The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, a film based upon the first book of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, is one that brilliantly expresses some of the appalling insensitivity that can gradually seep into any culture over time to the point that citizens become hardly aware of the psychotic values that their world has adopted.

I was struck by the similarity between this story and a much older one by Shirley Jackson called  “The Lottery” in which the savage customs of the town are so ingrained in the minds of its populace, that those customs are accepted almost without question, even though the people cannot even remember anymore why they are practiced.  Panem in the Collins story is part of what had been North America, and the metropolis is surrounded by twelve smaller, less affluent and less technologically advanced districts, which are being punished yearly for their former rebellions against the central government.  This is why the lottery is used in order to choose one girl and one boy aged twelve to eighteen from each district as sacrifices for mortal combat until only one is left.

The chilling scenes are compounded in their horror due to the entertainment value of the combat, which is broadcast to the nation itself just as if it were merely a baseball game.  It becomes the ultimate reality TV with the insincere Caesar and Claudius as commentators, whose only purpose is to rev up the crowd, showing no genuine sympathy at all but rather to give the audience a good show.  Caesar is a real showman but rather a shallow human being dressed up like some synthetic Karl Lagerfeld in a vampire-looking costume.

I thought about ancient Rome and the games fought to the death for crowds of cheering clods, whose only concern was their own entertainment.  I thought too about Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy turning off their emotions and reason through nationalistic hysteria that shut down any broader view of the horror that was taking over the world.  This lack of sympathy on the part of viewers and commentators for the event was the most terrifying part of the film.  After Katniss (the heroine) loses her friend, Rue, who is slaughtered , Katniss honors the corpse by putting flowers on it.  This causes a riot in District 11 by all those who witnessed the emotional event.  That was my greatest moment of hope, seeing people experience outrage at what is universally wrong. For that brief time, the emotional vacancy of the viewers was called into question and reviled by those who still held on to some remnant of human decency, putting its value of life above that of entertainment.

The heartless Seneca and his techno team are in charge of inventing new and ever more horrible obstacles for the participants in the the televised battle to the death. As “people” they have barely any of the characteristics of human beings.  They are almost just machines with only one value left, to entertain viewers, even at the cost of the participants’ lives. President Snow, the coldest and vilest of the characters in the story, sees only his authority as having any value.  The popularity of the two final winners, Katniss Everdeen and her romantic interest, Peeta Mellark, disturbs the President, who glows with hatred, jealousy, and dismay at the possibility that his authority may be undermined somehow by these two upstarts.  With an evil smirk at the end of the film, wearing his black uniform, President Snow climbs slowly a staircase with his thoughts of squelching any possible rebellion that could be triggered by Katniss and Peeta, even if only unintentionally.

I kept waiting for the populace itself to figure out the mindless horror of these practices so that it would rebel.  That tension is the basis for the story, that terrible waiting for reason and sympathy to return to human values in order to overcome the bloodthirsty delight in seeing fellow beings slaughtered for this barbarous entertainment.  The final question becomes, “How are we in modern times like the people in this story, and how close are we to losing our emotional and intellectual sense of balance in our quest for revenge and violence as actual entertainment?”

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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One Response to The Hunger Games

  1. Jim says:

    The Hunger Games is only one in a long line of stories that have been written about how humans as a group can be subdued into an existence that we as observers find unbelievable.

    Soylent Green comes to mind, as does Blade Runner. Both of these were classic “Sci-Fi” stories, made into movies, depicting a society that is close enough to ours of today to seem somewhat familiar, yet different in ways that we find horrific.

    I think the recurring theme in all of these stories, Hunger Games included, is that mobs are more easily manipulated than we like to believe. Hitler was a master at it, as were other past great “leaders” of our planet.

    Our American democratic form of government was designed to prevent this kind of thing from happening, which is why we Americans in particular have a hard time suspending belief when we read stories such as The Hunger Games or Soylent Green. We have a hard time believing people would accept such treatment from their government, when in fact for much of human existence, it has always been so. The more powerful rulers against the serfs.

    In todays world of polarized political and religious beliefs, we may be at danger of seeing first hand some of the things we may have believed to be unthinkable. Those of us who just want to live our life out as comfortably as we can versus those who hunger for power, wealth and noteriety.

    The Hunger Games is just the most recent of a recurring human theme. Flashier special effects perhaps, but not an unusual reflection of the possibility of a way of life some have lived in the past, or yet may live in the future.

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