“I Cried Real Tears” : Why America Loves The Hunger Games
I took a leap of faith when I read The Hunger Games and said that most people who read the series understood that it reflected some shadowy depiction of reality. Yes, this is a big leap of faith, since those fearlessly rascist Twitter posts have reminded me that there are just many ignorant and illiterate fans of the books as there are compassionate and intelligent readers. But let’s say that even those fans who needed Rue to be an “innocent little blonde girl” before they could get emotionally invested recognized that outside their head, in the real world, children are killing and dying every day.
We do not have the luxury of total geographic and cultural isolation that the citizens of Panem’s capitol had, which means that even those of us with snooty voices and ironic tattoos have at least heard of the Lords Resistance Army, Trayvon Martin, or “gang wars” in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Newark. Those of us who bother to pay more attention have summary knowledge of police brutality and debilitating poverty throughout the US, political conflicts in Libya, Columbia, Syria, and Sudan… murders of Aboriginal children in Australia and Canada…mass starvation in south Asia…live televised hunger games in Haiti and drug related (CIA sponsored) child warfare in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Not to mention those “natural” killers, like tracker-jackers and rabid dogs, that could be easily prevented – murderous illnesses like tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrhea. And that’s what we know about “injustice” while just being lazy and mildly attentive. I’m sure a half-hearted google search could triple this list. Some intelligent research would unearth more man-made tragedy than a person can be expected to comprehend.
So hey, why don’t we cry for those kids? When beautiful little Rue was lay dead in a bed of wildflowers (in the book and the film), I cried. “Real tears”, as my boyfriend’s mother put it so succinctly. When Trayvon Martin was shot in the chest and lay dead in the grass…I watched. I shrugged my shoulders. Definitely not because I did not care, but because I was not surprised. I said to myself, “he’s not the first, or the last.” Most of us, ashamed or not, behaved the same way.
This can be blamed on nothing so simple as human apathy. It is true that when we see news we do not like, we change the channel. Maybe we post a link to facebook first, to make other people read an article we didn’t bother to finish. Or maybe we even make a t-shirt, or a poster, or wear a hoodie, or spend the night in the park. Maybe we do all of these things and more. But what we do NOT allow ourselves to do, is feel too deeply. What we do not do, for Trayvon, or the 16-year-old boy on my block who was just shot by another 16-year old boy from the block, or every boy named Ahmed who will die in an explosion in the name of Allah or “freedom” or oil- for each one of those children we do not take 2-hours from our life to eat some popcorn and mourn.
The Hunger Games fits, though we hate to admit it, into the “escapism” of popular entertainment that allow to “feel human” for a few sweet hours without any lasting obligations or implications. One insightful writer to The Atlantic noted “In Katniss The Hunger Games offers that populist hero the Occupy movement wasn’t able to deliver.” I’m not saying stories like this shouldn’t exist, and I’m not saying that the educational value of these stories ought to be dismissed. All I’m saying is, I went to the movie and there was not a kid to be seen. A few young black men walked out about an hour into the movie, and I looked around to find myself in a dark room of teary-eyed women watching Katniss being dressed in flames. Again I say, be cautious:
“What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage.” (Teju Cole, The White Savior Industrial Complex )
Unlike the controversial (familiar) imagery of Kony 2012, The Hunger Games features no white man to come save the dark peoples of the earth. It’s no coincidence that in this fantasy world beautiful white people play the victims and suddenly it’s breaking records like ‘nobody’ saw coming. But one of the things Panem accomplishes so well is its feminist overtones and omni-racialism. It really condenses the “human problem”, and makes us believe we are all in this together. It allows us to feel, as deeply as we can muster for two/too short hours that in the days of the dark future, we will be on the right side. Not just the winning side. The Right side. The side for good people.
Different “optimists” may have their hopes in a different District 13 (Obama, Zuccotti Park, Iran, Israel) but we like to forget how the story ends. A leader emerges, bloodthirsty and power hungry as the rest, and tries to to institute their own world order. Think about it. Doesn’t this movie make you feel good about yourself, and think badly about everyone else? Be careful which evil you root for, or you may find yourself starving on the wrong side of the Great Divide.