In an early scene in the movie version of The Hunger Games, the heroine, Katniss, is being primped and cleaned within an inch of her life -- she even has her formerly untamed eyebrows plucked into a confirming line -- all for one purpose. She's about to meet her public, you see, the world audience who will help decide her fate in the only reality show that matters, the annual Hunger Games. Twenty-four contestants who've been taken from their lives to compete in a Roman/Truman Show fight to the death. There will be one winner, and that person will have riches, etc. heaped upon them. And, in the logic of that universe, society will rest easy for another year.
They have to like you, she's told by her survivalist mentor (played by Woody Harrelson) and her fashion mentor (played by Lenny Kravitz). Make them love you and you might just win this thing. I'm not very good at getting people to like me, Katniss replies, looking like she wishes she could go back to her beloved woods and shoot a squirrel in the eye. Just be yourself, Lenny tells her as she's being strapped into a long red Hollywood-carpet gown, the furthest thing from herself she's ever come into contact with.
And remember, if they love you, you could survive.
The Hunger Games is, of course, dystopian satyr (at least I hope so). It's a possible outcome if society has run completely amok.
Or is it?
It's May. The beginning of Wedding Season. And also a few episodes into Season Innumerable of The Bachelor/Bachelorette. (It's The Bachelorette, this time. And as a woman, I have to say that I find it slightly satisfying to see a bunch of men acting as oddly as only women are generally allowed to on TV).
Twenty-five men have been reaped from society to join the game. Oh sure, they volunteered, no one will die in the process (though I can pretty much guarantee that The Bachelorette will cry frequently, and at least one of the men -- who will refer to himself in the third person as a "weaper" or a "cryer" -- will do so as well). But they will be put on display. And we will watch them all the same.
They too have been primped and prodded into their "best" selves. She will wear more makeup and nicer clothes than usual -- at least, I hope so. The men will be trim, buff, well shaven and well dressed whenever she sees them. And then they will all be introduced to Society by the bland host who is there to facilitate it all (in The Hunger Games, he has blue hair). Brief bios will pop up underneath their images whenever they're on screen: Tom, 34, Pilot; Chris, 32, Teacher. And like Katniss, they'll have a few brief moments to make an impression on her, the goal, someone they'll all declare beautiful and smart and funny and wow, just amazing, you know, amazing.
The object of this game is also to survive, not by killing their opponents (though some may come to blows), but by being more immediately/potentially loveable than them. Because that is what they are there for. They are seeking love, long-lasting love, a wife, a husband, a life. If they survive to the end that is the prize they'll receive. And to show the world how important that prize is, there will be a proposal on a cliff top overlooking an impossible ocean. The wind will blow, the two final contestants will arrive by helicopter. Knees will be bent. She'll be told she's loved by both, but she can only choose one. This is a singular prize, and it cannot be shared.
There will be tears, they will embrace, and then they will be lucky enough to spend the next four months away from each other. He will watch as she starts to fall in love with several other men. She'll see what he had to say about her in unguarded moments. They'll both be hurt, angry, and seeds of doubt will set in.
Then, the Reunion. Like Katniss and her reality-love, they will emerge with their hands clasped and held high in triumph. Any doubt, any regret, any chance that their love might not make it past the final credits, will be hidden behind a mask of happiness.
Because we have watched.
We have judged.
But they have won.
They are loved.