Mockingjay‒Part I, the third installment of The Hunger Games series of films, just opened in theatres. Based on Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, the movies, like the novels, have been enormously successful. Set in the near future, the story 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 Katniss Everdeen, a mere 16 years old at the beginning of the series. 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 trilogy 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 us know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society.
What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?
In The Hunger Games, 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.”
On the 2014 Climate Change Performance Index, Canada ranks 58th out of 61. We are one of the top 10 CO2 emitters in the world. To protect tar sands development, the Harper government has gutted environmental regulations and blocked progress at international climate conferences. 76% of Canadians believe Canada should sign on to an international climate agreement.
Panem is an extremely unequal society, with a disposable periphery where Katniss and her family struggle to survive, being exploited to feed the glittering capital where people live in unimaginable luxury. 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 in Canada
- The richest 1% earn 13.3% of income, up sharply from 7% in 1982.
- The highest paid 100 CEOs earn 171 times more than the average worker, up from a ratio of 105 to 1 in 1998.
- 900,000 people use food banks every month.
- 1 in 5 children live in poverty.
Reducing Income Inequality: 5 Measures Governments Can Take
- Increase tax rates on high incomes. In 1948, the top income tax rate for Canadians was 80%. Today it is only 43%.
- Reverse corporate tax cuts. The federal corporate tax rate has been slashed from 48% in 1984 to its current 15%, a 69%% tax rate cut.
- Raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour and then index it to inflation.
- Invest in social housing.
- Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.
BREAD AND CIRCUSES
Panem, the name of Katniss’s 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 her main model for the Hunger Games was Reality TV. Her portrayal of the Panem games suggests that Reality TV not only diverts our attention away from the REAL issues; it 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 and Iraq. 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. Like many soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, Katniss suffers from PTSD, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and guilt.
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’s 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’s message.
If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’s answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.
In The Hunger Games, the three-fingered salute is a symbol of resistance to unjust and corrupt power. Let’s do the three-fingered salute in Regina!
- ENERGY EAST PIPELINE: This pipeline will cut right through Regina in the Harbour Landing area, thus expanding Canadian tar sands production and driving dangerous climate change. ►Let Premier Brad Wall know we want him to join the premiers of Ontario and Quebec and demand an assessment of Energy East’s climate impact.
- MILITARY TRAINING IN REGINA HIGH SCHOOLS: Starting in February, Regina high schools, public and Catholic, will offer a military training program to grade 11 and 12 students. Students will earn 2 credits for taking the course. They will also be paid $2,000. ►Sign the petition, No Military Training in Regina High Schools. We have copies with us. Petitions can also be downloaded from facebook.com/PeaceQuestRegina ►Let Premier Brad Wall know we do not want our schools used to program young people to accept war as normal.