Thursday, September 27, 2012

Concussions, Drones and Muff Boots: The Hunger Games isn't so different.

Concussions in the NFL, Drones in Pakistan and Muff Boots: Why the Hunger Games world isn’t so different after all.

The popular fiction series, The Hunger Games, has quite an awful premise for teenage literature.  The Hunger Games are a reality TV show in which children must fight to the death.  These games arose, in this mythical land, when “districts” rebelled against the “capital.”  As punishment for their rebellion against the capital, each year the districts must offer one boy and one girl for the Hunger Games.  The children must kill each other; one child remains as victor, who brings honor to his/her district and receives personal fame and wealth.
The premise is so brutal that one might be tempted to dismiss the book as too violent for school age children.  I argue it is worth reading because ultimately, its world isn’t so different after all.

First, take the violence.  While we certainly abhor the notion of children killing other children, we accept an incredible level of violence in our culture.  From video games to television shows, most teenagers see murders on a daily basis; many murder someone else in their video game worlds.  Furthermore, our culture embraces incredibly violent sports.  The recent spate of concussions in the NFL shows that we accept incredible violence toward individuals for the entertainment of us all.  In fact, one could look rather cynically at the whole sports machine in our country:  thousands of youth, often from the poorest areas, hope in a shot of glory through sports.  Most don’t have the talent or are discarded by the injury machine.  Even those that do “make it” are often scarred physically for life.  Regardless, the show goes on for the wealthiest who can afford tickets in our stadiums or fancy cable packages. 
Second, take the abusive power of the capital.  The capital sends in “Peacekeepers” to various districts to quell rebellion; they legitimize their actions in the name of retaliation and future peace.  These are the very same motivations and we give for our drone planes in Pakistan.  These drone planes, much like Hunger Games’ hovercraft from the capital, instill fear and wreck lives.  I support our military’s work around the world generally, but the drone war is revolting.  Random families and school children have their house flown over by some US drone, unmanned but loaded with weapons.  It may be that the drones are necessary, but no one has offered the American people a justification for this kind of warfare.  In fact, most of us don’t even know this goes on, much like people in the Capital don’t know what goes on beyond their walls.  I furthermore think that much like the machines in the book, these drones only produce the next generation of people who grow up hating those in power.  Boots on the ground is more dangerous, but unlike a drone, an American soldier can actually make human contact and improve lives.

Lastly, a comment on the fashion.  The protagonist in the story, Katniss, comes from the coal mining district.  She finds the upscale fashion in the Capital absurd.  I’ve lived long enough to see a few trends come and go, but none seems as dumb to me as warm knee length boots in the summer.  I saw no benefit either aesthetically or functionally from these.  Okay, okay, maybe you liked the boots, but it doesn’t take too much to realize that fashions come and go.  Future generations (even my own children) will laugh at what we chose to wear.  I don’t want to belabor this point too heavily, but Katniss’ reaction to the manners and clothing of the Capital reminds us that, as the sage wrote, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”
So, yes, I do think Hunger Games is worth reading.  Not simply as bubble gum fiction, but as a commentary on American culture and power.