OK, if you know me at all, or even if you don’t know me and have seen my FB posts lately, you know that I’m a little crazy about The Hunger Games. I read the first book by accident. Someone left a copy on my couch and never claimed it. I finished it in a day. Then Brian read it. Then we both went to see the movie. Then I saw it again. Then we read books 2 and 3: Catching Fire and Mockingjay, respectively. And now I feel as though I’ve been steeping in it, like tea, this amazing story and world created by Suzanne Collins.
I know I’m not alone. Pretty much every female over the age of twelve (eleven? ten? five?) is obsessed with Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. I get it. I’ve read the fan mags, the interviews. I know more about the actors than I do most of the people in my writing program. And I keep getting disappointed. Because they’re actors. And, frankly, they’re babies. And they’re not the characters I’ve been carrying around in my head (and heart). I want there to be a real Katniss out there. I want there to be a real Peeta baking bread for her. But these people live only inside my mind, and only because Suzanne Collins had them in her mind, first. So I decided to stop spending my time trolling the internet for celebrity gossip on the kiddie cast, and focus on the woman who made this all happen.
In Scholastic interviews online, Collins tells her readers that it was the combination of reality TV and the war in Iraq that helped her to conceive of the story behind The Hunger Games. She’s also a pretty impressive Roman scholar, because her vision of Panem is based on ancient Rome, with some amazing similarities. The country’s name, she tells us in the third book of the series, is based on the Latin phrase panem et circenses, which means bread and circuses. The phrase refers to a society’s willingness to give up its political responsibilities (and thereby, their freedom) in exchange for free food and entertainment. So the scathing social commentary I was picking up on while reading the books was not by accident. Because guess which country in our current world looks the most like Rome. That’s right, it’s us.
Yes, there is the romance of celebrity. The first movie was filmed here, in my home state of North Carolina. They’ve already set up fan tours of the mountains, woods, and waterfalls surrounding Brevard, NC. I am totally going. And of course the stars are good looking and glamorous. But I think there’s more to our reaction to this book, this film, this story. Something in Collins’s story is resonating with us on a mass consciousness level, and we ignore that at our peril. She has a message to convey, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. If we ignore our responsibilities to hold our leaders accountable for the decisions they make on our behalf–and if we ignore the struggles of the rest of the world in favor of our own comfort and luxury–we are heading toward a world that looks more and more like Panem.
I don’t want Jack to be reaped for a fight to the death on national live television. But I don’t even want him to be drafted to fight a war I don’t believe in. And that’s up to me. If I’m paying attention, I can make decisions to change his fate. But only together, as a culture, as a society, can we change the fate of the world.
That sounds grand. Lofty. Maybe unattainable. Probably ninety percent of the audiences at the Hunger Games movie, maybe more, will miss the parallels between Katniss’s world and our own. But if those of us who do notice do something about it, maybe we can turn the tide. Maybe we can make a world where none of our children need die for someone else’s agenda. What should we do? I have no idea. But I think noticing is the first step.
We’re obviously hungry for something.