Panem: a leftist dystopia characterized by complete lack of district rights, a systematic and quasi-communistic division of labor, and a centrally planned economy that takes from the people and gives to the government. I can only imagine the conversation in the Santorum household, if he even let his children read the books: “See, kids, what happens when the government takes away your rights? When we create a socialized health care system?” In contrast, to me, the liberally minded reader, Panem was a distraught state governed by an unapologetic national authority that takes from the poor and gives to the rich, denies the lowest socioeconomic classes any kind of financial assistance, and uses war for its own pleasures.
So the question is, who’s right? No self-respecting post apocalyptic tale would be without an underlying message about some contemporary societal ill, and The Hunger Games is no exception. Some of its morals are quite clear. First, race is an artificial source of societal division, and we should strive to break out of its constructs. The bloggers and Tweeters who expressed their discontent about Rue and Thresh being black are incredibly ignorant in both their prejudices and understanding of the novel. District 11 is an incredibly clear representation of the slavery: predominately African American, agricultural, and subject to public whippings. Second, Katniss Everdeen couldn’t have emerged as a heroine at a more perfect time. She is powerful not because she breaks out of her gender roles; rather, she embraces them, all the while pushing their boundaries. As a motherly figure to Prim and Rue, and as a caregiver “friend” to Peeta, she is everything that she traditionally “should” be. But, she is so much more: an expert hunter who would give any NRA cardholder a run for his money, the sole breadwinner for her family, and an intelligent and levelheaded individual who is able to compartmentalize survival and love. Take note, Bella Swan: Katniss has personality, drive, and two suitors who are much more attractive than Robert Pattinson.
Those who try to extrapolate political messages from the story take it a dangerous step beyond how the book ought to be read, and ironically, do nothing but reinforce an undeniable thread that runs throughout it. The adults of Panem, and of modern America, put what divides them ahead of their children’s well being. I shuddered when I saw the children of the Capital playing carelessly, dressed in their fancy clothes, while their peers in District 12 starved. There’s much to be said about the imagery of the 1% and the 99%, but it’s not our place to say it. Nor are conservatives entitled to use The Hunger Games as a means of small government advocacy. It’s one thing to educate young readers about the reality of the modern United States: there is a great imbalance of wealth, politicians don’t always have their constituents’ needs in mind, and Federalist 10’s worst factious nightmares are coming true. It’s another to use the novel to blame the other side.
We came of political age throughout the Bush administration. Barack Obama emerged as our liberal hero when we were in high school and could make truly informed opinions that were liberated from the leanings of our parents. We were lucky; today’s middle schoolers are not. The Hunger Games illustrates at an extreme level the kind of politics they see. They have no memory of the long lost art of bipartisanship. Their knowledge of politics is the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. Both sides are politicizing everything. Even a children’s book. On one side, Fox News contributor James Pinkerton argues that the movie is “a furious critique of our political system, in which the central government grows rich from the toil of the masses, even as that same political elite finds entertainment in the contrived and manipulated death of its subjects.” Huffington Post writer Bob Burnett countered, “Collins doesn’t use the terms 1 percent and 99 percent, but it’s clear that those in the Capitol are members of the 1 percent and everyone in the Panem districts is part of the 99 percent.” These confident statements play right into Collins’ hands. American children, just like the children of Panem, have become the tools of a very adult world. I hope that today’s youth recognize the evils of the income gap, climate change, and the government’s indifference to its people’s suffering that I see as inherent in The Hunger Games. It is, however, up to them to formulate their own views on these matters, and it is up to us to stay out of it.