The Hunger Games: a not-so-remote “reality” (2/6)

Lidia Mahillon, FLF Student

This entry is the third of a series of articles reflecting on the political role of food in the book series Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. The discussion is an idea of Dr Jose Luis Vivero Pol.

Science fiction novels have a strong capability to critique the established paradigms[1]. They usually constitute a reflexion on how human society could evolve, and to do so they depart from what is already existing only to distort it in a dystopian fashion. Yet there it is: the basis of the reflexion is the existing world order.

 

As such, as dystopian and remote does the Hunger Games’ world[2] seem, it is not that different from the reality we are facing today. The appearance of remoteness from our society comes from the fact that Panem’s society is starkly divided into different Districts and that some, such as the 12th, coal, and the 11th, agriculture, seem to live in conditions that are similar to those of the 18th century. What reinforces the feeling of an unthinkable reality is that those completely divided District belong to the same country, ‘classifying’ the population into different orders. In today’s world, one could not think of a country treating its citizens differently from one another. And yet, ever since Marx we have to remind ourselves that even though no physical barriers are erected, citizens do not benefit from the same treatment inside of their own land[3]. And if one tries and ‘open up’ the comparison with Panem, such a visible difference between groups of people can be observed as of today. The so-called “Global South” is treated exactly in the same manner as the farthest Districts are being treated in the books. Indeed, just as Districts 11 and 12, the Global South is responsible for providing the worlds most valuable resources – exotic food and energy – but it is deliberately kept in poverty and famine through technocratic rules and appearances of justice and retributions. Districts 11 and 12 are facing the same kind of treatment that the Global South is struggling with: impossible working conditions, absolutely no sovereignty as of what to do with their own life, land, and resources. In the book, this treatment is justified by peace, order and security. Today, we are witnessing a rising tide of authoritarian ‘security’ regulations and of closing borders. As of food, the global governance of the system of globalised supply is now being addressed in terms of food security too.

 

Those values serve to build a narrative in which authority and punishment are given leeway to perform whatever they need to perform – flinging a fear of loosing a comfortable status quo. The narrative and the propaganda play a very important role in the books, and so does it in real life. The Hunger Games themselves are sold as a fair and necessary punishment for an uprising of the Districts that led to disorder and trouble. They are viewed as a tremendously exciting reality show by District 1’s population, while the reality of it is that children are sent to exterminate themselves in an arena. The violence of the Games creates an atmosphere of distrust and hatred between the Districts, diverting their attention towards what is really at the root of their miserable conditions: the plunder of their resource and workforce by the Capitol.

 

The same is happening in 2017. Even though we don’t have an arena, wars, conflicts and terrorist attacks are being constantly reported in the medias. They show us colourful images of people dying, that we avidly watch in the comfort of our homes – usually, at dinner time. The focus on fear mongering images divert the populations’ attention to the real problems of the world, and to the ‘real realities’ of it – as opposed to the reality constructed by the narrative.

 

As another example of the books, the fence that surrounds District 12 is presented as protecting the population from wild predators, while it actually prevents them from fetching food – the landscape outside of the fence is described as ripe with all kinds of food. Food indeed is being rationed to District 12’s population, in (unfair) exchange of their labour. And food – or the need thereof – is also what regulates who participates to The Hunger Games: you can receive x times more food supply if you accept to put your name x times more in the reaping basket. And again, the narrative there differs from the reality: while the slogan of the Games, “may the odds ever be in your favour”, the probability of your name being called out depends on your level of hunger and of poverty – not chance.

 

In 2017, some parts of the world are precluded from living a decent life because of the power in place. Global trade and financial patterns, as well as state borders, are acting just as Panem’s Hunger Games, Tesserae[4], and divestment of resources outside of the producing Districts, into the Capitol. The IMF, the World Bank and the UN Security council work exactly in that way. The structural adjustment policies are acting as disciplinary redress[5]. Just as in Panem, they are the Global South’s punishment for their rebellion against colonisation. And just like in Panem, famines are created by political design[6].

 

In the Global North, security politics are acting just as the fence and the “Peacekeepers” in District 12, playing people against one another, restricting their freedom through the narrative of securing them[7]. The name of “Peacekeepers” is ironic, since they are viewed as a threat by the people in District 12. They do not hesitate to use force to enforce “peace” – i.e. order: they gun people down, they flog them, they imprison them without trial. Upon reflexion, the word “police” comes from ancient greek, πολιτεία, “organisation of the city”, then later “administration towards good order”; and ἀπόδειξις, “demonstration”, “to make it look a certain way”[8]. And upon further reflexion, it is a recurring phenomenon that certain fringes of the population do not benefit from police protection, but are actually victim of very violent exactions[9].

 

As a final comparison, the more-than-comfortable lifestyle of District 1’s population and their complete disconnection with the reality in other Districts is totally comparable to the difference between the Global North’s way of life and the realities of the South. We too live in a narcissistic society, where everything is possible, where appearances and body modifications are extravagant and the last thing that people are left to deal with. Indeed, contrary to the other Districts, the population in Capitol has literally nothing to do in order to survive: everything is ready-made, available by the push of one button. What a difference that makes with Katniss’ life, to which she refers as centring around food – finding, trading, sharing, cooking and eating it. District 1 population has lost the link with the identity aspect of food.

 

As a conclusion, it is very interesting – and salutary – that a book directed at the younger public addresses those issues. It is even more interesting to note the huge success that the book had – revealing that it might have made the readers feel very connected to the books’ apparently remote “reality”.

 

[1] Patrick Parrinder, Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia (Liverpool University Press 2000).

[2] For the sake of the length of this paper, the authors stems from the idea that the reader is already familiar with Panem’s way of functioning.

[3] Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital (Alexander Locascio tr, Monthly Review Press 2004).

[4] The “bonds” that children obtain in exchange of putting their names in the reaping basket.

[5] Celine Tan, ‘The New Disciplinary Framework: Conditionality, New Aid Architecture and Global Economic Governance’ <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1749531&gt; accessed 19 March 2017.

[6] Y F., ‘The Irish Famine: Opening Old Wounds’ The Economist (12 December 2012) <http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/12/irish-famine&gt; accessed 19 March 2017; Claude Meillassoux, ‘Development or Exploitation: Is the Sahel Famine Good Business?’ (1974) 1 Review of African Political Economy 27; Rakhi Chakraborty, ‘The Bengal Famine: How the British Engineered the Worst Genocide in Human History for Profit’ <https://yourstory.com/2014/08/bengal-famine-genocide/&gt; accessed 19 March 2017.

[7] Mark Duffield and Nicholas Waddell, ‘Securing Humans in a Dangerous World’ (2006) 43 International Politics 1.

[8] https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/police#.C3.89tymologie

[9] Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford, ‘Delusions of Progress: Tracing the Origins of the Police in the Slave Patrols of the Old South’ <https://itsgoingdown.org/delusions-progress-tracing-origins-police-slave-patrols-old-south/&gt; accessed 19 March 2017; Audrey Fisné, ‘Violences Policières : Le Rapport Accablant de «Reporterre» – Libération’ Libération (30 June 2016) <http://www.liberation.fr/france/2016/06/30/violences-policieres-le-rapport-accablant-de-reporterre_1463083&gt; accessed 19 March 2017.

 

 

Bibliography:

Chakraborty R, ‘The Bengal Famine: How the British Engineered the Worst Genocide in Human History for Profit’ <https://yourstory.com/2014/08/bengal-famine-genocide/&gt; accessed 19 March 2017

Duffield M and Waddell N, ‘Securing Humans in a Dangerous World’ (2006) 43 International Politics 1

Fisné A, ‘Violences Policières : Le Rapport Accablant de «Reporterre» – Libération’ Libération (30 June 2016) <http://www.liberation.fr/france/2016/06/30/violences-policieres-le-rapport-accablant-de-reporterre_1463083&gt; accessed 19 March 2017

F. Y, ‘The Irish Famine: Opening Old Wounds’ The Economist (12 December 2012) <http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/12/irish-famine&gt; accessed 19 March 2017

Heinrich M, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital (Alexander Locascio tr, Monthly Review Press 2004)

Meillassoux C, ‘Development or Exploitation: Is the Sahel Famine Good Business?’ (1974) 1 Review of African Political Economy 27

Parrinder P, Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia (Liverpool University Press 2000)

Shirley N and Stafford S, ‘Delusions of Progress: Tracing the Origins of the Police in the Slave Patrols of the Old South’ <https://itsgoingdown.org/delusions-progress-tracing-origins-police-slave-patrols-old-south/&gt; accessed 19 March 2017

Tan C, ‘The New Disciplinary Framework: Conditionality, New Aid Architecture and Global Economic Governance’ <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1749531&gt; accessed 19 March 2017

 

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