Last weekend was an auspicious occasion around my house-the premier of the movie, The Hunger Games. My girls have both devoured all of the books in the trilogy, read and re-read them, wrote reports on them for school, made projects where they designed a book cover for them, and on and on. They've both already seen the movie twice, and went to the premier in costume, as Katniss and Prim, two of the main characters.
Last year, during one of their projects, I picked up the book, and began reading randomly. I wound up reading all three in three days. The story is great, and nearly free of the self-involved super-sappiness of most young-adult genre fiction. I can't go to see the movie in the theater, since I'd be an embarrassment, bawling and heaving and having to stuff torn up napkins in my ears to dampen the sound in order to be able to stand it. I'll wait until it comes out on video and watch when I can bawl and heave in my own living room, and where I can turn down the sound and/or leave the room when it's too much for me. It will save embarrassment, and napkins.
Notwithstanding my aversion to movie theaters, I'm writing about The Hunger Games because in talking to my girls about the movie, it occurred to me that the story is such an apt analogy to our own society, it's scary.
For those who haven't been bitten by the bug yet, the trilogy is set in a dystopian society, where the continent, Panem, is divided into twelve Districts and the seat of government, called the Capitol. Each District specializes in one form of production--agriculture, mining, manufacturing, technology, etc., and the prestige and living conditions are stratified according to their area of expertise. The Capitol consists of the elite, who make nothing, consume a whole lot, and contribute only their tyrannical rule to the society. There used to be thirteen Districts, but one was rubbed out after a rebellion, and of course the threat of similar annihilation keeps the others following obediently the psychopathic ways of the Capitol.
On the premise that there isn't enough food to go around (though the Capitol lives in opulence), the Capitol pits citizen against citizen, requiring that the twelve Districts compete annually for additional rations by sending two children aged 12-18 to compete in the Hunger Games, a sadistically contrived gladiatorial fight to the death, in which only one of the twenty-four child participants emerges alive. Meantime, the carnage is telecast as a "reality show'" even allowing audience participation in the form of gifts of food, weapons, or supplies to the combatants. The rank and file go along with this barbaric spectacle to varying degrees, some reluctantly as supposed victims and others as partisan cheering sections for the butchery.
The young heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers as one of the contestants from her District as a substitute for her younger, tiny and sickly sister, Prim, who was chosen by lottery. Without giving away too much of the plot, I'll say that the crux of the story lies in Katniss' evolution from protective sister to angry warrior to determined disobedient, and in the process, she causes a crack in the monolithic rule of Panem by the elite and terroristic Capitol.
Thinking again on the story surprised me, as it hadn't occurred to me when I first read the books that Panem isn't some futuristic dystopia--it's already here. We have our own Capitol elites, who live in a plenty that most inherited through accident of birth, though they claim that they "earned" their place. We have the Districts--the contrived differences in geography, wealth, education, social class, race, religion and politics--that are used to keep us all fighting each other instead of the real enemy.
Most disturbingly, we also sacrifice our children every day. We sacrifice them for psychic comfort when we ignore children living in poverty in the same cities where some buy Tiffany dog collars--heck, some of us even blame the poor for being that way, and begrudge them every scrap that we throw to them to keep them dependent victims unable to stage all-out revolution. We sacrifice our children for convenience when we buy heavily processed, genetically modified, chemical-laden garbage from the freezer aisle or fast food restaurants so we don't have to make them a real meal or listen to their whining about eating their veggies. Some of us sacrifice our children for material gain when we stuff them in a daycare or with a nanny twelve hours a day so we can afford a nicer house, a newer car, or a tropical vacation. Some of us do it to keep our "place" in society when we cooperate with this runaway train of a corrupt corporate oligarchy running our world so that we won't lose our self absorbed lifestyle, our social security, or our 401(k).
Many of us sacrifice our children by telling ourselves that it's all someone else's problem to fix--that we're too small and weak to do anything of value--but even though there is no one "else" fixing it, we just let it go on. And of course we collectively sacrifice our children, our young people in the military, when we turn a blind eye to our nation's continual empire-building, pillage-then-burn occupation of the world so that the corporations can increase their profits as they suck out resources from under someone else's home or exploit someone else's labor for pennies a day, all so we can drive around in our SUVs and get two $5 T shirts made by a twelve year old in Malaysia at starvation wages, instead of a $10 one made here by a single mom at only poverty wages (insert the Wal-Mart smiley logo here). Bleak.
But maybe not as bleak as it sounds. Because while The Hunger Games' plot showed me that our world really is one sick puppy, just like Panem, it also showed that the beginning of the end comes when one girl gets her 'mama grizzly' on and stands up to the machine. Other people see it, and while some hide their eyes and some curse the girl, afraid that it will mean the end to their butchery-fed gravy train, others are inspired to join in.
We do live in a Hunger Games dystopia, where manufactured lack, fake rivalries, and terrorist governments try to beat the humanity out of each of us and make us hate and butcher each other, physically, mentally and economically, while the elite skims the cream off the top and laughs at the spectacle of we pathetic animals killing one another. And for the Capitol, it's worked pretty well for quite a long time. But just like in the story, all it takes to start the avalanche of change is for one girl, in the right place at the right time, to stop following the rules of the Games.
May each of us be that girl.