We’re Already Playing The Hunger Games

I went to see the hunger games last night. My thoughts going into the movie were that our society is dangerously close to realizing this post-apocalyptic dystopia (or any of the variations of it depicted in other novels and movies).  Seeing the story as a movie focussed my attention on some things that made me realize in many important way we are already living in the world depicted in The Hunger Games.

The movie gives us the information we get from the first person narration of Katniss by making us spectators of The Hunger Games as it is broadcast as reality television in Panem.  It was creepy how much it reminded me of American Idol and why I don’t like reality television. The Capitol city citizens, all slaves to (outlandish) fashion, cheer madly for their favorite contestants, children and teenagers forced to fight each other to the death. It’s calculated, cold, and bloody (although not nearly as bloody as it could have been given the novel).  A not too distant futuristic gladiatorial arena for the people of Panem, providing their panem et circenses, their bread and circus.  

When I read the book, I kept thinking about how dangerously close we are to having our society collapse and how easy it would be to see something like Panem replace it.  While Watching the movie I thought, “Don’t we already ask our children to fight each other to the death?”  We have created a society that treats wealth and resources and opportunities for security and success as a zero-sum game.  We create helicopter parents, who hover over their children endlessly, less their children miss some minor advantage in the quest to get the best advantage, the best education, the best training, the best jobs – because really, and we all know it, we’ve all come to accept it as doctrine – there is only so much to go around and our children must get equipped to get their slice of the pie.  Compassion and kindness and charity and all that is well and fine, but when it gets right down to it, parents spend their lives preparing their children to survive in the games, to find sponsors, to enter the arena and come out alive.  The arena is slightly different. There is more than one winner, but let’s not kid ourselves if we think everyone who goes in has the same chance of coming out alive. 

Our American society already has the equivalent of career tributes, children who are trained from birth to step into the arena to win. They are life machines, primed for success, building resumes and a “me first” attitude from day one or at least by sixth grade.  They are every bit as much the killing machines for our games that the career tributes are in The Hunger Games.  

We don’t need The Hunger Games to tell us that all districts are not equal.  Katniss and Peeta are at a disadvantage because they come from a poor, coal-mining Appalachian like district where food is scarce and the population little more than slave labor for the Capitol empire.   Career youth in rich districts, whose children are rarely ever defeated in the games have the finest education and training.  The children of the Capitol don’t even have to worry about competing, they are immune from the dangers of our games.  This isn’t fictional, this is our world.  The amount of money your school district has corresponds directly to the quality of training you get for our games.  The children of our Capitol, more accurately, the children of those with the most capital, never have to actually compete in the games, they are immune.   The major difference between The Hunger Games and our world is that our disparate districts are not separated by great distances but are sometimes our neighbors, adding an element of taunting and mockery to our neglected.  Sometimes they cause our games to be played out in our streets.

Let’s be honest, Trayvon Martin was a tribute.  He was from one of the lesser districts.  If he were from the Capitol, he would have been white, would have dressed differently and his killer most certainly would have been arrested.  He certainly wasn’t supposed to be in the district he was killed in and that what’s happens in the games. Kids from his district die.  The career youth from our capital districts win, that’s the way it is. Treyvons don’t.  Women don’t.  When they do it is an exception.  Hope to keep the masses happy.
Katniss Everdeens are rare exceptions and when they show up, revolution usually follows at their heels.  You could almost see the 99% pin on her chest instead of the mockingjay.  Make no mistake, the Occupy movement has shown us popular unrest that does come before revolution.  You’ll notice the peacekeepers in The Hunger Games are not police, they are the Capitol’s occupying army.   Now, as we watch, our police are becoming militarized. Instead of protecting us and serving us, their job is increasingly to keep us in our place. By the time they become peacekeepers, most of our fellow citizens won’t realize it happened.  Most of our children will continue to become tributes.

Panem’s biggest mistake is one Rome never thought of  because the technology really didn’t exist at the time for it to be possible – integrating the conquered districts with the citizens at the heart of the empire. Ancient Rome and Panem had central capital cities at their heart.  Our modern American empire has an insidiously different arrangement.  Yes, we have exported our empire around the globe, but our poor districts and our Capitol districts intermingle.  It is easy to get many of our citizen to think they are members of a wealthy district, when in fact they have little access to health care, little access to work, jobs or education, and the training prospects for their children to prepare them for the games is minimal at best.  We tell them over and over, however, that they are citizens of the Capitol and they believe it, thus securing the American empire’s power for another day. They watch the NFL and American idol and latch onto the hope their children will become participants and victors in these games and bring glory to their districts and their families.   Meanwhile…

People enter churches in Fort Worth and other cities all over the empire asking for food, diapers, soap, shampoo, deoderrant, razors, shaving cream, money to pay rent, utilities, and for prescription medication, for gasoline or a bus pass to get to the the doctor or job.  

Increasingly, there are more and more of us who are turning to feeding people, serving people, and living with people of the poor districts as our religious way of life, our way of being spiritual.  For me it is the distinction between following Jesus and worshipping Christ.  Interestingly enough, I find that for Christians, those whose primary interest is worshipping Christ tend to align themselves with the Capitol empire, love reaping its benefits and preparing their children to win the games.  On the other hand, those whose primary interest is following the way of Jesus, tend to reject the way of the Capitol empire, choose to align themselves with the poor districts, actually move to them, and work to level the playing field of the games.   

This is very much the world of the early Jesus movement.  It was an outlaw religion, it took in everyone cast out by the empire and it refused to play in the games.  This church fed the hungry, cared for the sick, and adopted an amazing technique and weapon against the oppressor – forgiveness.  The rebels of The Hunger Games have lessons for us yet.  They were “in the world, but not of it.”  They understood the need to use and play the games of public relations, politics, and organizing because the world they lived in was one in which the empire was omnipresent.   They understood the rules for post-apocalyptic radicals.  If we are to avoid the apocalypse and the dystopian future that follows it as in The Hunger Games, our first step is to realize we are already living it.