Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

THE HUNGER GAMES: Canada 2012

Posted by strattof on December 2, 2012

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogyhas been enormously successful, read by millions, including many Canadians. Set in the near future, it takes place in a country known as Panem, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society established in North America following the destruction of our civilization.

At the centre of the story is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. We learn of her struggles, first to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister after their father’s death, and then to survive the Hunger Games, a nationally televised event in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to fight to the death until there is only one remaining.

The Hunger Games is categorized as “young adult fiction.” However, its multitude of fans represents a broad demographic, extending from pre-teens to senior citizens. As many of them know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society. What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?

CLIMATE CHANGE

While The Hunger Games makes no explicit reference to it, it makes clear that climate change is responsible for the demise of North America. As the Hunger Games contestants are about to be selected in District 12, the mayor “tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem.”

In its 2012 budget, the Harper government gutted environmental regulations in order to protect tar sands development. According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, if Canada continues to develop the tar sands, “it will be game over for the climate.”

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Panem is an extremely unequal society. The people in the Capital live in unimaginable luxury, while those in the outlying districts, like Katniss and her family, are poor and starving. It is a classic case of what the Occupy Movement calls the 1% and the 99%.

Since the 1980s, inequality has been rapidly increasing in Canada, reversing the trend since the 1930s that saw increasing equality. Today:  

  • The richest 1% of Canadians earns 14% of total income, up from 8% in 1980.
  • The highest paid 100 Canadian CEOs earn 189 times more than the average wage, up from a ratio of 105 to 1 in 1998.
  • 900,000 households and 2.5 million people in Canada are too poor to afford adequate diets.
  • 1 in10 Canadian children lives in poverty.

Reducing Income Inequality: 5 Measures Governments Can Take 

1.   Increase tax rates on high incomes. In 1948, the top income tax rate for Canadians was 80%. Today it is just 43%.  

2.   Reverse corporate tax cuts.The federal corporate tax rate has been slashed from 28% in 2000 to its current 15%, a 46% tax rate cut.

3.   Raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and then index it to inflation.

4.   Invest in affordable housing. Housing is the single biggest monthly expense for low to middle-income households.

5.   Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Panem, the name of Katniss’ country, refers to the phrase “Bread and Circuses.” Coined by a first century Roman writer, it describes how ruling classes pacify commoners by providing entertainment that serves as a distraction from their exploitation and subjugation.

In ancient Rome, it was gladiatorial contests that provided the deadly distraction. In Panem, it is the Hunger Games. What is it in our society? 

Collins has said that one of her main models for Panem’s Hunger Games was Reality TV programs such as Survivor. What her portrayal of the Panem games suggests is that, as well as diverting our attention away from the REAL issues, Reality TV also hardens viewers to violence, suffering, and cruelty.

WAR AND PEACE

The Hunger Games are a metaphor for war. We too send our young people off to kill other young people – in our case in other countries, such as Afghanistan. As Collins indicates, even the most brutal of the young fighters in her novels are creations of the adult world which programs them, almost from birth, to fight and kill.

The anti-war stance of The Hunger Games is also evident in the portrayal of the impact of violence on the young characters. Katniss suffers horrific physical wounds, but her mental and emotional scarring is even more disturbing: guilt, nightmares, flashbacks.

Spoiler alert: Another indication of the novels’ attitude to war is the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle in favour of Peeta, “the boy with the bread,” and not Gale, Katniss’ childhood hunting partner. A man so consumed with “rage and hatred,” Gale sees violence, no matter the cost, as the only way forward.  

The ultimate futility of armed resistance is, however, most clearly apparent when Coin, the president of District 13, the centre of the armed rebellion, begins to replicate the power plays of the Capital, dropping bombs on children and planning to reinstate the Hunger Games. Violence begets violence is Collins’ message. 

If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’ answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.

DANDELIONS

In The Hunger Games, dandelions are a symbol of hope, “the promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses.” Dandelions are also celebrated as a source of health-giving food. On the point of starvation, Katniss spies a dandelion and that evening she and her family feast on dandelion salad, along with the bread Peeta has provided.

In Regina, dandelions are considered noxious weeds to be eliminated with poisonous pesticides. The Canadian Cancer Society warns against the use of pesticides, citing research that links them to cancer and other serious health issues. Over 150 Canadian municipalities have banned pesticides. But not Regina. Here the pesticide lobby has more authority and influence than the Canadian Cancer Society.   

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One Response to “THE HUNGER GAMES: Canada 2012”

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