Anyone who has been scrolling through the “For You” page this past week has probably seen many Hunger Games TikToks that try to answer this question: “If you were a tribute in the Hunger Games, what would you do?”
In line with other trends that have populated the social media app, these videos, collectively dubbed as “Hunger Games TikTok,” are identifiable by the use of the same sound clip. Many of these videos feature users, or tributes, that receive a sponsor gift as a premise.
As a refresher, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy features tributes from 12 districts who are chosen through a lottery system. The participants then must fight to the death in an arena until only one remains. The games are televised to members of the Capitol, wealthy citizens who often sponsor gifts to tributes they want to see win.
While all of the participants in the books try to survive, many of the TikTok creators do the exact opposite in their videos. Several portray themselves receiving a sponsor gift and using the item for everything but its intended purpose.
For example, in one video, a TikTok creator receives healing cream from a sponsor, much like the book’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, did when she suffered a burn injury on her leg. But instead of using it properly, the creator uses it to kick start his vlogging career by unboxing it to the cameras inside the arena.
Others are also extremely creative and self-deprecating with their videos. Receive bleach as a sponsor gift? Use it not to poison your competitors’ drinking supply, but to touch up your roots or create a tie-dye shirt because you always have to be serving looks. Anything that doesn’t work toward the purpose of the Hunger Games is fair game.
Where did this trend originate?
Like many popular trends on the app, Hunger Games TikTok can be credited to the creator of the original video, who first used the now-ubiquitous sound clip. After going viral, many TikTok users opted for the same sound clip and premise. With each recreation, the content became more exaggerated and distorted until it became a meme.
This type of absurd humor is not entirely new. A lot of recent trends have similar plots in which teenagers and young adults are faced with a bleak idea, like the dystopian plot of “The Hunger Games.”
Yet, the people leading these online trends, usually Generation Z, are great at turning something disheartening into something comical, and it’s not the first time that they have done so.
For example, one of the plot points of “The Hunger Games” — the constant surveillance inside the arena — draws a lot of parallels with the FBI surveillance memes from 2018. After rumors that FBI agents could watch you through your computer webcam spread across the internet, young adults were quick to satirize what seemed to be a gross invasion of privacy.
For the most part, these rumors have since been debunked. Nevertheless, the tendency to juxtapose the depressing with the hilariously absurd is quintessential to this generation, whether it’s through tweets about our own personal FBI agent or TikTok videos subverting the dystopia of “The Hunger Games.”
Why is the humor so dark?
As mentioned earlier, a large portion of the content populating TikTok and other social media platforms right now is the work of Generation Z, which is the first generation to have grown up with the mobile phone. A lot of their childhood was spent on the internet.
According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Z was “in line to inherit a strong economy with record-low unemployment.” But with the current crises, “instead of looking ahead to a world of opportunities, Gen Z now peers into an uncertain future.”
Dark humor then becomes a way to cope with these issues and makes them less serious. According to scientists, it’s pretty effective as well. Stanford psychologists found that “in the face of stressful imagery, comedy is a more effective coping strategy than solemnity.”
What does this trend say about Generation Z?
Well, Generation Z is great at satire. They don’t shy away from creating unfiltered content — even if it criticizes themselves — because these humorous videos provide an escape from the outside world.
Hunger Games TikTok also shows that Generation Z is tired. But there’s a distinction between being physically tired and being tired of the status quo, of which both would apply to most teenagers and young adults.
They have no problem believing that if they were in the Hunger Games, they would not be doing what the tributes did. They would not be constantly training in the weeks before the battle royale and would not be eagerly awaiting their chance to play by the rules of the game.
Instead, TikTok creators are highlighting activities that they have always turned toward. Focusing on appearance to express personal style, pursuing love inside the arena, finding community, whether through talking with other tributes or with the camera in front of them — all of these activities might seem superficial, but they give life meaning and satisfaction. Most importantly, they’re going against the grain.
Something as innocuous as Hunger Games TikTok went viral because, even though many of these videos are absurd, teenagers and young adults find something in these videos that resonates with them. Their humor makes something bleak a bit lighter. They have a tendency to revert to old habits — to find routine, or a silent rebellion against what is expected of them.