It’s not as dystopian as it seems, The Hunger Games. I was avoiding it (why read something I already knew was so violent?) but then found it available on Kindle Unlimited and thought, if it sucks me in, I will read it; it’s not costing me anything extra. It did suck me in. I finished it in nearly 24 hours during which I slept (not much!) and worked and played w my kid and everything.
So here’s the thing. It’s not as dystopian as it seems. Much of what’s in it has happened in human history at some point. Think of the ancient Egyptians sacrificing a girl to the Nile each year. Roman gladiators. Slavery. Modern-day human trafficking. Street children. Prostitution. And yes – violent sports like ice hockey where beating up opponents is just part or the game; Spanish matadors; rodeo; and even ugly reality TV where we watch others suffer for entertainment.
Ok so none of it is as bad as the Hunger Games, but as Joe Dillon pointed out, TV now shows real wars, real death on TV and people watch.
I still remember a day when I was in college and my cousin’s young boy turned on the TV and yelled excitedly “a movie with a fight” (as in, an action film) and it turned out to be the evening news. No, seriously. That’s kind of why I have huge reservations about movies and cartoons (worse: video games coz ur not just a spectator) that portray violence in ways that attracts children and then I think it neutralizes them to what that violence means. Movies and such make us forget that those are live animals or humans dying or getting hurt. It’s strange really – how you become sort of so narrowly focused thst you just want thr main character to survive but if a million other innocent people die it means nothing to you as long as that one precious person (and perhaps their love interest) survive. But wait. That’s also life, isn’t it? In wars, we feel little for faceless people who die. The less we know them personally, the less they look like us, the less we identify with them as human beings.
Then there’s something in The Hunger Games that struck me. How Katniss feels comfortable hunting game but not people (so far, totally understandable). But when she starts to kill people (she doesn’t cold-bloodedly kill anyone except the person who killed Rue, I think – and I do count Cato as a mercy killing tho she would have killed him anyway) – the part that’s interesting is how repulsed she is by gore and blood compared to what she recalls about hee healer mom/sister who are completely calm in the face of other people’s blood. How murderers need to stay calm and cool and distant in order to kill…while healers need to be cool and calm and distant in order to help. They’re both extreme and similar responses but with different end goals in mind. We like to watch the healers, too, like in ER and Grey’s Anatomy and I am sure some stupid reality TV show.
What also really struck me about the story is the social injustice angle. And even though it’s really taken to the extreme and made geographically proximal, it’s not that exaggerated a representation of the world as we live in it today. Some people have all the tech and comforts and everything while others live in poverty and hunger. And fear. Near and far. As in, poor neighborhoods right across from affluent ones (common here). But also global inequality in terms of distribution of resources and deaths for hunger or health reasons – causes that have solutions available in the developed world that for some cruel reason isn’t made available to those who truly needed. Because those who make the food and meds don’t care about those who die from hunger and illness and war far away. They are faceless. Don’t you dare give me Malallah. Don’t you dare make one face everything and forget about everyone else. It’s not Malallah’s fault. It’s how the media works on people’s psyche.
And then something else occurs to me related to the whole focusing on the survival of a particular person. This is slightly tangential but important. In the Hunger Games and in reality TV and in real life, how much support you get depends a lot on how your personality comes through to others. It’s performative and unfair but a fact of life. I once read that doctors with good bedside manner are less likely to be sued for their mistakes. People who like you are less likely to accuse you of malpractice. Probably students who like professors are less likely to give em bad evaluations, right? Also sports professionals who are more likeable get better sponsorship and all kinds of things not necessarily related to how good their game is (though sometimes it is).
Just yesterday I was doing an in-class assessment where students kept talking about how the professor’s personality was essential to the course. I flipped. I had heard this before in a lot of instances, particularly with regards to particularly charistmatic people doing social work. It makes me angry that people cannot look beyond the individual to see how their characteristics can exist, differently but successfully, in another person.
Even about Virtually Connecting where people wondered if the Maha-ness would be central to its success. It’s clearly not. There was also a Rebecca-ness. That’s also not essential. You could argue that there is an Autumm-ness and Alan-ness and Helen-ness and Whitney-ness.. That only means that people with big personalities make a difference. I would agree. But it’s not just ONE person in themselves who is ever essential.
So back to my main point about Hunger Games. And really most stories that involve life and death. The storyteller always lets us focus on a select few personalities that we grow to love, selectively keeping some alive and some dead in a dramatic fashion that keeps us hooked. I cried when Rue died even though I knew all along she would. I cried each time whe was mentioned thereafter. But those other kids? Who cares about them, right? Grrrr
Reality TV and sports are obviously not this bad. But clearly something similar.
What is horrible is how real-life war and killing is like that. And the way media selects whom to interview and how to play them on camera, whose families to bring up and how to gain audience sympathy… And for what? Ratings? When a reporter goes to a scene of murder are they doing something noble, helping the public know the truth, or are they playing into the hands of media giants and making themselves less human by numbing themselves to this? And not like a doctor does. It’s not that noble an act.
But also what does it say about us that we enjoy reading, watching, playing fiction/games that include violence? I really didn’t think I would like the Hunger Games. I admit it really made me think. But it makes me sick to know that I was rooting for some people and not others. That even though I was drawn to it by the social justice story, I also became engrossed in the plot and the cleverness and the survival (let’s not call it by its real name, killing?).
I am hoping the next two novels really are focusing on rebellion and overthrowing the Capitol rather than senseless killing, because that’s still going to be ok, right? Coz the main characters will survive and win, right?
Here we go again
Added later. This idea was on my mind early on but i forgot to include it. In poor countries some ppl do organ donation for money. Not for loved ones but selling organs. In some countries like Iran i hear this is legal. In other countries it’s illegal but ppl look the other way and stuff. That also came to mind. As a dehumanizing thing even though it’s for saving someone else’s life. But affluent families choose to pay someone instead of letting a family member donate. It makes me sad and angry