Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Hunger Games post

I've now seen the Hunger Games: Catching Fire a couple of times and have also seen the first movie a couple of times in the year (or so) since it was released. It has managed to tap into my imagination and made me think deeply about what they are trying to get across. Please let me give a little back story as I understand it and then offer a comment about what I see happening in the state of Iowa.

The Hunger games begins 74 years after a violent war in North America resulting in the nation of Panem divided into the capital and 12 surrounding districts. The capital is clearly the winner of the war as its residents have opulent lives of leisure and pleasure. The districts, on the other hand, each provide an important service to the capital, whether that be protection or some kind of material such as coal or wood. The residents of the districts are impoverished and must submit their name to a lottery each time they have to ask for food or medicine from the capital. Each year, two people (one girl and one boy) are chosen by that same lottery to enter into a game in which they try to be the last person surviving. The point of the game on the surface is to punish the 12 districts for their rebellion against the powerful capital. It also serves as entertainment for the people of the capital as they throw parties and parades surrounding the games. The victors of each game get to return to their districts and live in a special area where their needs would be met for the rest of their lives. However, it has become obvious that everyone who survives is also deeply psychologically wounded by their experience in the games.

Obviously, there is a lot more to these games than just this summary but please allow me to be brief for the sake of making my point. The books and the movie point out that one of the ways the capitol maintains its control is by getting the people in the different districts to see each other as enemies. Sure, the capitol seems like it's the ultimate enemy but none of the residents of the capitol are in the arena when the killing starts. Instead, you fight people who could grow up to be miners or police officers or soldiers or lumberjacks. The key is to see the other districts as just that: other. They are the people who get to have their children back while yours are dead. They are the ones who get the food while you have to beg, cheat, and steal yours. Power needs divisions to maintain control and, as we see in the hunger games, it cannot handle unity because it threatens their dominance.

So, how does this have anything to do with the State of Iowa? Let me begin by saying (thank goodness!) it's not because Des Moines forces us to provide 2 "tributes" to die in a sporting arena. However, we are divided. Perhaps most effectively, we are divided by towns and school districts. Especially in rural areas, where the population is declining, there are fierce town/school rivalries that are taught to children at a young age, oftentimes involving actions that took place fifty or a hundred years ago, between "our school" and that "other" school. We wait all year long for the football, basketball, or baseball game between our schools and the whole town turns up even if you don't have a kid in school. Yet, who is the real enemy in all of this? Is Garner, Hayfield, Ventura really the enemy of West Hancock and vice versa? Is Lake Mills really the enemy of Forest City and vice versa? I don't think so. I drive down the main streets of these small towns all the time and see empty buildings where there once was a clothing store or a bank. I hear people bragging about driving to Mason City and getting a deal on clothes or shoes or groceries and then hear about local shoe stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores struggling to stay open. We are our own worst enemies. Rather than encouraging young people to move into rural areas and dedicating their life to farming, too many farmers pay top price for the farm next door so that they can have the biggest farm in the county...not that son-of-a-gun from that other town. Rather than purchasing things locally or in the small town next door, we'll thirty, forty, or fifty miles to the closest big city. Why should the town next door get your money, right? We don't need Des Moines, Washingtown DC, or any other capitol to kill our towns. We'll do it ourselves. When will we learn that the human race will only flourish when none of us is seen as somehow less important or less dignified than anyone else?