Why “The Hunger Games” is Actually, Really, Ridiculously Relevant to Our Li

March 24, 2012
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I just came back from a showing of “The Hunger Games,” and for the first time since reading the book, I’ve realized it’s unmistakable relevance to modern society.

For those of you who haven’t delved into this latest trend in YA literature, “The Hunger Games” is set in a post-apocalyptic country of North America, called Panem, which is divided into twelve Districts. In the history of Panem, an uprising of the Districts against the Capitol resulted in the destruction of one district (District 13) and the subjugation of the other twelve. Now, every year, the Hunger Games are held in the Capitol, in which two teenagers are selected from each District as “tributes” in a fight to their deaths. This annual event serves as a warning against rebellion and a reminder of the government’s authority.

When I read the book, and when I watched the movie just an hour ago, I became paralyzed with fear. I fear the Panem Capitol’s flamboyant and shallow-minded residents, who look to the tributes not as trembling teenagers on the verge of death, but as expendable contestants in a game show. I fear their excitement and exhilaration as they watch 15-year-olds tear each other to pieces and their thirst for a staged romance between two of the tributes who will end up as enemies. I fear the tributes themselves, who see the Hunger Games as an opportunity for them to emerge victorious, winning glory and pride for their Districts. I fear the Gamemakers, who convince themselves of their moral righteousness in warning against insurrection. I fear the calculating mind of President Snow, who devotes every cog in his brain to the creation and maintenance of a dystopian society. I fear the helplessness of Peeta, who wants to remain unchanged by the government and live a peaceful life. I fear the indignation of Gale, who tries and fails to understand why his society is the way it is. I fear the hope of Katniss, her will to fight and change something, as well as her disillusionment, her disbelief that a people could be so cruel and twisted. I fear their fear.

But even more than that, I fear the inscrutable, but acute resemblances between post-apocalyptic Panem and the 21st century world. In our world, entertainment is becoming increasingly voyeuristic. We watch sports games and cheer when the opposing team’s star player sustains an injury. We turn on the TV and clap when we see K.O. in a boxing or Ultimate Fighting match. We “ooh” and “ah” over couples in staged and deliberately pre-planned dating shows like “The Bachelor,” pining to see more of their “romance.” We no longer think critically when watching “reality” shows like “Survivor.” In fact, the TV show “13: Fear is Real” is eerily similar to the Hunger Games; thirteen contestants fight to stay alive in harsh, horrific conditions until all but one are “killed.” Still, we can find examples even closer to life. In at least one country in the Middle East, women are stoned to death for a trivial infraction; their deaths serve as warnings against those who wish to rebel. Not to mention, these nations are controlled by dictators who wouldn’t hesitate to blow up one of their “Districts” and suppress the others by force. Much like the deserters of a District who are captured by government planes and never seen again, Chinese citizens who speak out against injustice “vanish” after entering the custody of Communist officials. In North Korea, people starve and starve, but are still forced to praise the government and bow down to its leaders. Even as citizens of democratic nations, we feel the occasional threat of nuclear war and total destruction; who knows what sort of world would rise from the ashes?

Though the prose is less than stunning, “The Hunger Games” serves as tribute (no pun intended) to the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and William Golding, who warned the world to never slacken its grip on conscience, the mere conscience that can save us from hysteria.

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