Right Fight, Wrong Dystopia: Two Cheers for the Hunger Games

Richard here. In the spirit of going ahead and writing about things even though they’ve been out for weeks, I have some thoughts to add about The Hunger Games.

This really might be a follow-up dialogue to Ryan’s posts. If he were in this country, as opposed to Bangkok (“the only Oriental city” – Murray Head) we probably would have seen this movie together and written up a dialogue post about it. But alas, I will try to soldier on without him. The following are just a few notes, based on the two enthusiastic cheers, and one cheer based on the northernmost borough of New York City, that I would give this movie.

Awesome female heroine

CHEER #1: What a cool, strong female protagonist Katniss Everdeen is.

Of course Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful, but for once it’s nice to see a female character who doesn’t have to trade on her looks and use her feminine wiles to get by.

In fact, the real tart in this film seems to be Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). He flirts with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) the TV host, and cuddles up to Katniss when he realizes it may save his life.

Kind of a tart

Basically, he’s a basket case and would be dead if he didn’t flutter his eyes at everyone he thinks could help him. It’s always fun to see the role reversal of a male being used as the sex object. I see a major slash-fic genre developing here.


CHEER #2: The film is an excellent critique of media culture and the military-industrial complex.I hope it will not be lost on Americans (although whatever it is, it usually is lost on most Americans) that this public killing of our young goes on all the time, and not in the relatively humane numbers of only 23 deaths per year. Lest we forget, our “tributes” are still dying in the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and many who survive will suffer pain and trauma for the rest of their lives. Considering the questionable foreign policy rationale for every war from Korea to the present day, it’s hard not to conclude that America’s continuing involvement in regular warfare is related to some kind of national ritual bloodletting. And the way these wars now are covered in the media, like some popcorn action flick on CNN and Fox News, is at the heart of the film’s critique.

May the odds be in your favor...

BRONX CHEER (Where the film misses the mark):

That being said, the film completely misses the point about why this sacrifice of the young happens in the first place: capitalism.

Now let me preface this by saying I am a moderate liberal in a land of leftists. Most of us benefit from corporate capitalism and most of us would severely miss it if it was gone. We live in a world in which we must all make our negotiations with the marketplace, including moral ones, and there is no collectivist pie-in-the-sky that is going to save us from that. This does not mean that the American capitalist system, in its current incarnation, is not profoundly, dangerously, out of balance. 

The Hunger Games purports to be a dystopia, and an American dystopia at that. This means the excesses of our culture are projected into the future and amplified in order to hold them up to critique. So how in the name of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart does Suzanne Collins imagine this American dystopia to be an essentially socialist enterprise?

The hyperreal simulated world in which the games take place could only exist through intensive research and development of telecommunications and satellite technology. And there appears to be no entity in the country of Panem capable of doing this other than the government. The Capitol is a sleek and efficient government city built somewhere in the Rocky Mountains; there is a vast television network with a cadre of celebrities on the government payroll; a high-speed train is built by the government to speed people from the outer districts to the central city.

As I watched the spectacular sets and technology portrayed in the film, I kept asking myself, “You paid for all that with tax money? In America?”  (And BTW, a high-speed train? In America?) You can’t fill a pothole in this country without late middle-age protesters showing up in tri-corner hats quoting the collected political wisdom of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. I don’t care what apocalypse happens, the political economy of The Hunger Games is not America’s future.

America’s current and developing dystopia is a capitalist-authoritarian model of government. We’re well on our way to a reified and insurmountable class system where the impoverished minority toil for the wealth of the elite majority; to cameras in the trees and drones in the air watching our every move for the sake of “security.” We’re already sacrificing our younger generation—financially, physically—for the needs of a selfish and myopic older generation (with several thoughtful, generous, compassionate exceptions). But these things are now and will be driven by the profit margins of corporations. Period. The way America will get to the world of The Hunger Games is by the continuing corporate takeover of our democracy.

If there’s one thing The Hunger Games teaches, it’s that the young often have a stronger bullshit detector than their elders. They may not always know how to fix what’s wrong with the system, but they can sniff out when something’s not right. I see this happening in the Occupy movement, which despite its lack of focus, is the blaring red alert about what is wrong with the economy and politics of America.

As in The Hunger Games, the protests of the younger generation are met with condescension, if not outright oppression, from the ruling class elders. Note President Snow…er…Mitt Romney’s recent statement about Occupy protesters at Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte:

“Unfortunately, a lot of young folks haven’t had the opportunity to really understand how the economy works, and what it takes to put people to work in real jobs, and why we have banks, and what banks do.”

As if this was a protest against the concept of banking.

In fact, these protesters are too young to ignore how the economy is not working, and what the banks are not doing. If there had been a commercial break in the ongoing reality TV series portrayed in The Hunger Games that said, “The 74th Annual Hunger Games…Sponsored by Bank of America,” then I could have believed this story.

As it is, the growing perception of the youth in The Hunger Games that they are being used by an unjust system, that “may the odds be in your favor” is really a death wish, and that the time has come for reasonable citizens to join the younger generation and resist, is a reflection of the spirit of the age. In terms of its politics and economy, however, one wonders if author Collins and the makers of the movie have yet to give up their illusions about the real causes of American dystopia.   


Even "President Snow" gets what it's really all about: Donald Sutherland at Occupy Vancouver in October 2011.

Photo: Jazmin Miranda