Political ‘Hunger Games’Politically Aware Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Commentary: Politically Aware
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know more about The Hunger Games, read no further. You should probably stay in your house and turn off your phone and computer, too.
The Hunger Games has a little something for everyone. The sci-fi crowd gets a post-apocalyptic planet with both high-tech hovercrafts and pre-industrial foraging. Romantics get a heroine deciding between two suitors, but who, unlike Bella Swan (Twilight), could also make it on her own. Action buffs get a battle royale that makes WrestleMania obsolete, pitting two children from each of 12 districts in a fight to the death.
The politically aware? We get the most. Even Suzanne Collins, the author, admits that The Hunger Games is an allegory of how oppressive regimes use entertainment to control the masses. The novel evokes the past, with the name of the country, Panem, coming from the Latin for the “bread and circuses” of ancient Rome. It is set in a future North America, after both an apocalypse and the “The Dark Days”, when the poorer Districts including the now defunct 13 tried to overthrow the oppressive Capitol.
Yet there are uncomfortable analogies to the present, particularly between the political and economic “haves” and “have nots.” Call them the 1 percent or the military industrial complex, the “haves” may occupy Wall Street skyscrapers and suburban mansions rather than a Capitol, (a few of the males were recently spotted at Augusta National) but they have tributes just the same. Usually, the entertainment is minority groups fighting with each other, but too often the tribute really is a child, sometimes in a hoodie in Florida.
Any artifice that in-fighting among minority groups isn’t arranged and dubiously nurtured was destroyed by the Human Rights Campaign’s release earlier this month of documents from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Their internal memos document a clear and specific strategy to drive a wedge between the LGBT community and the African American and Latino communities.
Ironically, NOM thinks they are part of the powerful upper class diffusing the power of the LGBT community and communities of color with further division. In many ways, however, religious interests are just another group of have-nots who are battling at the pleasure of the real economic power brokers. Like the denizens of District 2, they get a few extra scraps for helping with enforcement, but they’ll never get an invite to the party. As Thomas Frank noted in What’s the Matter with Kansas? there has been a concerted effort to convince social conservatives to subjugate their own economic interests to a war between “average Americans” and “liberal elites.”
Whether Trayvon Martins killing was racially motivated remains to be proven, but it would be far from the first time communities of color have been pitted against each other. Blaming Latinos for African American job losses was almost a parlor game for Southern conservatives, who gleefully watch their candidates survive in increasingly diverse communities. These same inter-minority battles are seen throughout the country, where potential allies argue just enough to let the current power brokers win elections.
When underserved and underrepresented communities fight, the only winners are those trying to hold on to power. As in the arena, the answer is coalition building – deciding to fight the system instead of each other. That requires setting aside some differences and looking for truths – like the fact that aversion to same-sex marriage isn’t racial, it’s religious. Outreach to faith communities will do far more for LGBT rights than bashing other communities who are fighting for their own freedoms. Similarly, the un- and under-employed must realize that wartime tax cuts for the wealthy and fast and loose financiers are more to blame for job losses than undocumented immigrants.
As she shepherds her District 12 charges to their annual slaughter in The Hunger Games, pink-haired Capitolite Effie Trinkett tells them “may the odds be ever in your favor.“ It’s not true for them, or us, at the moment. But if we continue to look for common ground, and refuse to be wedged apart, we might start taking a few hands from the house.
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