Monday, April 9, 2012

Art & Revolution: Hunger Games

Adrienne Rich died last month, on March 27. In her poem "What Kind of Times Are These" she wrote, "this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here, / our country moving to its own truth and dread, / its own ways of making people disappear." The poem was written in 1995, years before secret overseas prisons and the NDAA entered the mainstream news.

I finally saw The Hunger Games this weekend. I read the book and enjoyed it, but seeing it onscreen somehow made all the parallels all the more eerie. The absurdity of the extreme wealth concentration in the Capitol. The ease with which narratives are controlled via the media. The calculated fear tactics of a repressive government. In one poignant scene, Haymitch, a broken, alcoholic winner of a past Hunger Games, watches in quiet anguish and anger as a parent buys their child a cheap plastic-wrapped plastic souvenir: a sword so he too can "play" Hunger Games.

In our world, you can buy Hunger Games nail polish. To be fair, the collection from China Glaze is called "Colours from the Capitol," suggesting that by wearing it, you too can be a Capitol citizen drowning in excess while watching less fortunate children fight to the death. 

After the rebellion, there was only smoke and ashes. And glitter.

But who am I to snark? Aren't I a Capitol citizen too, with my Foxconn-produced iPhone?

I wonder what author Suzanne Collins thinks. For her is it just a story? Did she hope readers would absorb something more? Does she, like Upton Sinclair upon seeing the reaction to his inhumane factory expose The Jungle, think, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach"? In his review of the film, Roger Ebert notes of Panem, the name Collins gives the book's country, "Mrs. Link, my high school Latin teacher, will be proud that I recall one of her daily phrases, 'panem et circenses,' which summarized the Roman formula for creating a docile population: Give them bread and circuses. A vision of present-day America is summoned up, its citizenry glutted with fast food and distracted by reality TV."

The Hunger Games juggernaut has become a circus critiquing a circus. But even with the nail polish, the made-in-China action figures, the millions reaped in merchandizing for corporations, The Hunger Games still has a feeling of rebellion in it. But does that lead to anything? Disney clearly had no reason to fear that after watching Wall-E, audiences would shun mass-produced, landfill-destined plastic Wall-E tsotchkes.

Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451. No free-thinking utopia sprung from these works, but they did give us more ways to talk about freedom and oppression.

Is it enough to be a scribe? To let others know, yes, I see it too? To let future generations know that not everyone agreed with the status quo? That that there was discontent and that a few tried to make it tangible in words? I don't have an answer right now, and this isn't supposed to be a complete exploration; I'm just rambling and wondering.

Maybe we are forever in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and forever both embracing and railing against it.


  1. "With wonderful deathless ditties
    We build up the world's great cities,
    And out of a fabulous story
    We fashion an empire's glory:"

    Sound so much less dystopian when you're talking about ancient empires and history and pretty bleak when you think of the modern world being based on the stories we ourselves are telling.

    1. "Unreal City,
      Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
      A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
      I had not thought death had undone so many."

      The Waste Land: always relevant!

  2. Zeitgeist is the word that comes to mind when reading your blog. I did a google search for "Hunger Games revolution" and happily stumbled upon your words. This isn't "just rambling and wondering." How many young people have read the words and ingested the uneasy feelings associated with an unanswered call to revolution? Your words capture this zeitgeist. I hope that you will write more about it.