Food for Thought, or Hungry

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.

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3 responses

  1. If I could have penned this, I would have. AMEN. I have been having this discussion with people since completing the books – and most recently, with my 10- year- old daughter before allowing her to start reading the book. This is a fiction based on a reality that is only a few beats away from where we are living. Thank you for putting my thoughts out there…

  2. “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.” When I saw it in the theater, which was full of high schoolers, I was aslo wondering how many people were picking up on the social commentary. The reality TV parallel seems easier to grasp, to hopefully some connections were made there; the war–I’m not so sure many young (or old) people will get that. If you’re a 14-year old, we’ve been (visibly) at war with the Middle East since before you knew what the word ‘war’ meant (less conspicuously, we’ve been bombing people nonstop). In that case, does bombing the Middle East seem out of the ordinary? It’s scary.

    As for the book itself, I’m happy that there’s a YA book out there (and more, I’m sure) tackling larger issues, though the love story was still a major focus. It made me happy in the film (have not read the book) that we were left with the suggestion that Katniss may have been faking her affection for Peeta in order to play their game and stay alive. This complicates the protagonist (yay for complexity!) and sort of calls out the viewer for wanting that love story, for engaging it – we become the audience in the film, wanting Katniss and Peeta to fall in love, focusing all of our attention on the love story, which is only a distraction from the larger, disturbing reality. It’s brilliant, really—if that’s what the filmmakers and Collins (in the book) are in fact doing. I hope so. It’s so meta.

  3. Yes! I just read the series too and loved it. The series seems to have it all–thrills, romance, sci fi/post-apocalyptic stuff, social commentary. Now I keep wishing there were more books. (Haven’t seen the movie yet.)

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