The basic message of the book is that in a competitive system, the cream always rises to the top. More than this: than an unsparing competitive system emboldens life stories so vivid and interesting, there's nothing their equal in possessing. Withdraw societal life supports, and though many may die, you'll finally have the chance to really know what it is to live! Very pro-capitalist. The other lesson is: if someone in authority gives a girl the highest grade and it makes a rival male very angry, it's because he's jealous; not, rather, because the girl was eager to please and a suck-up and so of course was the one who got the A +.
Reply to this post from Tryfan:
Seriously -- have you read the books? Because that's certainly not what they're about. I may not be as optimistic as Sutherland, but to call the "Hunger Games" series "pro-capitalistic", and about "cream rising to the top" is just plain wrong.
My reply to Tryfan:
Overtly, totalitarianism is criticized in Hunger games; but if you mean to show how brutal a society is primarily by having it pit young people to fight to the death in battle royales, you don't (1) show these battles as serving nicely to out people's true worth; which (2) suggest you could go through it all and still come out looking the prince or princess; where (3) people, where kids, who die often overtly deserve to, have had it coming for a long time, in fact, or find their status enhanced owing to it; and (4) that you'll come out of them several steps further along the way of knowing who you really are and what you want most in life.
The contest begins with Katniss appraised highest by authorities, and though this must feel good (the novel never has her admit to being flattered by it -- but boy do we well how important it's been in the past to the author, and how many readers, using Katniss of course as their avatar, rejoiced and savored it), the unforgiving contest demonstrates how much better it feels to prove you're really worth it. (It also does zero to suggest we actually want authorities outed -- their worth is proved in their rightful assessment of Katniss's, and in their readiness to oblige their honest assessment, despite it being culled from affrontery.) The contest could have been efficiently criticized by showing how it degrades its participants, but Katniss, though involved in a contest which in order to win must have her killing kid after kid after kid, isn't involved in even a single one which sullies her. She kills the brutal boy who dispatched holy Rue; she with innocence ends the life of the evasive Fox; and with mercy, even, closes things out on the worst sort of bully in the world. She ends things for one or two others -- but they're of the favored, mean and unsparing sort too
... and this is another problem: if you want to criticize a society by showing it as one which enables contests which kill kids, you don't depict the contests as producing teams of people so mean they obviously deserve their deaths, and of others so innocent you just have to root for them. What is just and unjust looses its fix on the contest itself and focuses on who, exactly, are the ones to die, and who, exactly, ends up spared. Further, you don't have the most innocent -- Rue -- dispatched, but in a way which makes it seem as if this was the only way for her to become as she was clearly meant to: that is, of mythic and lasting importance, cemented in the imagination as heavenly grace once briefly visited upon Earth before departure owed to what is most crude and coarse in man. Lastly, you don't make the contest one which loosens people to develop as human beings: Peeta, through the contest, gets to know a relationship with the person he's always coveted; and Katniss too begins along a path of becoming a sexual human being, of in fact initiating all the various sorting outs that'll lead her to become an adult. Without the contest, they would have remained stunted the whole of their lives. They never would have known the beauty of loving cooperation, even, spared participation in this sort of brutal but ultimately saged, just competition. Capitalism, of the Spenserian sort, even, has found its new love-child with this book. Maybe everthing gets righted in the second and third without requiring a lobotomy before undertaking them, but I'm not holding my breath.
Reply to this post from Bread & Circus:
Of course, a lot of the brutality is set up to allow Gale to argue that anything goes in the war against the capital. Unlike most stories about a hero fighting against a totalitarian regime, Katniss never takes charge, and never takes over the movement except as a symbol. I thought the critique of capitalism was in the relationship between the Capital and the Districts; resources flow into the Capital and prices are kept artifically low by starving the workers in the districts. When the districts protest, they are brutally repressed. This is a bit like when a company (like Shell, for example) supports a government (like Nigeria) while producing oil for expot. The government benefits from the profits and represses the people who say that it isn't a good deal for the country's citizens. Meanwhile, the company is able to keep cots low becuase it isn't asked to conform to the environmental or labour standards. Nigerians get paid crap for working for the company, have to deal with oil spills and government repression, and we (citizens in developed countries) get cheaper oil. [. . .] The unequal and violent relationshi between Panem's capital and districts helps us reflect on how violence and repression can create unequal relationships in our "free" market global economy.
My reply to Bread & Circus:
You can and should find major critiques of capitalism and totalitarianism in these novels -- just not any a leading capitalist or tyrant totalitarian would be spooked by. If having dignity is unambiguously associated with being dispossessed, and at major risk of being lost if one starts to middle or better, totalitarians will know you have a comfort level with being amongst counted losers you'll never find courage to really shake off: denied everything, you can't be shuck of being noble; start accruing, with dreams and hoped-for aspirations suddenly quite realizable, and you're no longer spared being assessed a self-focussed, spiteful aspirer.
* * * * *
It can certainly be argued that Collins' book series and the Gary Ross-directed feature adaptation has the potential to influence a generation of youngsters who'll come for the sci-fi escapism and leave the theater appreciating its personal messages of personal accountability and standing up for what's right in the face of impossible odds. More subtle are the franchise's critiques of capitalism, celebrity, and media exploitation; if The Hunger Games succeeds in teaching kids to think critically about reality television alone that will be some sort of cultural coup.
My response to Jen Yamato:
Re: More subtle are the franchise's critiques of capitalism, celebrity, and media exploitation.
Super subtle, or they don't in fact exist? Katniss is the opening ceremony's sensation; she is the darling of the selection process, gathering the highest score and the most focused attention of the scorers; she is the prime focus of the contest's otherwise most worthy participant -- Cato -- and of its most self-sacrificial and virtuous -- Peeta; the cameras that are everywhere can't help but fixate on winsome, deadly her: this is what kids will take from the movie, because its evidently of prime importance to the author -- there's nothing better than being the star! But though it's what you covet, you can never admit this to yourself -- to do so would make you selfish, crass, a for-sure climber, not the superior princess of the ball who only gets lofted owing to superior qualities one can do nothing to disown oneself of. The author is experiencing her dream self through Katniss, which involves being the star at everyone else's expense; but to eliminate the guilt, her subconscious makes sure to pretend as primary, as the implied take, that Katniss really isn't into all the attention and accolades she garners ... and nor should you be. Katniss is an exercise in developing a false consciousness. You get to pretend to be the saint while actually nurturing the kind of stuff that would have you knife in the back anyone who would steal even one photon of your greedily-clung-to limelight.
Reply to this post from Bread & Circus:
Except that the kids in the districts don't really have a choice in being a star. Someone is going to be. Also the poorest kids have to increase their odds of being chosen if they want to feed their families. Then after it's all over, the tribute who won is in the control of the president forever because of threats to their families. I don't know if the movie will focus on this, but all the star treatment and circus surrouding the tributes is really just to retty up and cover up the control and force used to maintain the status quo in Panem. What I like most about the Hunger Games is you can argue and think about it for ages.
If I sensed that the author wanted most for people to simply live authentically, regardless of whether or not they're appreciated for what they think, feel or do, I would have praised her for it. What I sensed, was a novel that registered that its readers want to believe themselves authentic -- but in truth really most wanted to be attended to and feel the rush of being superior to every dispossessed one of miniscule the rest of you. As such my criticism. The author so felt the guilt of imagining herself annointed and above thee, she gave everyone aplenty "truths" they as a chorus could unite behind to abash demons popping up proclaiming -- nay!