As you may or may not know, but probably not because nobody actually reads this blog, except maybe robots, but robots which can understand sentences, especially those so rife with comma splices and other things to make parsing irritating, are quite far away from the technology of the present era, I have seen the hunger games film recently, indeed only seven hours ago. If you actually managed to grok the absurdly hierarchical and nested subcontextual prior sentence, then you are certainly deserving of kudos, you or your creator, a God as it must be to create an intelligence capable or at least holding the insight to parse sentences in such an esoteric design.
Regardless, I have digressed and now I seek to return this to the subject matter rather than going way too meta. The Hunger Games, yes. I’ve recently also read the first book, something which was quite an accomplishment for me given that I don’t read. But, I did read, at least on this occasion and it was rather regrettable because it has done radical violence to my ability to judge a film by its own merits.
One thing that absolutely fascinates me, at least thematically in regard to The Hunger Games is the fact that the first book at least exists entirely in a totalitarian dystopia. Sure it plants the subtle seeds of subversion, and it’s certainly something quite fascinating, but it doesn’t find necessity in abolishing the said entity. This is fascinating because it is the first step in disentangling the notions that democracy is necessarily a sign and rite of passage for civilization and holistic progress. What if that premise is wrong? The fact that sequels exist, whose plot summaries indicate that they are quite dedicated to that notion of dismantling this institution which appears so wrong by our rather partial eyes.
To make an analogy, one of the most notable works of dystopian fiction is 1984, which needs no introduction (but I, as a great hypocrite shall provide regardless). George Orwell’s novel has a protagonist, a love affair and a great struggle against an institution which violates the principles of what we accept to be good. The seeds for dissent are sown by the actions of Winston Smith and his Julia, but the ending signals a failure. Winston has succumbed to the influence of Big Brother’s formidable empire and becomes born again as yet another mindless indoctrinated drone. Regardless of what is necessarily good or bad, the protagonist is the one who lost.
The Hunger Games is in a sense very similar. They both involve dystopian elements where the society is controlled to extents which feel threatening to the modern progressive liberal vantage. Most importantly, it’s the bad guys who win. The ones who operate the dystopian society are the ones who succeed and it reaffirms the notion that while an individual or small group may be able to produce what ostensibly resembles progress, the unchanging momentum of the establishment, of a firmly rooted government, however evil, prevails.
Nobody would dare to write a sequel to 1984 where the “right” side won. It would ruin the chronology, because what’s most fascinating is not the reaffirmation of the propaganda we have been subjected to throughout our lives, perhaps unwittingly on the part of the teachers. The fascinating aspect is that 1984 challenges the way we see the world, by making the bad guys win and forcing us to accept that maybe, just maybe, 2+2 is not 4. Because if in the context of the novel, such an absurdity can be given validity, what exactly allows us to hold the real world to that same standard.
Atlas Shrugged includes a rather disarming notion about consistency with regard to human interaction and business. Allegedly Rearden requires that all the products of his corporation must satisfy 99.9% purity, but his moral code is one which is not nearly as strict. Perhaps we hold the imaginary universes which are the product of mere pieces of writing, words on some cellulose fibers, to an undeserved level which is not equally applied to the world we live in. We can suspend disbelief in a fantasy world, but we refuse to do the same in our own true worlds.
Of course, such a philosophy may be downright harmful to society. Suspending disbelief is fine in the context of such a fantasy land, but a the real world depends so greatly on skepticism and the scientific method. If we were liberal in the application of suspending disbelief in the physical world, then progress may in fact virtually halt. However, that is certainly outside the scope of this blog post, and instead the topic is far more relevant. How are we holding our imaginary universes to a level which we are not expected and perhaps can not be expected to hold to our real world.
1984 meant that sometimes the bad people, or at least the ones who do those activities which appear so inhumane, win. In fact, not only do the good people lose, but they lose pretty badly. The Hunger Games was similar, the premise of an inhumane deathmatch was questioned but never abolished. The foundation which is rooted in the power of the Capitol has quite clearly been shaken by the events described. Certainly not as impervious to attack as the ideas which have much more deeply taken root in Orwell’s novel.
Now, lets examine what exactly the sequels to the first book adds. Nothing but a corruption of this fascinating subject. To sort of explain this, let me bring another statement which is borrowed from Atlas Shrugged, this time, from the character of Hugh Axton. Contradictions can not exist, and when they do, check your premises.
What is the premise of the Hunger Games, it’s quite simply the titular entity, yes, the hunger games. That thing, the event, is described as being an event which is sanctioned and operated by the Government, the almighty Capitol which dominates the twelve districts. But what’s much more important than what exactly it is, is the purpose of introducing such an entity and what the existence of such a thing in an imaginary universe might teach us about the world we live in.
The inhumane death match is a means of the Capitol asserting its own superiority over the proletariat. It uses the prefect amalgamation of chance and reward to mix fear and hope, in such a way that the masses of people are entertained and pacified. Now, what exactly is the reason such passivity may be desirable?
And here we get at the supreme virtue of the world: peace. Rather paradoxically, peace as highest of goals and hardest to grasp finds itself under this strange system of axioms to be maximally separated from the ideas of democratic progress which we are taught to be so very necessary.
In a sense, this is an odd game. The only way to reach peace is through war. As the Ministry of Peace (minipax if you are keen for newspeak) might declare, War is Peace and Peace is War. The passivity of the people, a pax Panemia (which does truly sound like a dreadful disease), emerges perhaps only when a select few are compelled to embrace the feral side of humanity.
This also establishes something quite fascinating about the word “humane”. In a sense, being humane is the very opposite for the rather contemptuously loaded term “human”. We are warrish creatures and likely the only to have such capacity for destruction. Being humane is about disregarding those more “primitive” yet defining attributes and fighting what is natural. How very unnatural it is to fight against your own fate.
It’s not a recipe for disaster, but it brings out the fact that really everything about humanity is really quite wrong. Somehow we manage to be the hero and the victim.