I went to see The Hunger Games last night, a powerful epic set in a dystopian future. Panem, once known as North America, is a country whose history is fraught with disaster; drought, storms, fires and a brutal war for what little sustenance remained.
It consists of twelve districts outlying the Capitol, an all-powerful, high-tech centralisation of power and totalitarian rule. Then comes the uprising of the districts against the Capitol, only to be brutally squashed and forced to live in impoverished conditions, barely surviving. It is against this backdrop that we are introduced to The Hunger Games, an annual ritual that serves as a reminder to the citizens of Panem that the Capitol is not to be messed with. One boy and one girl from each district are chosen as ‘tributes’ to fight to the death in a televised show of survival and brutality, until only one victor remains. It’s like X-Factor meets Gladiator.
There’s so much I could say about the relevance of the themes in The Hunger Games to our 21st century reality, from the threat posed to our natural resources by climate change to the divide between rich and poor; from the reality of poverty leaving people hungry, to the loss of human dignity. But there was one moment in the film that really stuck with me. Peeta Mellark, one of the tributes from District 12, is talking to the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, the night before The Hunger Games begin. Faced with almost certain death at the hand of the Capitol he says: ‘I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games’. This guy, who has had the odds stacked against him since birth, growing up in a deprived and run-down district, is just desperate to resist the powers that allow it to be this way. Even if it’s the last things he does.
There are times when I lose hope in the dream of a new world. There are times when I want to scream at the oppressive systems and structures that keep people in cycles of perpetual poverty, that they don’t own me; that I don’t buy into their games. Big corporations, world trading systems, corrupt governments – these huge macro systems that I have relatively no control over, but somehow feel invested in because I live in a western society. The problem is that this tends to leave me at a loose end. I’m thirsty, really thirsty for change. But there’s nothing significant I can do to quench it.
In the film, a government top-dog explains the purpose of The Hunger Games, to keep people under control whilst giving them ‘a little hope, but not too much.’ A little hope keeps the enslaved masses in line, but too much hope might actually make them think they have real power.
So what if we just believed? What if we became a generation of hopers with real power? Maybe we don’t change the world in one go, but we choose to buy fairtrade. Maybe we don’t see the tide turned on governmental corruption, but we sign a petition for increased trading transparency. It is in these small acts of resistance that I find my thirst slowly begins to be quenched.