Most people love the Hunger Games series, especially now that Jennifer Lawrence’s innocent charm has caught the eye of the media to balance out the heavy subject matter and make the movies more palatable. I have read the books and seen the movies, and as we enter the year’s Winter Olympics I feel like most people haven’t recognized the real-word implications of the events Suzanne Collins has been writing about. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I can certainly attest that in America, most people shudder and talk about how much they dislike Mockingjay for its war elements and actually believe it doesn’t fit into the series at all. In a country that routinely makes its children read Hiroshima and The Diary of Anne Frank, for summer reading no less, I can’t help but raise my eyebrows.
The third book happens to be my favorite, not because of its war-reminiscent atmosphere, but because of the obviously intended underlying themes of revolution and the fact that Collins took the novels to the very edge of their potential, undoubtedly one of the points of writing fiction to me. So it makes me wary that people didn’t expect to read what they did in the third book (as of right now the movie has not yet begun filming), when I saw no other logical course of events. She showed us too much of ourselves, and some people are unable to face this truth. That is unfortunate for them, but for everyone else I speaking to you as I draw parallels between the tactics of fictionally using the Hunger Games to keep the masses distracted and in check, and the real life function of the Olympics to achieve the same means.
Obviously, a certain amount of suspension of belief is required to entertain the notion of a society where children and adults are pitted against each other in survival battles that the entire world is privy to, much less comparing that world to our country. I am not going to address that concept today, as that is an entirely different piece altogether. I will attempt to do this as realistically as possible.
The Hunger Games world, most importantly, exists in a future world, where a revolution has already taken place. This revolution occurred 74 years prior to the beginning of the first novel. Panem is the title of the region housing the thirteen districts, reminiscent of a Panema that we learn about in public school, before the continents drifted apart. Although Collins has been clear that Panem refers only to an area smaller than, but contained in, what used to be the continental United States, the idea of everyone being lumped together under the Capitol’s rule is not unlike the one vs the ninety-nine percent condition existing in our country today.
So here we have a defeated people, living under the conditions of a totalitarian government sometime in the future. District 13 was “destroyed”, leading to an Atlantis-like mystique, with the hopeful few believing in and pursuing the population that supposedly still lived there. As we discover, there is indeed a hidden and more advanced society living under the ruins of 13.
Besides a select few, they are uninterested in pursuing an uprising and would rather stay hidden with their technology, avoiding the Capitol, due to a Cold War-like standoff. This district is a smaller and less cruel version of Panem, where absolute rulers still exist and the people are kept blindfolded. This inclusion of 13 is very insightful on Collin’s part, showing that it is the independent thinkers that will change the world, not the newer factions that think like the old, gaining blind followers who are unhappy with the status quo but have no idea or desire to actually change things themselves.
To me, this is similar to the two-party system that we have presently, keeping in mind we have not experienced a full-on people’s revolution in this country since the civil war. Every four years, hundreds of thousands of people go to the polls for the first time in four years, to vote between Choice A or Choice B, two sides of the same coin. The rest of the people stay home, knowing it makes no difference whether they vote or not, or being so far in the system that their livelihood either depends on them not taking time off of work or living off their fellow man’s dollar, funneled through to them by either candidate.
Public welfare in this country amounts to nothing more than slavery; keeping people relying on the work of others, through a legal form of slavery called taxation. In Panem, there is no taxation because everything you obtain comes directly from the Capitol. See where I’m heading now? If not, keep reading.
Katniss and her family’s only chance of eating real food comes from disobeying the law and going hunting for game. The Capitol keeps everything for themselves and feeds the people unhealthy food that keeps them on the brink of starvation and weak. It may seem far fetched to some that life could be like this, but how about Monsanto, GMOs, fast food, processed food, being worked so hard during that week that there are not a lot of alternative solutions to healthy eating without a lot of foresight and planning.
What about the farmers that have been battling with the government since the Industrial Revolution when machines gained a monopoly on jobs? The farmers being forced to shutdown so big corporations can force feed weary Americans what they want to. Why do other countries fight to keep our fast food empire out of their countries and their people’s stomachs?
The capitol, on the other hand, is the primary source of luxury in Panem. As we see in the books, although this is many, many years into the future, the country still operates on such primitive resources as coal (mined by people), cutting lumber (by hand), fishing (by hand) and so on. The first three districts are closer to the Capitol and more advanced in technology, because that is where the Capitol gets most of its supplies, not to mention military power. It is only natural for them to want to be physically close to their main source of protection and enforcement. We can see that the people who live in the capital are more controlled and tied down than any other group in the entire nation of Panem.
According to http://thehungergames.wikia.com/wiki/Panem “The name Panem literally translates to ‘bread and circuses’. The phrase itself is used to describe entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters. Furthermore, by the government providing ample food and entertainment, the citizens would give up their political rights.” As one can derive from this quote, the ones that are getting the most significant quantity of food and entertainment are the citizens of the Capitol.
In the second book, Katniss is disgusted to learn that during feasts (or other unspecified occasions) the members of the Capitol basically turn into bulimics who swallow pills to vomit and keep gorging themselves, apparently too good to stick their fingers down their throats like the rest of us. Not that anyone in the other districts could afford to do this: District 12 is located the farthest from the Capitol (presumably the biggest troublemakers) and they live on the very edge of poverty.
Another parallel to our own society: For the ones who control the resources (a very select few) there is a strong disparity between their excesses and indulgences and the rest of the way society survives. Not lives, but survives. How is it that money gets thrown around in ungodly amounts (http://tinyurl.com/ko5oopz) while ghettos exist in huge cities where the poor (usually minorities) have to squeeze into rooms by entire families and breathe in the exorbitant amount of smoke from the factories that the rich don’t want visitors to see in the good parts of town can exist simultaneously and society just thinks that is okay?
Or do we not think it’s acceptable, but are control of the food supplies and provision of plenty of distraction in the form of entertainment keeping us in this system? Kanye West once said that “Having money’s not everything, but not having it is”. And he would know. When one can reasonably accommodate themselves and keep warm with a room over their head and food in their stomach, they will be okay without a television and a sports car. They may not be happy, but they have the potential to better themselves and reach those goals.
But take take those basic necessities away from them and watch how quickly their standard of living deteriorates. Observe how ten dollars will now buy this individual a bottle of water, enough food for two days, and even a blanket and pillow if he plays his cards right. Or he could purchase a pack of cigarettes. Oh, how the value of money changes then. And some will still buy a fifth of Mr. Boston, but most living on the sidewalk will gladly stretch that ten dollars as far as it’ll take them and then some.
Take the guy and give him a job, and apartment, and a car and notice how quickly he spends the remaining on material goods, even while he knows his new speaker set could feed twenty people sitting outside his building for a week. And what happens when his conscious finally reaches out? He ends up drunkenly donating $50 to the ASPCA so they can keep assaulting the public with videos of caged animals while his neighbors cannot even afford to clothe themselves.
And why do the rich choose to live this way? It is because they believe purchasing these possessions will give themselves value where they previously thought that money would. And thus begins a vicious cycle of consumerism and a buy-in. When you subscribe to the idea that things and money make you happy, a job loss or hour cut can mean life or death. At least the poor people know what the value of money really is and the cruelty being taken out on them every time a vacation to the tropics sells for $10,000, when that same amount would buy them a place to live for two years.
The most significant difference, of course, is that the people of Panem already revolted, so we find ourselves in an apocalyptic-type world, where the Capitol is not too concealed in their purposes. Right now, most of us in America are in the Capitol-like mind set of if I have money, the world can belong to me. More and more are finding that this is not the case, but as I said, the poorest and the richest are the first to realize it.
We have already seen a number of similarities between the world of Panem and our own United States. Next comes a shorter analysis of the ways the Olympics relates to our world today.
Quickly, I will point out one more difference whereas in the U.S. it is entirely voluntary to watch the Olympics. It is almost impossible as an educated person with access to the internet to not be aware of this event going on.Similarly, it is fed to us that watching is patriotic, but we do have the choice between viewing something besides the games. In Panem, the TVs broadcast what the Capitol wants them to. Although we do have the freedom to watch alternative programs, there are many tricks that the media, controlled by the elite, employ to keep us well-fed with junk information.
Tabloids on your way to the grocery store checkout, Boston Marathon bombings Sandy Hook shootings, and singing competitions, while we blissfully ignore the drone strikes that are authorized by our leaders just because they don’t tell us on CNN. For now, though, we have access to one of the greatest tools revolutionaries and activists can hope to have: the Internet. No doubt, that had been abolished or turned over to singularly to government use sometime after the first revolution had been destroyed in the Hunger Games universe. Hopefully, that will not happen to ours and the web will prove to be the wonderful tool that it is this time around.
When the Olympic Games were introduced in 776 B.C. in Greece (although some historians suggest older) according to penn.museum.html, they were intended for male-only athletes who had attended as part of the larger event that was taking place, a festival in honor of Zeus, the father of all the Greek gods and goddesses. So the first thing we know about the Olympics is that they are intended as a ritual to honor for a religious ceremony. Doesn’t seem to mesh well to me with the idea of religious freedom that this country was based on. But the general public rarely seems to consider the true meaning of the Declaration of this country.
After continuing until 394 A.D., the Olympics were banned by Roman Emperor Constantine for his own religious reasons. We know religious power used to equal political power, and still sometimes does, but more so in Roman times. Fast forward 1,503 years later to the re-institution of the Olympics, back in Greece, by a Frenchman who originally sought to bring them back to happen in his home country of France. Instead the other countries relocated it back to its birthplace of Greece. This was 1896.
It is most telling that the public has virtually nothing to do with the Olympics except for supporting their athletes and occasionally hosting the games in their country. Deciding the host country of the games has been an issue of controversy since the beginning, as one can imagine. Even today, any place that the Olympics are considered being held at, the politicians will swear to screw the current infrastructure and drop everything for the prestige, while the citizens understand what the implications will be on a real level for them. The rich and the poor are so politically divided that these types of contradictions can exist without uproar.
Along with the prestige and economic boost from moving an entire city into another city, comes much controversy in politics. For example, in the early years, the games could call an “Olympic Truce” that designated the Olympic’s chosen enforcement as the only enforcement for that period of time, overruling the law in whatever location the competition was held. Just thirty years before the games were officially called to a halt, full out military conflicts were occurring during, becoming the very vehicle of conflict. The distraction wasn’t working so it was abandoned.
The games were brought back over a hundred years ago for much the same reason they began: to distract us from the things wrong with this country. The Olympics are all over cable, because this is what they want us to watch. The poor who can only afford basic or no cable will be seeing these games as something unreachable and influential.
However, because of the Internet, I think things are changing slowly but surely. Finally the Olympics are being used as a vehicle to draw attention to social injustices. Gay rights, infrastructure problems, and discrimination issues are finally be called upon. You wouldn’t hear that even eight years ago.
Although it is just a small change right now, the world is watching less of the games, less of the Super Bowl, and consuming less junk in their minds. So this winter, read the Hunger Games and think about what you can do to even the scale between us (the people) and them (the Capitol/media/elite). Email or message me and let me know how this relates to your own experience. Share this link and get a conversation going. As for myself, I can only hope that the Hunger Games will continue to serve as a cautionary tale, and not a prediction of our future.