‘The Hunger Games': Has it come out in time?

March 29, 2012

SpiritBlog

COMMENTARY

What’s all the fuss about “The Hunger Games” trilogy?

There’s not much not to like about the books: love story, drama, humor, revolution, friendship, family, patriotism, murder, mystery, sci-fi, war, military strategy, mind games.

No religion, outwardly at least. But definitely moral choices. The idea of people being willing to sacrifice their lives to save others, that has a familiar ring to it.

Thousands of young people reading the Suzanne Collins series have adults following suit, and the movie is a box office blockbuster.

Personally I wonder, has this tour de force come out in time?

Is this our future?

Can a make-believe story that shows dramatically a society in which a very few are extremely well-off and the rest of a nation an underclass wake up its readers to what’s happening in the United States this very day?

Can reading this fiction penetrate enough American brains so that we see the reality of our own 2012 culture, one in which one life is more valued than another? One in which the middle-class is not just shrinking but being hammered into submission?

Yes, “The Hunger Games” is about the evil of war and the horror of taking the life of another. The very thought of children killing other children is abhorent — as is the killing of any child, any human being at any stage (even in its mother’s womb). And children killing children as a form of entertainment for a privileged upper class doubly so.

But readers (and moviegoers) have to be able to equate the context of this futuristic, post-apocalyptic trilogy to life right now, and then to life as it very well could be in the years ahead.

Medicine, food, rights for just a few?

In “The Hunger Games,” the privileged in the Capitol district have incredibly advanced health care, science-fiction type of treatments, while in backwater District 12 where heroine Katniss lives, her mother treats the sick and wounded on her kitchen table with homemade remedies.

Some Christians today want to destroy the small steps the United States has taken to provide health care for those who aren’t fortunate enough to work for companies that have insurance plans.  As one of the books’ characters applies moss to a wound to slow bleeding, I recalled a benefit a corporate CEO received upon retirement: His health care paid for the rest of his life. Like with the millions this man was making every year he hadn’t stashed away enough to pay for his own health care!

In “The Hunger Games” there are fences around each of the districts of the fictional country of Panem, and those who dare to illegally cross a border in search of food are punished or killed. It is impossible for a thinking person not to picture Mexican workers willing to risk their lives to sneak over, under and around U.S. borders in search of work so they can eat and feed their families.

Is it right and good and just for Katniss to cross the border to help her mother and sister survive but not right and good and just for Juan and Juanita to do the same?

When some Mexicans enter the United States they do so illegally.  Absolutely.

But tell me you can read “The Hunger Games” and not hope that Katniss doesn’t get caught on the wrong side of the fence.

You may or may not agree with the Catholic bishops of this country as they protest forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives and sterilization in their employees’ health insurance policies because it is a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. But you were on the side of Katniss, Peeta and Gale as they struggled to overcome the conscience-compromising policies of a powerful fictional government, weren’t you?

Time to ask ourselves hard questions

Here’s a good question to ask after reading or viewing “The Hunger Games”: What’s happening in my world that troubles my conscience but that I feel I can’t do anything about?

And how about a few more questions. We learn through authoritative studies about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. When we read “The Hunger Games” or see the film, it isn’t a reach to see how that kind of society of haves and have-nots is happening in our day. What might it take for America’s middle class to dissolve to the point that those with decent salaries and benefits could become like the underclass in Ms. Collins’ fictional world?

Would it take a so-called “right-to-work” act?

Maybe legislating collective bargaining rights out of existence?

Dissolving the nation’s health care act?

Sending good-paying jobs overseas where people are willing to work for half the salary so that a corporate CEO can retire with health care paid for life?

We see and hear the stories everyday about people who lost their jobs, lost their homes. They used to donate food to the food shelf; now they feed their families thanks to those same food shelves.

Talk about hunger games.

Bob Zyskowski is The Catholic Spirit’s associate publisher / general manager.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 40-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski