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Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games

Posted on May 1, 2012
KendraKaptures (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

When I was growing up, I ate books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,  and since I was constantly running out of reading material, I read everyone else’s—which for a girl with older brothers meant science fiction. The books were supposed to be about the future, but they always turned out to be very much about this very moment.

Some of them—Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land—were comically of their time: that novel’s vision of the good life seemed to owe an awful lot to the Playboy Mansion in its prime, only with telepathy and being nice added in. Frank Herbert’s Dune had similarly sixties social mores, but its vision of an intergalactic world of disciplined desert jihadis and a great game for the substance that made all long-distance transit possible is even more relevant now.  Think: drug cartels meet the oil industry in the deep desert.

We now live in a world that is wilder than a lot of science fiction from my youth. My phone is 58 times faster than IBM’s fastest mainframe computer in 1964 (calculates my older brother Steve) and more powerful than the computers on the Apollo spaceship we landed on the moon in 1969 (adds my nephew Jason). Though we never got the promised jetpacks and the Martians were a bust, we do live in a time when genetic engineers use jellyfish genes to make mammals glow in the dark and nerds in southern Nevada kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan with unmanned drones.   Anyone who time-traveled from the sixties would be astonished by our age, for its wonders and its horrors and its profound social changes.  But science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment.

Sacrificing the Young in the Arenas of Capital


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The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’s bestselling young-adult novel and top-grossing blockbuster movie, is all about this very moment in so many ways. For those of you hiding out deep in the woods, it’s set in a dystopian future North America, a continent divided into downtrodden, fearful districts ruled by a decadent, luxurious oligarchy in the Capitol. Supposedly to punish the districts for an uprising 74 years ago, but really to provide Roman-style blood and circuses to intimidate and distract, the Capitol requires each district to provide two adolescent Tributes, drawn by lottery each year, to compete in the gladiatorial Hunger Games broadcast across the nation.

That these 24 youths battle each other to the death with one lone victor allowed to survive makes it like—and yet not exactly like—high school, that concentration camp for angst and competition into which we force our young. After all, even such real-life situations can be fatal: witness the gay Iowa teen who took his life only a few weeks ago after being outed and taunted by his peers, not to speak of the epidemic of other suicides by queer teens that Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” website, film, and books aspire to reduce.

But really, in this moment, the cruelty of teens to teens is far from the most atrocious thing in the land. The Hunger Games reminds us of that.  Its Capitol is, of course, the land of the 1%, a sort of amalgamation of Fashion Week, Versailles, and the KGB/CIA. Collins’s timely trilogy makes it clear that the 1%, having created a system of deeply embedded cruelty, should go, something highlighted by the surly defiance of heroine Katniss Everdeen—Annie Oakley, Tank Girl, and Robin Hood all rolled into one—who refuses to be disposed of.

Now, in our world, gladiatorial entertainment and the disposability of the young are mostly separate things (except in football, boxing, hockey, and other contact sports that regularly result in brain damage, and sometimes even in death). But while the Capitol is portrayed as brutal for annually sacrificing 23 teenagers from the Districts, what about our own Capitol in the District of Columbia? It has a war or two on, if you hadn’t noticed.

In Iraq, 4,486 mostly young Americans died.  If you want to count Iraqis (which you should indeed want to do), the deaths of babies, children, grandmothers, young men, and others total more than 106,000 by the most conservative count, hundreds of thousands by others. Even the lowest numbers represent enough kill to fill nearly 5,000 years of Hunger Games.  

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By prosefights, May 3, 2012 at 10:37 am Link to this comment

Future electricity cost and supply problems deserve study, we believe, now that the liberal arts ‘educated’ are trying to take policy control.

Electricity rate increase to subsidize solar generation of electricity appears to be on their agenda?

Mr Sweet has not responded.

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By putoff, May 3, 2012 at 6:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sorry, Ms. Solnit, but your writing style is too convoluted for me to enjoy what you’re talking about.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my coffee this morning, but I think you’d do well to put in more commas and remove a lot of the clutter.  Methinks most of it is left-over scrap from when you used to eat books. I couldn’t get past the first page.

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 7:38 am Link to this comment

no, not imo, revolution did not errupt in most arab lands,
russia….protests errupted there.
and to date, as evidence proves, protests are for kids. they not only fail
but actually exacerbate an already horrible situation.
destruction of libya, denial of a palestinian state, NDAA and other acts,
assassination of some individuals, stand your ground ‘law’, continued
occupations, greater poverty/hatred/racial divides all happened while
people protested.
we witness in this piece once again [it never ceases] the usual lament,
enumeration of symptoms, etc., but not the cause for them!

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 7:19 am Link to this comment

that’s as communist as there is likely to be. unfortunately the people at the
“vanguard” of the Soviet Union” weren’t at all communists in that sense (or much
at all).

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

USSR had proportionally more fascists [or people who’d defend with life own
serfdom/dependency] than countries like germany, italy, spain, venezuela, cuba, vietnam,
and SSSR broke up only because of that.
russia was probably about the last country in which one shld have started building a more
egalitarian society.
how about u.s? does anyone think that structure of society in u.s can be changed by solely
protesting, complaining, wishful thinking or only by getting political.
let’s face the fact: politics is all!
i may be a communist, but as jesus had meant it or as i think he meant it!

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

yes, no jobs! but there is work; and, as always before, in all lands—but
not enough hands to do it or to do all we needed and need now to do.
and who decides, what shall and what shan’t be done? 
in u.s, seems, 98% of americans; alas, deluded, dumbed, frightened,
angry, racially/ethnically divided, blood-thirsty, hateful, etc., beyond
and so made by whom?

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

balkas——do you much mourn the Soviet Empire?

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

most powerful nation? or most powerful region, inhabited by many
ethnicities; 3 or 4 races; led by one or two top ethnicities; which are
enriching selves more than any other!
most powerful region [there is no longer an amerika, but, then there
never had been one in the first place] doing most of the killings,
maimings, destruction, harm to the biota, threatening, blockading,
sanctioning, etc.
and that’s the politics in US which have prevailed thus far and worst yet
to come!

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By Shenonymous, May 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

The facts of this article is philosophically remindful of Jonathan Swift
and his essay “for the benefit of the clergy” in ”A Modest Proposal”
but its entire title is ”A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children
of the Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents, or the
Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick”
  The insanity
that was partisan politics and religion in the early 18th century was a
clarion perspective of the mental derangement that exists in our
contemporary society, as The Hunger Games illustrates, with
absolute clarity.  Swift’s pamphleteering approach was to use satire,
whereas Hunger Games takes a much more serious attitude drawing
on the electronic tyranny that permeates our youth today, youth meaning
from about 14 to 25-year olds. 

Swift’s grotesque thesis was a direct demonstration of an utter
outrage at what he considered disgraceful economic and political
policies of the Irish and English governments, using the contrived
voice of an economist, giving a copious amount of detail, metaphors
for the unexaggerated conditions of the corruption of those in charge
and the effects on society, also using irony and parody with extraor-
dinary wrecking effect.  Doesn’t this sound too too familiar?  Are we not
sickened enough yet?  Swift simultaneously targets his biting criticism at
Protestant-Catholic divisions, contemporary economic theories, and
other oppressive factors.  How far will this pluralistic society allow the
confiscation of a naive public’s thinking power to continue?

With Hunger Games, food becomes the prize for an ever hungry
district-divided society.  We know from the description above the young
people are sacrificed.  At least there will be 23 less stomachs to feed at
the end of the combat.  Is that what civilization has come to?  17 million
American children go hungry each day, according to an ABC news report
in August 2011.  Is that what we have become today?  a nation that
defines millions of kids with morbid malnutrition?  Hunger Games
action is more in physically reminiscent of the Roman Gladiator Games
in training preparations, there is only a cursory indictment in Hunger
of the ruling class and a more or less capitulation to the situa-
tion not as incisive as Huxley’s dehumanization found in his negative
utopian Brave New World’s unsuccessful rebellion.

John Savage was not able to integrate having to accept the “brave new
world he came to hate and found himself unfit to come to terms with it
to have even an unassuming life. He ultimately finds death the better
part of valor. 

Hunger Games is our era’s cautionary tale of the dreadful social
disparity that is our reality, but it does not quite approach the power of
its literary predecessors.  I do wonder, though, if the consequences
portrayed in this more or less melodramatic story for adolescents will
seep into their conscience and affect their morality to any significant

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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment

because they were nothing like soup kitchens in any real sense and nobody among
the homeless was turning to those poseurs because it was the only place to get a

OO’s commitment to feed anybody was about an inch-deep veneer over what they
were about and there was no OO effort to make any feeding program sustainable.

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By azythos, May 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

” ‘camps like Occupy Oakland last year was the way they became de facto soup

“and couldn’t reading this sophomoric jumble”

What exactly is “sophomoric” about that quote, and exactly why? Articulate, please.

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By gerard, May 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, one of the things we have to liberate ourselves from is the deep awareness of tragic probabilities that fill our hearts with sorrow and terror and demoralize our will.
  At the same time, the spirits of the One PerCent are being injured, splintered, emptied of spiritual power. Right action is stifled. Vast sums of money are available, but souls starve.
  Led astray by wealth, the people locked in the towers might be shaken free by some pixilated public celebration—a Wall Street Aerial Art Exhibit—millions of pieces of paper the size of dollar bills, painted in bright colors—hand-made original designs of all things loveable and good—dropped down from several towers near the Exchange, to float in silence on the breeze between the canyon/buildings and picked up by passers-by.  No anger.No curse, No criticism. No cry.
  Just an acknowledgement of common humanity.
  A reclamation, an offering, an introduction:

  Hello!      From me to you.  Here we are!
    Now! This moment!
              This once-in-a-lifetime










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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

well, I tried… i got to the point where she put out that stuff about

“camps like Occupy Oakland last year was the way they became de facto soup

and couldn’t reading this sophomoric jumble.

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