The Hunger Games: Unnerving

Earlier this year, I read Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden. It was very riveting. If you want to know the extent to which Totalitarian government can go, this book is a must-read.

There is no limit to the ways that government will assault your dignity–and humanity–given sufficient power. Shin Dong-hyuk–the only known person to have been born in a North Korean prison camp–and managed to escape, provides a stirring, damning, devastating real-life testimony to that.

Enter The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I’ve got several FB friends–and a couple friends from my church–who have read it, and the feedback was very good. I still was reluctant to read it, as it appeared to be a fad. The Christian hoopla over the book reminded me of The Prayer of Jabez, and some pastors even went as far as preparing Bible studies based on various themes in the book. I had a bad feeling about that.

Then my former crisis pregnancy center boss–JH–recommended it. She’s of a similar mind as me, and, usually, if she recommends something, I’m not disappointed.

The Hunger Games (THG) was no exception.

THG takes place in a futuristic society called Panem, located in North America, with the Capitol based in what we know as the Rocky Mountains. The country is divided into twelve geographical districts, with a thirteenth that allegedly was destroyed for rebelling against the Capitol. As punishment for the rebellion, each year a boy and a girl from each district–between ages 12 and 18–are selected to fight it out in The Hunger Games. This is televised in a reality show setting, with the contestants–called “tributes”–fighting each other to the death within a large climate and terrain-controlled arena.

The plot begins in the poorest of the districts: District 12, which is in Appalachian coal mining territory. The main character–Katniss Everdeen–volunteers for the Games in order to take the place of her 12-year-old sister (Primrose), who was drawn from the names of girls. The male “tribute” from their district–Peeta Mellark–has had a crush on Katniss since his youth.

The leadup to the Games is sickening to read, as you have a government-media culture that puts the best reality show face on what is basically a kill-fest. Before the Games, the tributes are under pressure to put on a great posture for “Gamemakers” in order to get donations from sponsors that will prove invaluable during the games. Fashion consultants give special attention to the costume design, tributes get scores on their abilities with weapons and fighting techniques, and even their televised interviews.

The tributes themselves are also a sea of complexity:

Katniss: A survivor through and through, and who is very cynical about her fellow competitors. She is reluctant to trust anyone, even though she is not averse to forming some alliances, such as with Rue;

Peeta: A baker’s son who has been in love with Katniss his whole life. He has done many things intentionally to help and protect Katniss, even at risk to his life. Still, Katniss has trouble trusting him.

Rue: a young girl whose great talent is roaming high among the trees, and evading captors. She forms a friendship with Katniss, who also is effective in the trees;

Foxface: a young girl whose great strength is staying away from the fights. She is very evasive, very sneaky;

The “Careers”: these tributes have been trained their entire lives for the Games. They are big, tough, and brutal. They will kill even their “allies” without a second thought. They have their sights trained on Katniss from the get-go. The most notorious of the bunch–Cato–is one of the last standing.

The Games pits tributes against each other, and–like a reality show–encourages alliances and subplots while pushing them to kill each other. The “Gamemakers” often switch the conditions–such as weather–in order to get more action going. Ultimately, it pits the people of the respective districts–who watch the games religiously–against each other, as they root for their tributes to kill others.

The complexity does not merely extend to the tributes, either.

The trainer for Peeta and Katniss–Haymitch, a former Games winner–was drunk, surly, and shrewd. He is difficult for either Peeta or Katniss to trust, and yet he has a tendency to come through for them in ways they don’t expect.

I don’t know Suzanne Collins, nor am I aware of her political leanings or her thoughts on the direction of government. I suspect that her views are probably well to the left of mine.

But in THG, Collins gives us a devastating portrait of where we are heading as a country. To call it Orwellian would not do THG justice: Next to Panem, Orwell’s Oceania is a libertarian paradise. It is what you get when you combine North Korean-style fascism with American reality television culture.

Four and a half stars.

One thought on “The Hunger Games: Unnerving

  1. I would also submit that THG is a blistering indictment of our reality television culture. The way our society is declining, the reality TV envelope of tolerance will continue to expand.

    In THG, the Gamemakers were trying to get Peeta and Katniss to play up a romance. The more romantic they looked, the more help they received from the Gamemakers.

    The author–as subtly as can be–leaves the reader with the reality that, had Peeta and Katniss shed their clothes and had sex, the audience and Gamemakers would have enjoyed it.

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