This week, Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” hits the big screen. As the latest wildly popular young adult (Y.A.) novel becomes a film franchise, it’s not just box office dollars that will be captured, but potentially nascent citizens. At least that’s the goal of the social campaign called “Hunger Is Not a Game” which aims to connect fans to the global food justice movement.
“The Hunger Games” devotees have long congregated on sites like Mockingjay.net, Down with the Capitol, and the “Hunger Games” Fireside Chat podcast. Now Oxfam, with its long history focused on famine relief, has joined forces with a small, fan-focused group called Imagine Better to encourage the mostly young people who gather on these sites to sign Oxfam’s GROW pledge. Representatives will also circulate at midnight theatrical release parties on March 23 to ask people to sign, and encouraging them to tweet with the hashtag #notagame, in order to build a sense of global community.
Food prices in recent years have hit record highs, leading to riots worldwide. Oxfam’s pledge calls for simple reforms: create policies that encourage crops for food, not fuel, reform food aid procedures and support small farmers.
It’s worth paying attention to this campaign, not just because “The Hunger Games” film is projected to make $90 million at this weekend’s box office, but because Imagine Better is an example of how social change organizations are looking to tap into the extraordinary market power of Y.A. fiction — now the world’s fastest growing literary genre.
While the publishing industry struggles to reinvent itself and find a sustainable business model, the Y.A. category exceeds all expectations. The number of Y.A. novels published each year has quadrupled in 12 years — from 3,000 in 1997 to 12,000 in 2009, when total sales exceeded $3 billion. “The Hunger Games” series has already sold 23 million copies and been turned into 26 foreign editions.
Perhaps the most effective practitioner of fan-fueled social change is Andrew Slack, the 32-year-old founder of The Harry Potter Alliance and the force behind Imagine Better. Since Slack, who started out as a comedian, founded the Harry Potter Alliance, he has motivated Potterphiles to send five cargo planes with $123,000 worth of relief supplies to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, donate more than 88,000 books across the world, raise awareness about net neutrality and genocide and make forays into politics — taking on Maine’s 2009 ballot initiative that sought to repeal same sex marriage.