The Hunger Games and Politics

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Rufus F.
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    says:

    As I tweeted yesterday, “I just wish The Hunger Games stuck it to my real-world political enemies a bit more clearly. That would have made it better art.”

    Wit and irony aside, I think they actually did try that with the sequel to Battle Royale (the Japanese version of the Hunger Games, also very popular with teens, but unbelievably bloody)- in the first one, the adults have the teens fight to the death on an island for a television game show because “society collapsed”, and that’s the explanation. In the sequel, there’s an added subplot about the War on Terror shoehorned in (with a George Bush lookalike speaking Japanese!) that sort of made the story clearer while also making it a lot more ridiculous. Like you said, art is all about abstractions.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Rufus F.
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      says:

      I have wanted to see Battle Royale for years. Hopefully the Hunger Game fever will propel a release on Netflix or something.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Roger
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        says:

        It’s a great movie. Not to sound like a freak (any more than usual), but when we got married I gave my groomsmen and best person DVDs of Battle Royale as gifts. I don’t know about Hunger Games, but Battle Royale plays like a John Huges high school drama if all of the teenage politics actually ended in people getting violently killed! I can see why they didn’t release it in the US after Columbine, but maybe now it’ll get some sort of decent release. It’s a sort of phenomenon in Japan- you can get comic books, key chains, and even a bloody school uniform. At one point, David Fincher was going to re-make it, which would have been cool, but probably now everyone would think he was ripping off the Hunger Games!Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger
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        says:

        Just got the new “Google Play” beta on Google plus.

        Battle Royale was the first movie that showed up in the rentals.  I think Google is Watching Me.Report

  2. Avatar Ethan Gach
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    says:

    I agree with that ending sentiment completely.  Th movie at least never seemed to deliver on any kind of deeper critique, implicity or otherwise.

    Although perhaps it does.  The take away seems to be: give into the dominating ideology and use it not to subvert it, but to simply get by for you and your family.

    Idealists, like Mr. “What if nobody watched,” are deadends.  Instead, you’ve got to give the crowd what it wants (e.g. play up the love angle, cater to decadent tastes) in order just to get back home alive with enough for you and yours.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Ethan Gach
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      says:

      Ethan, in fairness to Hunger Games (a note, I haven’t read the books but have a general familiarity with them) the first movie is a translation of the first book which is to say that it’s basically incomplete. You will note that neither the male or female leads are immensly happy seeming at the end of Hunger Games. The point of this being that this isn’t a happy ending and that while the movie presents it as an ending it’s also portrayed as a rather tragic and bad one. Not as bad as some of the alternatives, nay, but certainly far from good.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
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        says:

        This is correct.  The first book of The Hunger Games didn’t have the deeper critique–it just lets the reader feel the bewildered desperation of not just the heroine but everyone in District 12, sharing their lack of understanding of why things are as they are.  It’s not until later in the series that the backstory that develops the critique is presented.Report

  3. Avatar Ethan Gach
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    says:

    I think Somin and others are right on the message of decentralization.  And it’s one I certainly support.  As long as it is applied with equal gusto to all forms of consolidated power, tendencies toward a moderate but definitive amount decentralization are the only things that can save the human body and spirit from the abuse and alienation of overwhelming political institutions, economic systems, and social ideologies.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    The problem with most children’s literature is that the ones that have, as their fundamental motto, “Listen To Authority!” tend to not be recommended from one kid to another across cliques and classes. (The notable exceptions are the Christian/Theistic ones but deference to Aslan seems to be a difference of kind and not just degree from deference to authority in general.)

    The stories that explain how the grownups are screwing over the teenager, playing them against each other, manipulating them, and keeping them from realizing their own true potential are the ones that get passed from hand to hand in the hallways.Report

    • Avatar LauraNo in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      “The problem with most children’s literature is that the ones that have, as their fundamental motto, “Listen To Authority!” tend to not be recommended from one kid to another across cliques and classes.”

      I wouldn’t call this a problem.

       

      : 0

       

       Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    So, like Harry Potter, the property resists a political reading from any angle.

    Which means something, and what it means is that the author wasn’t intending to write something political at all, and didn’t.  To the extent that politics appears, it’s that the worst aspects of every ideology are mashed together into a Bad Guy Empire that everyone can justify hating.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      I don’t quite agree, because if The Hunger Games had been read at the time of the French Revolution, I think it would straightforwardly have favored the Third Estate.  The lines have gotten a lot blurrier since then is all.  The enemy isn’t apolitical (think Lord of the Rings) it’s pan-political, which is something a bit different.Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      Oh, no, it’s definitely political, and that’s definitely deliberate on the author’s part.  More evidently so in the second and especially the third books.  It’s just not about left vs. right.  It’s about the pathologies of war, about how even a thoroughly justified revolution can destroy its participants morally.  It’s about what methods are acceptable for overthrowing tyranny, and whether those methods will lead to a better world or just the same one with different people in charge.  It’s about our attitudes toward people who benefit from cruel and unjust systems – should they be regarded as evil and punished, or seen as human beings with whom we can sympathize, and who are products of the system in which they live?

      Considering that most civil wars these days don’t have clear-cut good guys and bad guys (look at the recently-ended conflict in Sri Lanka for an example), the series’ politics are very well suited to our time.  It’s a deeper message than the more typical good vs. evil story of children’s sci-fi/fantasy literature.Report

  6. Avatar Alex Knapp
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    says:

    How do you get these goods? In the empire of economic necessity, there are basically two ways. One, you can take risks and work hard. Two, you can live by dominating the people who do — that is, by beating or swindling other people out of their product.

    I’m not an economist, but I’m pretty sure this is a vastly oversimplified and empirically unsupportable dichotomy.

     Report

  7. Avatar Frank DeMartini
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    says:

    Here is my new article comparing “The Hunger Games” to the Obama Administration and a totalitarian society.

    http://www.hollywoodrepublican.net/2012/03/hunger-games-a-lesson-in-totalitarianism/Report

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