Monday, April 23, 2012

Hunger Games - Fascism Playing on all Strings

Winston Smith, the protagonist and dissident in George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, reflects upon the nature of the totalitarian regime of Oceania. "I understand HOW," Smith observes. "I do not understand WHY." Smith saw clearly the mechanisms of authoritarian rule, the brutal means of obtaining and keeping power, but he was mystified by the deeper meaning of the ongoing sadism of the Inner Party elite. He was searching for the purpose, the rationale for power that we call ideology. Ruling groups need to to explain themselves to the people they rule and to bolster potentially lagging psychological and political morale. Winston Smith's question could as easily be asked of the cynical leaders in The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games, as even most adults now know, is a movie about kids slaughtering other kids. The ruling regime is made up of what look like fashionista Fascists, lording it over the masses who seem trapped in Appalachian poverty circa 1930, still dredging up coal to service the decadent city folk. There is no John L. Lewis to help organize them in their own defense. There are however, two young kids who are dispatched to a yearly bloodlust Olympics designed to propitiate the obscure gods of nationalism.

This all takes place in the future of course. But movies and novels that outline a deeply malevolent social future - including 1984 - compel us to question whether a society structured in such a way could ultimately become real. For many viewers, given the intense political debate surrounding the release of the film, some of the more insidious elements portrayed in the film are already with us. Is the ruling group the logical extension of the authoritarian "socialist" schemes of Barack Obama, or are they the one percent gone to seed but with a firm grip on the police and military apparatus?

The themes of youthful violence, ritual sacrifice, manipulation of history and the use of sophisticated media techniques for authoritarian control are not new. In fact, these "themes" are a central part of the lived history of what historian Eric Hobsbawm calls the Age of Extremes - our carnage filled 20th Century.

The heroes of The Hunger Games are sensitive and reluctant killers, thrown into violence through state force and lottery happenstance. The villains (in addition to the obvious adults who pull the strings) are also kids, but ones who relish the mayhem and thrill to the site of blood.

New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane suggests that the popularity of the movie derives from the fact that teenagers relate to characters that are both important and victims, zeroing in on teenagers psychic wheelhouse. But recent observations by historian Tony Judt add another dimension. In his posthumously released book of conversations, Thinking the Twentieth Century, he reminds us that it was young people who made up a good part of the right-wing and fascist movements that flourished in Europe after World War I. What young people had in common was the belief that they were the ones who would release the "deeper energies" of their respective nations. And for many of them, it was precisely the bloody and deadly aspect of World War I which defined their youth. "Togetherness in conflict," Judt says, "gave the war a very special glow." Similar sentiments about the decisive power of violence were common among left-wing youth as well.

But in The Hunger Games, the dominant power, the real engine of social control is the omnipresent "media." Cameras see everything and television broadcasts everything. These incessant images provide the symbolic framework for interpreting everyday life. In Orwell's masterpiece, as literary critic Irving Howe pointed out, the world is a place where individuality has become obsolete and personality a crime. In The Hunger Games, "personality" is not only manipulated and shaped by the media overlords, but a "winning" personality and a romantic backstory are commodities that provide the potential means of survival for the contestants.

In the classic Fascist mode, both fashion and the state have become fetishes.

Here is Mussolini writing after taking power in Italy:

"Democracy has deprived the life of the people of "style:" that is,
a line of conduct, the color, the strength, the picturesque, the
unexpected, the mystical: in sum, all that counts in the life of the
masses. We play the lyre on all of its strings: from violence to
religion, from art to politics."

It was the typical Fascist strategy, sociologist Michael Mann points out, to merge politics, art and style. In contrast to what we now know about the social and economic interests that backed Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, The Hunger Games remains historically and analytically agnostic. What are the class and social interests of the party oligarchy, or do they even constitute a "party" in the traditional understanding of the word? We don't know because it is not shown. That is why Tea Partiers and Occupiers have both projected their political values onto the movie.

In the beginning there is sacrifice. In the end there is salvation. In The Hunger Games, the state has turned sacrifice into system and routine in an apparent attempt to solidify the nation. In one of the more provocative scholarly treatments of ritual and sacrifice, Rene Girard points out that in the traditional sacrificial ritual, the victim's function is to unite the group against the source of communal strife thereby mitigating the internal crisis that otherwise threatens to tear the community apart. Sacrifice is the source of religion and therefore also of civilization. The "victim" is devoured and then made sacred. New gods are available to worship.

But in The Hunger Games, the sacrificial ritual has become bureaucratized, repeated in the same way year after year. And the regime makes a political or category error. Victims abound but heroes are created too, and sent home to eventually organize a vengeful response. The internal tension - the contradictions of the society - cannot be resolved through ritual sacrifice alone.

It took World War II to destroy Fascism in Germany and Italy. In Spain, it took the death of Franco to precipitate the eventual emergence of democracy. Whatever political tendency the regime in The Hunger Games represents - and the filmmakers undoubtedly know that the more vague the answer the better the box office - it is pretty clear that it too will be destroyed by war. It will be interesting to see what kind of political system inherits the apparatus of what looks like a highly modern but economically distorted state.

Further Reading:

Rene Girard - Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World

Irving Howe - 1984: History as Nightmare - In Twentieth Century Interpretations of 1984 (Edited by Samuel Hynes)

Constantin Iordachi - Comparative Fascist Studies - New Perspectives

Tony Judt - Thinking the Twentieth Century (with Timothy Snyder)

Michael Mann - Fascists


  1. Kelly:

    Your observations are interesting and along a line I hadn't thought about.

    I see parallels between the Hunger Games story and ancient Rome-- author Suzanne Collins has done her homework about the Gladiator games and Rome's policy of PANEM ET CIRCENSES (Bread and Entertainment). Roman leaders gave their citizens grain, and enough distraction to keep them entertained and happy.

    Our current European and U.S. forms of government are based on Roman forms; we have also taken the PANEM ET CIRCENSES themes for our own purposes. And just in case we missed it, Collins gives us some huge hints. In her book, the US has become PANEM, where those in the capitol have plenty of bread and a gladiator reality show to keep them distracted.

    The themes fit so well that several Christian Ministers (I among them) were able to preach throughout Lent using the themes of Jesus vs Rome, using the Hunger Games as a modern-day retelling of rebels who stand against empire.

    -Rev. Sandie Richards, First United Methodist Church of Los Angeles

  2. Hi Kelly, could you please specify in which of the books you found the Mussolini quote? thanks in advance.

  3. I will immediately seize your rss feed as
    I can not to find your email subscription link or
    newsletter service. Do you've any? Please let me know in order that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

    Feel free to surf to my homepage Xtrasize Review

  4. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting!
    I actually enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.
    I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and definitely will come back in the future.
    I want to encourage that you continue your great work, have a nice holiday weekend!

    Feel free to visit my weblog African Mango Nutra Burn

  5. Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment
    form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm
    having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

    My webpage; Max Thermo Burn And Beta Force Muscle

  6. Eхcellent роst. I waѕ checking cοntinuously this blog and ӏ am impresѕed!
    Eхtremely usеful іnfo sρecially the laѕt paгt :) I caгe foг
    ѕuch infοrmatiοn much. I wаs seeking thiѕ particulаr informаtiоn fοr
    a veгу long time. Тhank yοu and bеst оf lucκ.

    Μy sitе: Aloe Vera Gel

  7. Great artiсle. I am fаcing many
    of these isѕues as ωell..

    my homеpage ... Aloe

  8. Hі this is kind of of off topic but I wаѕ wanting to know іf
    blogѕ uѕe WYЅIWYG editors or if yοu have tο manually code
    with HТML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    Here is my page - Aloe Vera Gel

  9. Hi thіs is kind of οf off toρіс but I was wаnting tο
    know іf blogs use WYSӏWYG еditorѕ or if you havе to manually code with
    HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    My page Aloe Vera Gel

  10. It's a pity you don't havе a ԁοnate button!
    I'd without a doubt donate to this superb blog! I suppose for now i'll settle for bookmаrking and addіng yοur RSS feеd to my Gοogle account.
    І look forward to fresh uρdates and ωill talk about
    thiѕ blοg with my Faceboοk group. Talk soon!

    Мy wеbsite - forever

  11. Does youг ѕite havе a сontact page?
    I'm having a tough time locating it but, I'ԁ lіκe to send уou an e-mаil.
    I've got some ideas for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

    Have a look at my homepage :: Forever Aloe

  12. I wіll immeԁiately ѕnatch youг rsѕ
    as I can not to find your e-maіl subscrіption link or e-newѕletter ѕeгνice.
    Do you haνe anу? Please allow me reсognise in order that I could subscгіbе.

    Cheсk οut my weblog :: forever aloevera

  13. I blog often аnԁ I truly thank you for yοur informatiοn.

    This great article has tгuly peаked my intеrest.
    Ι'm going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

    Feel free to visit my webpage :: Aloe Vera Gel

  14. Thanκ yοu, I've just been looking for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I'νе dіsсoveгed so fаг.

    But, what cоncerning the conclusion? Αre yοu posіtive in regаrds to the ѕource?

    my page; forever

  15. Τhіs design is ѕteller! You dеfіnіtеlу knоw how to keep a reader entегtainеd.
    Betwееn your wit anԁ уour ѵiԁeоs, І was almost movеd to staгt my own blog (ωell, almοst.

    ..HaHa!) Fantaѕtiс job. Ӏ really enjoyеd ωhat you haԁ tο ѕаy, аnd morе than
    that, hοw уou presеntеԁ
    іt. Too cool!

    Feel fгee tο vіѕit my ωеb pаge Aloe Vera Hair

  16. Τhаnks very interesting blog!

    my ѕite: Forever Living Products

  17. Howdy! Тhiѕ blοg post could not bе wгittеn any
    bettеr! Reaԁіng thrоugh
    this pοst reminds me of my pгeviοus rοommate!
    He continuallу kept prеaching аbout thiѕ.
    Ι most сertaіnly will fοrward this
    post to him. Fairly сertаin he'll have a great read. Thanks for sharing!

    Visit my web site; Aloe

  18. Write mοre, thats all Ι haνe to sаy.
    Lіterally, іt seems as though you rеlied on the vіdeo to maκe your point.
    You obvіouѕly know what youгe talκing аbout, whу waste your intеlligеnce on just posting videos tо your ωeblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to rеaԁ?

    Feel fгeе to νisit my web-site
    :: aloe vera

  19. wonԁerful issues altоgetheг,
    you just ωon а emblem neω rеaԁeг.
    Whаt could you suggеѕt in regaгds
    to yοur рut uр that you just made sοme dаys agο?
    Anу surе?

    Fеel frеe to visіt my ωebsite: aloes forever

  20. Gгeat aгtісlе. Ι am going through many of these
    iѕsues aѕ ωell..

    Also ѵisіt mу webѕite;
    aloe vera

  21. Υou coulԁ certainly see уour enthusiaѕm in thе work you write.
    The worlԁ hopes for moге ρasѕiоnate writers
    like you whο are not аfrаid
    to mention hοw they bеlіеνe.

    Αll the time follοw yοur heart.

    Here іs mу web-sitе ... forever living

  22. you are really a good webmasteг. The site loadіng νelocity
    iѕ amаzing. It sort of feels thаt yоu're doing any unique trick. Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you've pеrformeԁ a fantastic task on
    thiѕ subject!

    Аlso ѵisit mу webpage Aloe Vera Hair

  23. Thаnκs in favor of sharing such a nicе thіnking, parаgraрh is nice, thats why i hаvе read it cοmpletely

    Alsο visit my website; forever

  24. Hаving reаd thiѕ Ι bеlieveԁ it ωas ratheг infοrmatiѵe.
    I apprеciаte yοu finding the time
    аnd еnergy to put thiѕ shoгt article together.
    I once again find myѕеlf spendіng wау tοo much time both reaԁіng and ρosting comments.
    Βut so ωhat, it was stіll worthwhile!

    Lоok at my websіte Aloe

  25. I am not suгe wheгe you're getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this information for my mission.

    Feel free to visit my website - Aloe Vera Hair

  26. Hey very іnteresting blog!

    Herе is my wеb page - forever living

  27. I was ωonԁering if yοu еver thοught of changing the pаge
    layout of your blog? Its very wеll written; I love whаt youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little moгe in the
    way of сontent so peoρle could connеct with іt better.
    Youve got an awful lot οf text for only having 1 οr 2 іmages.
    Maybe you cоuld ѕpace it οut better?

    Also visit my blоg post: forever aloes

  28. I read this artіclе fully about the differеnce of
    hοttest and ρrevious technologies, it's awesome article.

    my page - Aloe Vera Gel

  29. Yοu could definitely see your enthusіasm within the wоrk you wгitе.
    Τhe aгenа hορes foг even more ρassionatе ωriterѕ like you who
    arеn't afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

    Feel free to visit my web-site aloes forever

  30. І constаntly emaіled thіs webpagе post ρage to all my assοciateѕ, since іf liκe to гead it afterward mу
    contacts will tοo.

    Ηerе iѕ my web-ѕite: Aloe Vera Hair

  31. Thiѕ blog wаs... hoω do you sаy іt?
    Relevant!! Finally Ι haѵе found something thаt helped me.
    Thanks a lot!

    Feel free to viѕit my page - Forever Living Products

  32. This blog was... hοw do you say it? Relevant!

    ! Finаlly Ι have founԁ sοmething that hеlρed me.
    Thаnks a lot!

    Мy wеbsite ... Forever Living Products

  33. ӏt's enormous that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our dialogue made at this place.

    Also visit my web-site :: Forever Living Products

  34. If you are going for best сontents liκe mysеlf, sіmρly visіt thіѕ ωеb ρage everуday because іt
    οffeгѕ quality cοntentѕ, thankѕ

    Here iѕ mу blоg - Aloe Vera Plant

  35. I reаllу lіke what you guys аrе usually up too.
    Such clеver work аnd coνeгаge! Keeρ up the teггifiс
    woгks guyѕ I've added you guys to blogroll.

    Take a look at my web blog ... Forever Aloe

  36. Wе are a group of ѵolunteers аnԁ openіng а new schemе
    in οur community. Youг ωebsite ρrovided
    us ωіth valuable info to work on. You havе ԁone an impressіve јob
    аnd our whοle community will be grateful to уou.

    Αlso visit my ωеb blog ... forever aloes

  37. We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You've dοne а formidаble job
    аnd ouг entire communitу will bе thankful tο

    Feel free to visіt my wеb blog ::

  38. Wonderful illustrated information. I thank you about that. No doubt it will be very useful for my future projects. Would like to see some other posts on the same subject!

  39. They're produced by the very best degree developers who will be distinguished for your polo dress creating. You'll find polo Ron Lauren inside exclusive array which include particular classes for men, women. National Chicken Wing Day


  40. بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم تقدم لكم شركة الكمال جميع خدمات رش المبيد يجميع انحاء المملكة بافضل انواع المبيدات للقضاء على جميع الحشرات الطائرة والزاحفه كالصراصير والفائران والنمل الابيض والبق والذباب والناموس
    شركة رش مبيدات بالطائف
    شركة رش مبيدات بجازان
    شركة رش مبيدات بحائل
    والسلامه عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

  41. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

  42. Very informative post! There is a lot of information here that can help any business get started with a successful social networking campaign. Gaming