernet

The Protomen in 2008. Photo courtesy of millermz on Flickr. CC-BY

At the heart of the Megaman story, especially the Protomen’s version of it, are individuals who become tools that are used by both the oppressive society in which they live and those wishing to rebel against the society.

The Hunger Games is a book (and a trilogy) by Suzanne Collins as well as a very popular movie.

A photo of the three books in the Hunger Games trilogy

Photo courtesy of michi003 on Flickr. CC-BY.

At the heart of the Hunger Games are individuals who become tools that are used by both the oppressive society in which they live and those wishing to rebel against the society.

While nearly all the details of these two stories are different, they’re both about going against oppression and attempting to bring about the downfall of totalitarian regimes.

Both the Protomen and The Hunger Games have very devoted fans. Crazy devoted fans. These fans participate in their respective works rather than just consuming them. And the creators encourage this.

During my five face-to-face minutes with the Protomen, I asked about audience participation. Bakker told me about performing Act 1.

Towards the end of Act 1, Protoman and Megaman face off against each other. Protoman explains that while he had been created to save man, he decided man wasn’t worth saving. To prove this, he addresses the crowd:

Tell me now. Is there a man among you here?
Is there no one who will stand up and try to fight?
Tell me Man, is there not one in all your ranks? Is there not one who values courage over life?

And no one moves. The audience, Bakker explained to me, is watching the show and doesn’t want to ruin it. Through this they are creating the story. No one comes forward. No one will fight.

After getting over my desire to hug him and ask him to be my friend, I recognized that even knowing this, I wouldn’t break the show by standing beside Megaman. In general, the audience members are encouraged to participate. It’s even called for. The crowd has lines and the audience is excited to shout them. They demand the heroes’ deaths, they call for their heads. They ask to be saved. They chant the propaganda of Dr. Wiley. They declare themselves the dead. The audience is shown to clap, to raise their arms in the air. The show even begins with the audience being called to arms, again and again until they are hoarse from declaring their allegiance, before the music even starts. They are also discouraged from participating in non-sanctioned ways. If they clap at the wrong time, the Protomen make motions for the audience to stop. The band is directing the interaction of the audience with the show.

The audience is missing the point.

They are willingly, happily, becoming those oppressed by the society by taking part in it.

A photo of the Protomen playing at PAX Prime, 2010.

The Protomen in 2010. Photo courtesy of Technomancy on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

The Hunger Games is a book. I am not going to talk about the book. I am going to talk about the movie because, let’s be honest, the way the audience is called to participate in a book is hugely different than the audience being called to participate in a movie.

A photo of a mock Panem ID card from District 2.

I couldn't find a matching Protomen compatibly licensed Protomen photo, but they exist. Courtesy of Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr. CC-BY

My favorite example is Capitol Couture, a website with a .pn (for Panem, I assume). This calls for people to participate in the same Capitol culture condemned in the books. And people happily do so. They compete in contests of design and styling. They buy and wear shirts matching those participants in the Games wear (in the movie). They support their favorite contenders through stickers and shirts and declarations. They write fan fiction, bringing back the Games, creating new characters to participate in it, and torturing the old onces. I can’t tell you how many status updates of “May the odds be ever in your favor” I saw when the movie came out. Dear gods.

The audience is missing the point.

They are willingly, happily, becoming those oppressed by the society by taking part in it.

A photo of many people waiting in the rain to meet the actors in The Hunger Games.

People waiting to meet actors from The Hunger Games. Photo courtesy of R. B. Boyer on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

That’s really the worst part is that participating is not only easy, it’s fun. With the Protomen, it’s fun to be part of the crowd. It’s easy to get swept up in the emotion and the calls and your role. It’s easy to enjoy it. In The Hunger Games (movie), it’s really easy to get caught up in the glamor and style of the Capitol. You find yourself caring about the Games as a citizen of the Capitol watching in on TV would. You root for your favorites, you enjoy the spectacle, and you are manipulated just as they are.

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