Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lessons to be learned from The Hunger Games

I didn’t really understand what all the excitement was around The Hunger Games, but I decided to go with my wife and see it on the opening weekend of the movie, then I saw it again, then I read the trilogy—all within a week.  Needless to say, I caught The Hunger Games fever.

The first time I saw the movie, I walked out of the theater just blown away, amazed at what I had just seen—not because of the acting or the cinematography—no, it was a stirring within me, a feeling of uneasiness at the thought—or better, the realization that I was, along with all the other movie goers, a citizen of the Capital.   Yes, that Capital—as described in The Hunger Games, where the residents live in luxury, sheltered from the realities of the world, never to feel the pangs of hunger within their stomachs. 

The second time I saw the movie, as walked out of the theater, two in front of me were talking about their first impressions of the film; “I was hoping for more blood and gore” one said.   I was appalled—yet hardly surprised; we are a culture that celebrates violence—sort of like the citizens of the Capital.  Commiserating with the classmate I had seen the movie with, there was a common refrain—“we’re screwed,” one can’t help but wonder how long the rest of the world, a la the Districts, will continue to take the oppression we as residents of the Capital dish up.  There is so much to learn from The Hunger Games, yet I’m convinced few will ever give it a second thought; where shall I begin…

Poverty – The Seam vs. the Capital, polar opposites and worlds apart—if only it was just in the movies.  In reality there are millions (and likely billions) of people living in abject poverty, starving to death, while we in the Capital have food and goods in excess.  Worse, just like the Capital did to the Districts, we exploit the rest of the world so that we may maintain our high class of living and ignore the suffering that goes on.

Violence—Violence is part of our culture, it dominates our entertainment (from sports to movies), de-sensitizing us from the horrors it causes.  We are like the Capital, entertained by the murderous slaughter of other’s children.  Whether it be the self-medicating, drunken stupor of Haymitch by which he shielded himself from his violent memories or the constant nightmares of Katniss, The Hunger Games demonstrates that violence is hardly a (video) game—it has real life consequences.  Yet that is exactly what we, as the Capital, have turned it into; The Hunger Games shakes it’s head at violence, as Haymitch can only do when he sees a parent give his son a sword as a toy, and as the movie portrays the initial “bloodbath” as jarring, disorienting, and disturbing—because such violence is that and worse. 

Hope—I’m reminded of the conversation between President Snow and the Gamemaker Crane.  Snow, uncomfortable with the direction the Games were headed in with Katniss and Peeta’s love story, tells Crane that a little hope is a good thing, but a lot of hope can be dangerous.   A little hope—that’s all our society is willing to give, because too much is dangerous, and we know it.  The cultural myth of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is a little hope, exemplifying the one who was able to ascend from the depths of poverty is a little hope—any more hope, like Snow said, would be dangerous.  So rather than address the severe socio-economic inequalities that exist in this nation and offer real hope to the less fortunate—we instead offer them something like The Games itself, one will survive yet most will not. Why? Because we know that allowing real hope is dangerous—to us, and leads to the kind of change that comes at the end of the trilogy. 

The Military—I couldn’t help but notice the vocabulary used in The Hunger Games to describe the tributes, words like courageous, brave, and daring.  In the story, citizens of the Capital praise the tributes before they enter the arena, celebrating the sacrifice they are making for their country—all the while ignoring the fact that these tributes are children who have been turned into trained killers and will likely not come back alive. 

I mean no disrespect whatsoever to those who serve within the Armed Forces. Rather I wish to point out to those who celebrate the valor and bravery of these young men and women yet are far too eager to send them into harm’s way, to remind them that we spend far more resources training these young men and women to be killers than to bring peace, and to acknowledge that we send them away knowing that many will not return.  Just like the citizens of the Capital, our young women and men must sacrifice their lives so we can continue our bloated, excessive lifestyle and maintain the status quo.  Shame on us for being so willing to disrespect young lives.

I could go on, for there are many more themes to explore—yet I hope that if you have seen or read The Hunger Games you will take a closer look at the story. Image if you truly were a resident of District 12, or your child was reaped for The Games—how would you feel about the the Capital, the powers that be, if such a thing happened to you?

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