On Saturday night, my 14-year-old daughter took me to the opening night of Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second installment in the Hunger Games series. We’ve been waiting with anticipation for the new release. Apparently, so had most of the other people in my town, as the theatre was packed over an hour before the beginning of the previews.
As the lights went down, and the screen lit up, the movie began right where the last one left off. If you haven’t seen the first one, I highly recommend you do so before buying your ticket for Catching Fire. And while most in the audience were no doubt there for the escape from reality, I have a different perspective on the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an eerily close, albeit exaggerated, reflection of our current political reality.
For those not familiar with the premise of the Hunger Games series, it takes place in the fictional country of Panem — a western nation established during an unknown time period in a not too distant, but seemingly post-apocalyptic world. The country is comprised of thirteen districts (reminiscent of “colonies” perhaps?), and is run by a single-party, totalitarian dictatorship headed by President Snow. Approximately seventy-five years ago, one of the districts rose up in rebellion against the Capitol City, was crushed, and completely destroyed.
In memory of the crushed rebellion – but more importantly so the people always fear the power of the Capitol City — each of the remaining twelve districts is required to annually send a male and female tribute to the Capitol City for the Hunger Games. The tributes are chosen by lottery, their selection witnessed by all citizens in a mixture of dread and fear. The Games, a controlled, multi-day event in which the participants must kill, or be killed, are mandatory viewing for all citizens of Panem. Only one tribute is left, a victor who is promised a life of luxury in the Capitol City.
The districts are dismal places of hard work, suffering and sacrifice as citizens labor to create products to be sent to the capitol. The Capitol City is a place of unimaginable wealth and technological wonders, where the residents live in luxury and decadence. The residents dress in frilly costumes that look like a cross between the ruling class in 17th century France, and 22nd century high fashion, with exotic colors, flamboyant make-up and high, sculpted hair. Their lives are completely disconnected from the outside world and the lives of the majority of citizens in the districts.
Starting to sound eerily familiar?
As the second movie unfolds, a new rebellion is arising in the districts. It is centered on the young heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who refuses to fit in the mold created for her by President Snow and his minions. In order to rid himself of her, and the other victors who have previously won the annual Hunger Games, President Snow changes the rules midstream, and declares that this will be a “special” hunger games. He issues a “mandate” by executive fiat, stating that all previous victors will be required to participate in a tribute lottery to determine which of them will be required to fight again.
The previous victors are outraged. They complain that they were promised that they would be allowed to live out their lives peacefully; that they could keep the life they liked, if they won the Hunger Games. But the mandate stands, despite the protestations. He’d lied to them, but they are compelled to participate.
Needless to say, the participants are unhappy the President had misled them with so much at stake. Yet President Snow (or is that President Snowbama?), will not relent. The games are on.
In the interest of not playing the spoiler, I won’t reveal the rest of the story. You’ll have to go see Catching Fire for yourself. And you should. It’s really entertaining, with a great plot, impressive visuals, and solid acting. But instead of just being entertained, maybe as you step out of the fantasy of the theater and back into reality, you’ll start to see the not so hidden connection to our current reality.
Perhaps, in the days that come, as you think of the movie, think not just of President Snow of Panem, but also of President Snowbama, and all the other dishonest politicians living disconnected lives of luxury in Washington DC. Think of the mandates, lies, and broken promises of Snowbamacare. And think of all that’s at stake.
Maybe, just maybe, rebellion against mandates and an out of touch and unrepresentative distant government is brewing right here in our own districts.