Because the Odds are Not in Their Favor (Potential Hunger Games Spoilers Within)

I’ve avoided writing about The Hunger Games on my blog because I’ve assigned the text for a class I’m teaching this summer, and didn’t want all my salient lecture points (or student paper topics) just sitting here willy nilly on my blog, but I’m breaking my rule because of an outstanding intertextual experience I had, which clarified some lingering questions.

You might know that I’ve seen the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book 8 times in the theatre (so far?). I’ve read the first book 4 times. As any good adaptation should, the film raised new and different questions for me than did the original text. Reading the series, most of my questions dealt with my identity as a consumer. It doesn’t take much self-knowledge or cultural awareness as a reader to know that you are not Katniss or Peeta; you are the Capitol. You are the person wearing shoes made by an impoverished person somewhere distant you’ll likely never see and eating food you played no role in harvesting. As Katniss implicitly invites you to be horrified by the Capitol citizens’ egregious oppression through ignorance, she implicates our participation in a similarly convenenient incognizance.

What the film allows that the book does not is an insider’s perspective of the Game Makers and Game technicians. The books give no details of the people who push the buttons that lead children to their deaths. What’s brilliant about the film’s protrayal is that the button-pushers are not the bloated beardy men drinking cocktails above the Training Center so clearly coded as “Old School Evil Boys Club.” No, the button pushers are genial, hard-working folk who take pride in their specialized skills and participation in a finely honed team of magic-makers. The nerdy blonde smiles coyly when she sees that Katniss has noticed one of the cameras embedded in a tree. The booming voice behind the final countdown is a baby-faced fellow who can’t be older than twenty. And the top dog of the button pushers, the creator of the mutations that kill Thresh and ravage Cato, is the lovely and amiable Lucia, who most greatly resembles the woman you would choose to sit next to on the bus. These are the people literally smiling as they steer teenagers toward violent deaths.

As I watched I had to ask myself, in what area of my life might I be as benignly comfortable with people’s deaths. The question didn’t have time to fully form before “The Military” lit up my brain. While I certainly don’t smile cheerfully while hearing troop casualty reports, there certainly exists in my mind an attitude of “you know what you’re signing up for.” Now I’d like to qualify my remarks by explaining all the ways that my attitude is totally different than the game techs and that of course I respect the people who serve in the armed forces, but the point I’m trying to make is that the film showed me my own attitudes extrapolated to their not-too-far-reaching extremities. The films takes my subtle reduction of “soldiers die” and makes it visible. Lucia smiles as she prepares a canon to announce Katniss’ death because Katniss isn’t a real person to her. Katniss is a tribute, and “tributes die.” “That’s what they [get] sign[ed] up for.”

That observation had been floating in the back of my mind until the other night when, after seeing The Hunger Games again, I watched Winter’s Bone, the film that garnered Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Watching the film now, its not hard to see why Lawrence was Suzanne Collins’ ideal Katniss. Ree Dolly is a modern-day Katniss, roaming the Ozarks in search of her meth-cooking father so she can keep her siblings and clinically depressed/catatonic mother fed and safe. It would have been hard not to read these two films intertextually for narrative reasons, setting, score, regardless of Jennifer Lawrence’s presence, but her performance made me watch more closely.

What jumped out most to me in Winter’s Bone was the issue of entering the armed forces. We see Ree watching admiringly as her former classmates practice drills either for the color guard or ROTC (she’s clearly dropped out of high school to care for her family). As she enters neighbors’ homes, its common to see a soldier’s portrait on the mantel: decorated as a memorial or just decorated with pride? And most significantly, 17 year-old Ree tries to enroll in the army for the $40,000 signing pay. She is unapologetic about wanting to join just for the money, which she needs in order to keep her family alive.

The American flags, eagles, and patriotic symbols that adorn the homes and bodies of the characters throughout this poverty stricken tale finally connected the dots that The Hunger Games film had drawn. Who are our present day teenagers that submit themselves to danger and violence because poverty makes it appear as their best option? And why is it that patriotism for the country that propagates this system seems highest in the very communities who are paying the greatest cost? The parallels to Distict 1 and 2 [and beyond] are not hard to see. If you’re going to be forced through poverty to fight a battle so a wealthy population that doesn’t know your name can keep their cars running on the resources your life is paying for, then might not it be easier to accept the propaganda and embrace the ideology that what you’re doing is noble and for the greater good, rather than the alternative? In The Hunger Games the Career Tributes have adopted the Capitol’s view of The Games being a field in which to gain glory through being the boldest, strongest, most fearless warrior. And this is the Capitol’s brilliance- as long as some of the oppressed believe the propaganda surrounding the vehicle of oppression, the system will keep running smoothly.

What is it that Donald Sutherland’s President Snow says as he greats the 24 reaped teenagers at the Tribute Parade?:

“We salute your courage and your sacrifice.”

In the dystopian future-world of Panem, the poorest residents die publicly for the sake of maintaining wealth and convenience for the privileged. Today the deaths are overseas and harder to see.

Posted on Thu, Apr 19th, 2012 at 4:19 am
Filed under Books, Bravery, Cultural Shifts, Film, History, intertextuality, Pop Culture, Psychology/Being Human, Quotes.

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Comments: 1

  1. 1 | Jonathan Edmund

    April 19th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Oh my goodness! This is incredible. You are so smart, articulate, and profound. I am incredibly honored to call you my friend. I can’t wait to show this article to folks. And…it makes me want to find a better way to be in this dang society! But I don’t know quite what to do. I already ‘support’ penal-system reform and anti-war policies, but outside of voting for those things were they to ever be on a ballot, I’m not doing much about them :/

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