On To Hunger Games…

The Hunger Games as a dystopian vision of future America and as a social commentary… 

The government of Panem is completely totalitarian, and while presenting a positive face on the big screens everywhere, its actions are less than genuine.  This portion of my paper will deal with censored and/or controlled media and violent games that reflect the reality television shows of today in terms of elimination, cunning, strategy, and forming alliances between competitors who are destined to ultimately turn on each other.  Shows like Survivor and Big Brother are examples of this. 

While the reality television shows today are fairly benign and do not show the level of violence depicted in The Hunger Games, the audience reaction is still, strangely, the same.  In Panem, the audience grieves the death of their favorite tribute much in the same way the audience of today is disappointed to see their favorite competitor on Survivor get sent off the Island.  However, the competitor in Survivor goes home to his/her life, while the tribute in the Hunger Games is dead.  The audiences of the Hunger Games are not merely desensitized because the citizens of the Capitol live in pretty homes and with an overflowing cornucopia.  What has happened to them is that they have been removed from the ‘reality’ of the games.  They don’t feel the pain of the tributes, or know much about where they come from.  The tributes may as well be cartoon characters.  The games have gone on for so long–75 years–that their reason in the first place is before the time of or out of the memory of the Capitol’s citizens. 

They’ve been watching the games annually, and that’s just what they do.  Why?  “Because it’s what we have always done.”  The same may be said of why we celebrate Victoria Day in Canada.  We celebrate the birthday of an English queen, dead these 153 years.  Now don’t get me wrong…I love the idea of a paid holiday and a long weekend just the same as the next person.  But why do we celebrate the birthday of a monarch long dead?  To be fair, today we use Victoria Day to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday–which makes more sense–although we don’t change the name of the day, and still rerun documentaries on PBS about the life of Queen Victoria.  Actually, many of us don’t care.  What we truly want is the day off with pay, a parade, a day in the park, and the fireworks at night.  We use the May long weekend as our first camping trip of the summer.  We have a barbecue and invite friends.  We participate in a May long weekend golf tournament.  We don’t care that it’s the Queen’s birthday–nothing against the lovely old Dame–but what we care about is the celebration, the parties, the holiday with pay, the fun times.  And that is what the citizens of Panem are all about.  They either don’t know or don’t care why there are Hunger Games, they just want the spectacle.  It’s a marker for their year–just like Christmas is to many of us.  After summer, there is the time before Christmas, and then the time after Christmas when we all go back to our usual workaday lives. 

The people in the Capitol are not necessarily evil.  They don’t hate kids.  They have nothing personally against the Districts.  But they are wasteful and spoiled.  Like the Roman citizens who used vomitoriums at feasts so that people could eat more, so the citizens of Panem have little drinks to make you ill and vomit so that you can keep on eating at parties.  Their reasoning is “How will you get to taste everything if you are full?”  In fact, they are largely, disproportionately ignorant of what is going on in the world, and spend their lives in a little bubble.  They are a community of children, shielded and controlled by their paternalistic President.

In “Mockingjay”, the third book in the trilogy, and after the war turns in favor of the Districts, there is a suggestion that the Hunger Games continue, but with the tributes taken from among the citizens of the Capitol.  To my mind, that suggestion is foolish and cruel, because even if the tributes come from the Capitol, they will still be kids between 12 and 18.  To end the Hunger Games completely would be best.  Set up memorials.  Institute a “Remembrance Day” for the victims of the Hunger Games.  Change the laws.  However, it still doesn’t seem fair that the Capitol citizens should not be accountable in some way.  I wonder what justice would look like, because Suzanne Collins doesn’t offer much in this regard and focuses mostly on Katniss and Peeta as they live in peace and try to recover from the horror of their shared experience.  But I am off topic here.

The Hunger Games trilogy is an examination of Western culture’s penchant for hyperreality and violence.  I will be adding to my blog as I reread my research on Popular Culture. 





The “Evils” of Censorship

Right now I am working on the Fahrenheit 451 section of my paper, and it is going very nicely, but lately, I have become distracted by the atrocities going on in Nigeria, and I am finding them somewhat applicable to my paper.  Bradbury discusses the elimination of books.  And in an interview with him that I just watched, he gives his thoughts on book-banning and how censorship and book burning like they experienced under Hitler is a disruption to the positive progress of a democratic society.  The self-confessed Islamist men who abducted over two hundred school girls between the ages of 12 and 15, and then recently stole eight more, have condemned “Western” education, and have pronounced that teaching girls to read is a “sin”. Allow me to first qualify my words.  I do not wish to sound sexist, but it is “men” who have done this thing.  I do not wish to sound intolerant, but these men have identified themselves as Islamist. 

As a woman of faith myself, I appreciate and am grateful that I live in a culture that allows me the freedom to gather with those who share my faith, and to worship according to my conscience.  Further, I respect the rights of those of other faiths who wish to do the same.  I am very liberal in my position that people should enjoy personal liberty in Canada which must include holding political and religious beliefs that differ from mine.  I might not agree with them, but I defend their right to hold their position.  However, when these political and religious beliefs begin to infringe on the liberty of other people, then I take exception.  This post is not an “anti-Muslim” rant by any means.  In fact, I have Muslim friends who are as liberal as I hope I am, and this incident in Nigeria horrifies and outrages them.  It is becoming time to speak out though, and that is difficult for those who have always had a “live and let live, agree to disagree, do no harm” type of approach to life–not just in “religion” but also in politics and in academia. That is because, in Canada, we have lived in our liberty for so long, that it is “no big deal” anymore to some of us. 

Most of those who fought in the great wars are dead. The majority of Canadians living today weren’t born during World War Two.  We don’t have the memory with us personally.  And some of us forget what the fight was about.  Most people today know it was about Hitler and the Nazis, but they don’t personally understand all that was at stake the way the generations before us knew.  We pay homage on November 11, but the numbers at these gatherings of remembrance are dwindling.  We are those who have inherited the liberty won, but sometimes it seems that the lesson and value of that liberty is lost on us.  I am as guilty as the next person.  I do not celebrate victory over Nazi oppression, or feel thankful that I can walk into a library and read anything that I choose to read without fear of reprisal.  In fact, I am not usually “grateful” that I know how to read.  I feel entitled to read.  I feel that it is my right to read.  I forget that, of the women on earth today, I am a minority.  I am within arm’s reach of a Master’s degree and I enjoy gender equality in a culture that will not tolerate, and will censure those who would impede my aspirations simply because I am a woman.  I should be grateful all the time, but still, I sometimes feel like a spoiled child.

That is what happened to the people in Bradbury’s future.  It wasn’t an evil regime that violently took power and banned books.  It was the apathy of the people that led to it.  It was the silence of the scholars and academics who didn’t speak out until it was too late.  The people of Bradbury’s society were good people–they just got too busy to pay attention.  They did not value leisure and the act of reading.  They could see it all on television anyway.  Before they knew it, they had sacrificed more than they realized, and there was no going back.  What had been lost could only be rebuilt after a cataclysmic event–and this is precisely what happened to Bradbury’s society.  Nuclear war came as they were all watching their televisions, and too separated from the real to take any action at least to save themselves.  They didn’t even try to run away, in spite of the fact that the news told them what was happening and they could hear the fighter planes overhead as plain as day.  They had become utterly complacent.

I look at the terrible crime against those little girls in Nigeria, and I am shocked by how slow the response to this incident has been.  The girls were taken weeks ago, and the other eight within the last few days, and it is now that there is finally a response–that they are at least going to look for the girls.  Complacency and lack of initiative is what has happened here.  I wonder what the response would have been if 250 little girls were stolen from Canadian schools?  Someone please tell me that we would have at least closed the borders.  Geez! 

I do not believe that the Koran is responsible for the indoctrination of the men who have done these terrible things in Nigeria.  Instead, I believe it is the terrible plague of ignorance.  If these men were educated, they would know that “Western” education is relatively new.  In fact reading and writing were discovered in Mesopotamia–decidedly East–and it was Arabs who invented Algebra.  Algebra–the word–is actually rooted in the Arabic word “al-jebr” which means the “reunion of broken parts”.  In fact, our education here is based on “Eastern” learning.  Not that it should matter.  We have also borrowed from the Romans, the Greeks, and the Chinese.  Basically, our culture is a late-comer to the global party, and therefore we are a conglomeration of learning from all over the place.  Anything original that has come out of North America is only in the past two centuries or so.  For the rest, we have everyone else to thank.

If these men were educated, they would know that educating all their children would provide for their society later on.  Ignorance fears learning, because it fears being confronted and proven wrong.  In Bradbury’s future, no one reads anything of importance.  When Montag tries to share his literary discoveries with his wife and her friends, it causes quite an upset.  They cannot discuss with him.  They do not have the tools.  Instead, they act with outrage, and this leads to Montag being reported and confronted by the Firemen. 

We live in our happy and polite Canada, slow to anger and politically correct.  We do not for a moment believe that what is happening there can ever happen here.  Such were the academics in Bradbury’s future America who kept silent while books were slowly banned.  Intellectually, I do not know how to appropriately respond to the outrage in Nigeria except to speak out against ignorance.  I think this, in the end, is what Montag felt he wanted to do.  But like so many of us, he didn’t know how or what to do.  He was overwhelmed by his own impotence, and finally, could do no more than escape with the other “readers”–to watch from a distance while everything he knew and cared about went up in a mushroom cloud.  Such a tragedy. 

I think it’s because I do believe that what happened there can indeed happen here that I find the events in Nigeria so unsettling.  We are not separated from fear, harm, and terror merely because we live in Canada.  In addition, I believe there are agencies in this world that have their sights set on our beautiful land of plenty, and not in a good way. If Bradbury’s dystopia speaks at all, it speaks to the awful consequences of ignorance and censorship.  Bradbury said in his interview that “we are a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.”  I absolutely agree. 

Entering “Fahrenheit 451”

Guy Montag in “Fahrenheit 451” is not consumed by terror as is poor Winston Smith in Orwell’s “1984”.  Rather, his is a dull kind of loneliness, the constant nagging feeling that he is forever ‘missing something’.  No one in Bradbury’s small and ignorant future is particularly evil.  The government does not seem power-hungry and openly cruel as Big Brother in “1984”, neither does it seem as controlled and coldly efficient as in “Brave New World”.  In fact, the government doesn’t seem to notice much at all.  People law-break constantly for the mere thrill of it.  The only crime worth punishing seems to be reading contraband books.  Otherwise, people go on their way without any interference from the State whatsoever.  If one doesn’t like to read in the first place, he or she would live a happy enough life in Bradbury’s world.  On the surface, it doesn’t seem much like a dystopia at all.

But the thing that dystopian futures always seem to attack is human individuality and liberty.  All dystopias are, in some way, a prison.  In “Brave New World”, the prison seems to be unnatural preconditioning.  In “1984”, the prison is terror.  In “Fahrenheit 451”, the prison is ignorance.  Huxley destroyed human individuality and true liberty in the fetal state, where Orwell did it by destroying history and eliminating love.  Bradbury effects individuality and liberty by enforcing ignorance, and this by out-lawing reading (except technical or training manuals and comic books).

When we are children, it is usually enough to be told by our parents not to do something.  Sometimes an explanation is forthcoming and sometimes not.  Sometimes, as kids, we get the old ‘because I said so!’ if we ask why not.  However, as adults, we want and are entitled to know why not.  But as adults, we usually need to find the answer for ourselves.  We have to find out why things are as they are, and we need to understand to fully agree.  For instance, as adults we understand the importance of morals in society.  We understand that it is wrong to steal and murder, but we also understand all the unwritten laws that are so often the foundational traditions of our culture.  We stand in line, and we know that it is strictly against the unwritten laws to push ahead of someone else, because we understand fully and agree that it is appropriate, polite, and socially ordered to wait one’s turn.  For those people who butt into line, they are met with instant disapproval and sometimes hostility.  They are told in no uncertain terms what the ‘law’ is.  Usually, to adapt and thrive in a culture, one must obey the unwritten rules.  But who made these rules?

If someone offends me, why shouldn’t I offend them back and then hate them?  They’ve hurt me.  They deserve my hate.  If I see an old woman lying wounded on the sidewalk, why should I stop to help her?  Her problem isn’t my problem.  Besides, I’m late for work.  Why should I take the time to recycle or donate my old clothes?  The earth’s resources will last for my lifetime, and why should I just give away clothes that I paid money for?  Generally, there is no written law that says I must go to anyone’s aid. Also, I am free to buy a $750.00 dress, wear it once, and throw it in the garbage the next day.   No one is going to stop me, but most people’s eyes will narrow at me if they discover that I stepped over an old woman laying hurt and bleeding because I didn’t want to miss a bus.  These things are wrong, plain and simple.  And we can think of a myriad of excuses for our awful behavior, but really, it comes down to “don’t be such a complete jerk!”

A few months ago I watched a television program called “What Would You Do?”  It had actors in certain social situations behaving in offensive ways, and hidden cameras were posted to see what the reactions of ordinary citizens would be to this poor behavior.  There were three or four different situations, but one that really effected me depicted a man and a woman on a ‘first date’ in a crowded pub.  She got up to use the Ladies Room, and while she was away, the man took a substance out of his pocket and stirred it into her drink.  It looked very much like he was dosing her.  People saw what he did–it wasn’t hidden–and the journalists waited out of sight to see if anyone would speak out when she returned.  Now, there is no law saying that one MUST speak out.  However, our unwritten rules about common decency demand that we take some sort of action.  Fortunately, most people warned her that he had put something in her drink.  However, there were a few who did nothing at all, and that worried me.  How many people have been raped, murdered, or both simply because someone could have said something, but didn’t?  Anyway, this program speaks to an accepted set of standards that have been taught to us by our society.  But what is morality and why do we have such a thing?

Morality, social decency, ethics…these things are more than just guidelines to live by.  These are concepts that have been developed over centuries.  Philosophers, theologians, artists, and politicians have argued back and forth for ages about what is right and what is wrong.  We know from these arguments that there are things across cultures and borders that ought never to be done.  Raping a baby is always wrong everywhere.  There are other things that are not written into law, but are morally reprehensible–ignoring the old woman wounded on the sidewalk.  There are certain things written into law in some cultures that are wrong, but are right at some times, such as the law against killing another person, except when war requires killing the enemy soldier.  There are laws, and behind them there are arguments, and behind the arguments there are great minds, and behind the great minds is wisdom, and this wisdom is found written in books.  We cannot build our knowledge unless we record it…in books.

I watched a television program on Discovery that discussed the most important achievements of Mankind.  There was, of course, flight, the microchip, and the steam engine, but none of these made the top five.  Not even the discovery of anesthetic or penicillin.  What was the most profound of all human discoveries/inventions, aside from fire and the wheel, was the invention of farming, reading/writing, and the tradition of chronicling mankind’s learning.  In essence, recording our history.  It is because we can record our history for posterity that we can learn and then build on learning.  Without a history of learning, we all start at the beginning.

That is where the citizens of Bradbury’s world find themselves.  The teenagers speed around in cars and hit and run people  on the roads.  They do this because it is fun and thrilling.  If they get caught–THAT is the crime.  But why it is a crime, why it is not just legally wrong, but morally wrong to run someone over in the street and leave them to die, is not acknowledged by them.  They have no basis on which to develop a set of principles.  Reading creates depth, but these people are so shallow that they are simply unable to extend themselves enough to realize that the bombs dropping on them are not just on the television screen.  They are actual bombs that can harm them.  Montag is so intellectually despondent that he must rack his brain just to recall how he met his wife.  For him, nothing is straight forward.  Everything is a conundrum.  He doesn’t have any tools, tools which we take for granted, to help him understand that the strange process he is going through is called “learning”.

Any thoughts?

Fear is a Hateful Thing

There is a verse of scripture in I John 4:18 that says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.”  As I reread some parts of Orwell’s “1984”, this piece of scripture keeps coming back to me again and again.  The more I read of fear, the more I know that it is driven by our primal instincts.  Fear is our animal response to danger and to things we do not understand.  A dog will react with fear either by running away or by snarling and biting.  The “fight or flight” response is clearly seen in a dog when presented with a fearsome element.  All animals behave the same way–and so do we.  We will either cower or we will become aggressive.  That is what fear does, and in fear, there is no reasoning.  That is how people get trampled to death by a panicked crowd.  No reasoning, no compassion, so ethics, no sense of any other person.  At times people will rise above their fear is if they are presented with another base instinct that is as strong as fear.  So personal survival versus protecting young.  Most mothers will run in fear, but they will first grab their babies.  Most, but not all.  Fear is a terrible thing that compels people to do terrible things.  Look no further than the recent disaster in Korea, where the captain saved himself and left his passengers to die as the ship sank–then tried to pass himself off as a survivor later.  He KNEW what he did was wrong and cowardly, and the shame he will carry for the rest of his life is unimaginable–especially in a culture where personal honor is everything. That said, fear is a natural response.  It is part of our make up as human beings.  It is in our nature to escape danger and survive–as the captain did–so then, why is it not okay?  We look at the captain with disgust and say “Coward!”  We believe that he should be punished for his cowardice–and he will be.  But if fear is a natural response, and he was compelled to escape, why are we punishing him?  Why is cowardice ‘a thing’?  Why is it punishable?  I really had to think on this for a while, and that bible passage kept coming back to me.  I was remembering the verse from my Sunday School days, but I was not remembering it all.  The rest of the verse says “One who fears has not matured in love.”  And there you have it.

We might be mammals in the animal kingdom, but we humans are something more.  We are capable of higher emotions such as envy, conceit, mercy, and love.  The old adage says that “love conquers all”, but if we truly examine that old cliché, we will see that this is actually the case.  Love, first of all, comes in many forms.  We love our spouses and kids–yet we love our spouses one way and our kids another.  We love our parents.  Differently, we love our siblings.  Differently still, we love our friends.  We also love fluffy kittens, things of great beauty, and things of ultimate goodness.  So we love the Mona Lisa, or a view of the mountains reflected in a turquoise lake, or Santa Clause–even if we don’t believe in him.  We love liberty, and great men and women who stood against great evil and cruelty, and spoke words of truth–words that changed us.   “I have a dream…”  Just four words, and we know the rest.  We love to see the “Random Acts of Kindness” on You Tube.  They warm us.  Or flash mobs bursting into song, and suddenly people are dancing in the street.  Heroes pulling people out of burning buildings.  And on and on.  Because this is also who we are as human beings. 

Being a person who has matured in love does not make one a simpering fool who suddenly weeps at romantic comedies.  I think a person who is mature in love is one who is emotionally and mentally evolved.  This person is one who can reason past the instinctual drive toward fear.  Love–not the sappy kind, but the tough and strong as steel kind–is not given to maudlin bursts of emotion.  I think love, as the opposite of fear, produces a type of selflessness that as Shakespeare said “looks on tempests and is never shaken.”  It is a philosophy that reimagines our base instincts.  Love is the foundation of courage, loyalty, honesty, compassion, and justice–all the best things that humans are can be found according to their ability to love ‘maturely’. 

In Orwell’s “1984”, there is a resonating lack of love.  It is absent from Orwell’s society.  Even Winston who said he’d never abandon his love for Julia–that he would refuse to say that he did not love her–actually admitted to himself that he didn’t really love her, but would stay loyal to his ‘admission’ of love.  Winston, who knows nothing whatsoever about genuine love, does not understand that he cannot possibly stay his ground if he does not truly love Julia.  Saying it and experiencing it are two different things.  This is how O’Brien defeats Winston before they even get to Room 101. To actually succeed, Winston had to be prepared to suffer and die.  He had to be truly loyal, truly convinced, truly faithful, and truly courageous.  All of these higher attributes emanate from love.  Winston, loveless and selfish, could not hope to win.  It was just a matter of time before his fear took over his pseudo-affection for Julia. 

Yet, not many of us have the wherewithal to stand against evil–unto death.  How many of us are willing to go to the stake for what we believe in?  Winston tried and failed because his particular stake burned too hot, and because he was poorly equipped to approach it in the first place.  We live in a culture where we take love for granted, and where hatred is punished.  We can’t imagine what a world without love–where it is nowhere–actually looks like.   Even if fear defines part of our human instinct, love defines our beingness.  Everywhere where love is not, is cold and fearful.  What is so dystopic about “1984” is that there is no love.  All the substitutions for love such a loyalty and devotion to Big Brother or obedience to the law are hollow and shallow, and are achieved by the use of terror.  That is why the entire world in Orwell’s novel is in ruin.  No one loves, so no one cares.  Fear and despair.  Horrible. 

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