Monday, April 30, 2012
One of my "Catholic Social Thought and the Law" students shared with me these thoughts about Catholic Social Thought themes and "The Hunger Games":
Catholic Social Teaching in the Hunger Games?
At the stroke of midnight on February 28th, I was sitting in my dorm room, refreshing mockingjay.net for news on when movie tickets would go on sale while resident assistants hovered anxiously nearby. As an assistant rector at the University of Notre Dame, I had never witnessed such enthusiasm for a dorm event (and yes, that includes the Twilight premiere).
Pop culture sometimes serves as an excellent lens through which to examine faith. Almost every popular book series has garnered a Christian following (e.g., Harry Potter and Twilight). Some have compared Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, to Dorothy Day. While this might be a stretch, she does make several themes from Catholic Social Teaching accessible for readers young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic. Part of the Hunger Games’ success is probably that it appeals to our fundamental human questions about dignity and solidarity.
The Hunger Games is set in post-apocalyptic America (renamed Panem), where annually, two children are selected from each district to fight to the death in an arena as punishment for uprisings years ago, and to provide entertainment for the wealthy capital. This is a frightening world where the rule of law has crumbled into rule by man and the vocabulary of the preferential option for the poor and human dignity has virtually become lost. Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the story, is selected one year and unexpectedly wins. However, her task does not end there. She becomes the mascot of a rebellion against the Panem government.
Much of the Hunger Games is set in impoverished District 12 (probably formerly Appalachia). Inhabitants are forced to poach for a living, and a vivid scene recounts how Katniss and her family nearly starved to death. Suzanne Collins paints with beautiful brushstrokes the lavish living conditions in the capitol city. Readers can almost taste the delicacies and feel the rush of hot running water for the first time with Katniss. The isolation of the wealthy in the capital is not far off from our world. We do not realize how segmented our world has become until we experience the culture shock accompanies service trips to the third world.
The frightening part of the capitol’s isolation is the distance the wealthy maintain from the poor. Viewers in the capital watch poor children fight like gladiators for entertainment. What Katniss succeeds in doing is unite the districts and help viewers connect to the desperation of the districts. Part of the rebellion’s strategy is to tap into the television feed of the capital and project raw images that the government has previously censored. This stirs up a compassion for the poor and capitol citizens awake to the true plight of their poor brothers and sisters.
Another poignant moment in the Hunger Games is when a fellow contestant, Peeta, tells Katniss that he does not want to compromise himself to win the Hunger Games. It is not until the third book that Katniss comprehends what Peeta meant. The Hunger Games had an eerie way of de-humanizing the contestants. The fight for survival (there can only be one winner) brings out the animal instincts of the children. The gamekeepers even used muttations (animals with the human eyes of contestants who had earlier been eliminated) to manipulate the remaining contestants. Peeta does not want to lose his sense of self, and his words would reverberate in Katniss’ mind as she realizes that the capitol has managed to subordinate its residents for so long only because they had removed their sense of dignity.