I was one of the mindless masses who flocked to theaters last weekend to catch the movie adaptation of the second book in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy. I was one of those who helped give the movie its $161.1 million opening weekend gross. I must confess, I am a fan of the books, even though I’m not exactly a member of their so-called “target audience” (young adults, generally).
I admit I’m surprised by the books’ popularity. After all, these books describe a reality that is startlingly similar to where we as a society are heading (some would argue – convincingly – that we’re already there, at least in part).
But what HAS surprised me the most is the lack of outrage the books – and movies – have generated from the right-wing media outlets. After all, these books, and their impressive movie counterparts, are basically gathering up every cliché ever flung at the poor and oppressed of our society by the Right and clubbing them over the head with them.
WARNING: Some spoilers exist below the fold, so if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, you may want to stop reading now. The rest of you can follow me.
Journey with me now to the world of The Hunger Games. They take place in the fictional country of Panem* a country built on the former North American continent. It is never explained in any of the books what happened to the former United States, but presumably some apocalyptic event wiped out a large portion of the population of not just the U.S. but also the world’s population. Those who think about such things (for reasons unknown) have estimated that the population of the country rests at only 4 million people, a far cry from the U.S. of today.
The country is divided into 12 different districts, plus The Capital (no other name is ever given for this city). Most of the citizens in the outlying districts live in frontier-style poverty conditions most of the time, with a few basic modern conveniences, such as flashlights, electricity in some buildings, and minimal indoor plumbing. Each district provides a different resource to the country, or, more specifically, to The Capital. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, resides in District 12, the poorest. It is estimated to contain less than 9000 citizens and its primary resource is its coal mines, where the majority of its population works. A very small merchant class lives slightly above the poverty line, but most of the rest of the citizens live hand-to-mouth in near total squalor. Those few (like Katniss) who manage to live from day to day without knowing where their next meal will come from do so because they possess a certain skill that gives them a leg up.
It’s not until we are introduced to the Capital, in both the books and movies, that we learn just how sharp the division of wealth is. The Capital is not just a rich city, it is the rich city. There, the privileged few who were lucky enough to be born and live there live in absolute gluttonous splendor, basically thanks to the resources provided to them by the surrounding districts. The districts, meanwhile, survive on the dregs they are left with after The Capital takes its Lion’s share. The larger districts, which are more heavily favored by The Capital, get more, while the smaller, poorer districts basically live in the same poverty.
The worst part about this arrangement, however, is the titular event of the First book: The so-called Hunger Games. These games, as punishment for an earlier unsuccessful rebellion by the districts against The Capital’s control, require that, once each year, each district send one male and one female “tribute”, a young person between 12 and 18, chosen at random by a lottery that no one wants to win, to The Capital. From there, they are then transported to a specially designed open-air “arena”, where they must fight to the death until only one remains.
I won’t give away much more, just to say that our heroine manages to 1) thwart a system that’s been designed to produce only 1 winner for decades, 2) unintentionally foment a second revolution within the districts, and 3) unwittingly become a symbol for that revolution.
This book and movie series are an indictment of our entire system. The “top 1 percent” (The Capital’s population) lives in luxurious splendor. The rest of the population watches as the fruits of its labor are stolen from the mouths of themselves and their children and taken to people who treat them as no better than assets to be discarded once they have outlived their usefulness. Those few outside the “1 percent” who manage to do a little better than their peers do little or nothing to help those less fortunate – unless they can gain something by doing so.
Really, when you think about it, it truly is where our society seems to be on the road to. The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and any dissent is almost immediately and ruthlessly squashed. Suzanne Collins has now made millions by showing us exactly where we could really end up if things keep going the way they are. And the movies have made, and will doubtless continue to make, hundreds of millions of dollars. These books and movies have accomplished what hundreds of the most liberal MSNBC pundits could never hope to do, and they’ve made a fortune doing it.
So where’s the right-wing outrage over this movie? I’m the first to admit that I don’t regularly troll their news sites (I don’t want my head to explode), but the brief time I spent on Fox news searching about this led to a brief editorial decrying the violence depicted in the latest movie. Seeing this, though, and then seeing Tuesday’s (11/26) episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, which showed a man decapitated on prime-time network television within the first 2 minutes, I have to say that was a somewhat superfluous complaint.
I never thought I’d say I’m disappointed by the opposition, but I have to say that they didn’t even phone it in on this one. Perhaps this might have something to do with the aforementioned $161 million opening weekend. Money, it seems, always trumps politics when it comes to how the right reports things.
*Panem, which is Latin for bread, was chosen by the author because it is part of the phrase “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses) coined by the Roman poet/satirist Juvenal, to describe the current political apathy of his Roman contemporaries.