The Hunger Games: a Strangely Powerful Invective to Torch D.C. and the Political Class

I finally gotten around to watching most of the Hunger Games (I’ve seen up through Mocking Jay Pt 1), and I am perplexed.

I am perplexed by my generation’s capacity for double-think that allows for The Hunger Games to be one of the most popular and iconic science fiction sagas of the decade while at the same time millennials are consistently polled as being one of the most progressive and pro-government generations in the last hundred years.

Dystopian science fiction is one of the most popular genres among young adult readers.  The biggest hits today are stories about youth who are suffering under the thumb of an oppressive statist system and rise up against the authoritarian status quo to save the day.  But going by what the web-papers are telling me, youth today are ready to line up behind whatever cradle-to-graver they think will give them free-stuff and a safe-space where they don’t have to worry about free speech.  How can this be?

Well, take a look at one of the prime and popular examples of double-think today:

-The police are out of control; the racist American police state is murdering young black men in the streets and no one is safe.

-Only police should be allowed to have guns, because they are the only ones responsible enough to have and use them.


But about the Hunger Games…

Now, I can’t say with any certainty what the political leanings were of the Capitol storm troopers who shot that old man in the face in Catching Fire, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t minarchist/libertarian.

hUNGER Games 2

Panem in the Hunger Games is explicitly a redistributive state communist system in which the specialized economic output of each district is seized by an authoritarian central government, and what does not go to benefit the ruling political class in the Capitol is redistributed back to the various districts.  Everyone outside of the Capitol is hungry, and their labor is not their own.  Meanwhile, the Capitol is flush with all of the resources that it has charged itself with redistributing.  The ruling class and working class are hopelessly disconnected, and everyone in the Capitol is part of the machinery of this non-voluntary redistribution of labor and resources, the Beating Heart, as President Snow describes it.

I really wish I could see some sort of political Venn diagram of Hunger Games fans, because I may just be talking out of my ass here.  But you’d think that a generation obsessed with stories about how youth fight against totalitarian regimes would not also be the ones clamoring for statism.  Then again, back in my punk rock days, I was around plenty of folks who thought that Anarchy meant “The government gives me free stuff while no one arrests me for destruction of private property”.

If anything, the message of the Hunger Games is that it’s time to burn Washington to the ground and string up the political ruling class.  No more redistribution of the Districts’ Labor!  No more politicians getting wealthy off the backs of private citizens!  No more fear of speaking one’s mind lest political hacks and apparatchiks destroy you!  No more playing regional political and economic interests against one another (as embodied in the games themselves) to keep them subservient to a vampiric Federal government!

I’m not saying that folks should be willing to rise up and give their lives to violently throw off the yoke of an all-powerful oppressive government, but I get the impression that Suzanne Collins is!

23 responses to “The Hunger Games: a Strangely Powerful Invective to Torch D.C. and the Political Class

  1. Dystopian fiction is especially popular with adolescents because they are waking up to the imperfections and injustices of the world. It’s a time when people begin to look outside themselves at the world around. When they grow up a little they begin to see that it’s not just the explicit authorities of the world (state, church, political parties, etc.) but also the implicit authorities (corporations, ideologies, prejudices, privilege, etc.) that are the problem.
    “Their labor is not their own”? That’s alienation 101. A Marxist could probably read the HG state as a metaphor for fascist capitalism, which pits different groups against each other (cough, Trump) to distract them from the invisible hand in their pockets.
    So I’d say it’s a matter of different filters being at play. The Hunger Games are a critique of communism? Sure. And The Road is a critique of libertarianism or anarchism. From a certain point of view.

    • It would be hard to read it as a metaphor for fascist capitalism, if for no other reason than no capitalist enterprise is ever depicted. Such a criticism of state capitalism would probably require a more nuanced setting than the one at least depicted in the films. I think an actual Marxist would read the HG as an incredibly weak and flimsy emotional attack on their ideology. Snow isn’t even very good at being a straw-communist dictator; he’s obviously no chess master, as someone who doesn’t have any idea what’s actually going on is able to thwart his plans at every move.

      What does amuse me is that if someone was told “So, there’s this series of books where an evil president is redistributing people’s wealth and the youth of the nation have to rise up and stop him!” most people would be all “Awww, man, what trash is Glenn Beck publishing now?”

      And yeah, true libertarianism and anarchism don’t really work out well either, since humans habitually create or flock to power structures. Even some of my favorite ideological libertarians admit that libertarianism is more a principle than a practicality.

      But speaking of dystopian YA, are you familiar with the Among the Hidden series? My girlfriend is obsessed with it. I read the first one, and it was interesting to see it tackle a social issue (chinese style child restrictions and baby-capital) which doesn’t really affect its audience nor is it even some spectre on the horizon.

      (Do kids actually read Cormac McCarthy?)

      • I don’t know who reads Cormac McCarthy. Apart from the Oprah bumped “The road,” no-one I know has read any of his other books. I’ve only read that and Blood Meridian, and need to keep a space of at least 2 years between each of his books that I do read.

        I haven’t actually read HG, just saw a couple of the films. The films didn’t seem especially political, at least not right/left.

      • I read All the Pretty Horses in college; it was kind of chunky and hard to follow.

        HG isn’t really right/left in terms of political platforms, but more authoritarian vs. anti-authoritarian. One of the touches I liked that Battle Royale had that HG was missing was the direct link to real-world pop-culture; silly as it was, it was neat that one of the defining characteristics of the protagonist of BR was his collection of illegal Springsteen albums.

      • I think that because the left has been so successful in tying the right, the 1%, and mid-twentieth-century fascism together, it’s led authors that want to write books with right-wing villains to cheat and use historical Fascism as a model for a ‘right-wing’ corporate or plutocratic state (such as ‘V for Vendetta’, among others). It’s rather odd looking at this from the libertarian-leaning right and trying to recognize any of it, but it makes a degree of logical sense if you accept the premises.

        There have been a number of explicitly mega-corporate based dystopian settings. A lot of Cyberpunk tends to go this way, traditionally. I’ve seen but not read some more current YA series (I believe ‘Jennifer Government’ is one) that seem so far gone into this sort of leftist propaganda as to be almost a parody.

        I give Neal Stephenson props for producing recognizably libertarian quasi-dystopias in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (or perhaps post-libertarian, as while I have libertarian inclinations, my engineering mindset has questions about the feasibility of obtaining them, and both seem based on attempts to rebuild social order after a crash).

      • Great points.

        Once upon a time, I was working with a friend on a dystopian science fiction comic loosely inspired by Kerberos that actually tried to take a look at state capitalism and plutocracy; where it fell apart in my mind was when I realized how implausible it was for even the most powerful metanational corporations in the world to assume enough of the US’s debt to become “majority shareholders”.

        The British take on things is a whole other can of worms; the impression I get is that standing against totalitarianism there means hating Thatcher while Labor sneaks cameras into your garbage bins.

      • Ah, “Among the Hidden”! The Shadow Children series is terrific, but I totally, completely disagree that it’s not “some spectre on the horizon”. Just look up China for one example.

      • It happened in China, true, but I meant in terms of its western YA audience. More relevant these days would be the resultant population crisis that China’s policy has led to after several decades (a surplus of men fighting over a scarcity of women). The crisis the west faces is the opposite, with low domestic native birthrates and a high influx of outside populations with higher birthrates.

      • Haddix, like most authors (especially female authors), is probably leftist, and as such probably swallowed the line that we’re having a population crisis. Thus to her this seems like a realistic problem – which is, of course, ludicrous, as in Europe, at least, the OPPOSITE is true.

      • The best book in the Shadow Children series, by the way, is “Among the Brave”, which is a gripping thriller of a novel that involves spies, secret resistance groups, secret codes, and even a car chase or two.

        It all adds up to great fun.

      • I might get around to them if I ever have time. The one that I read was pretty enjoyable and a quick read, and my gf has all of them…

        It’s just I’m so swamped by stacks and stacks of SFF paperbacks and mags from the 40s & 50s that I’m having a hard time prioritizing my reading list.

        It’s like, I set down my Dying Earth omnibus to read some Merritt in time to do a post on his birthday, but before I can get back to Vance, I have a series from the 70s by an author who commented here that I need to check out, but I’ve been tapped as a beta reader and submissions for Cirsova #2 will be open in a month and “oh, god, why am I not reading RIGHT NOW!?”

  2. I was amazed on reading the series that the leadership of the Resistance wasn’t a heroic and noble band of freedom fighters, but was shown as just another faction who wanted to grab Snow’s power for themselves. The books are less of a polemic against central power structures than they are a warning about the dangers of fighting to replace one power structure with another. They really are more of an anti-war tract than an anti-any-particular-political-philosophy tract.

    The movies seem to have forgotten that the books were so powerful because of that deeper underlying message and turned them into a “Kick Ass Girl” movie. I left with the impression that it’s fans didn’t think about the movie beyond the superficial level of, “Katniss is a Super Duper Tough Girl”.

    • She wasn’t even very good at the Super Duper Tough Girl thing; with a few exceptions, she really doesn’t have a lot of agency and scrapes by being in the right place at the right time to be rescued by coincidence.

      I did see some of that in the movies, but didn’t really go into it here. The sort of retributive justice that District 13 wants to visit on the Capitol after they got Wacoed is kind of illustrative of my previous point on the dangers of pushing things too far in either direction. People wait in the wings, rubbing their hands together hoping it’ll be their turn to crack some skulls.

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  4. Oooh ooh ooh, a chance to brag about reading Cormac McCarthy! I’ve read The Orchard Keeper, Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, and No Country for Old Men. The Orchard Keeper in particular can, I think, be regarded as a nice bit of libertarian fiction. I have not, oddly enough, read The Road yet, although I’ve owned a copy for years.

    The Hunger Games is aimed at young adults. I.e., people old enough to realize how jacked up everything is, but not old enough to realize there is no easy replacement.

    Revealing the basic villainy of District 13 was one of the nice bits of the story (especially in the books). Despotic regimes is bad isn’t much of a point. That they can’t easily be replaced by anything other than another despotic regime. Not that the books ever go beyond that point. Katniss shoots her arrow and goes home. (District 13 came off as more communist than the Capitol, which was perhaps more colonialist-mercantalist).

    • In a lot of ways, District 13 reminded me of anti-government militias; nominally libertarian anarchist, they often are built around small cults of personality. They’re bad in their way, but due to circumstances don’t have the capacity to systematically oppress and destroy the way the governments they oppose do. If roles were reversed, yeah, they’d probably be the sort in there cracking skulls and shooting folks in the streets. It’s like I was telling Mike in my earlier post, when crazy goes too far on one side, crazy on the other side pushes back and pushes back hard, with everyone else stuck in the middle suffering collateral hits.

  5. Nice post! I think many young adults (and full-grown ones as well) probably just see it as an entertaining story and don’t take the time to absorb the political points books like these make.

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