The Hunger Games and the Excess of Capitalism

NOTE: No major spoilers below, but tread carefully if you want to read the book or see the movie without anything revealed. Mostly information about the overall narrative (ie setting).

Just finished the first book of ‘The Hunger Games’ and am half-way through the second. With the movie coming out in a few days I thought it was worth sharing some thoughts before the avalanche of Hollywood gloss covers up what is an impressive story. A story rooted in the struggle of the working class against those living in excess. The very same thing that is taking place in the #Occupy movement.

But things are different. The Hunger Games takes place in the country of Panem and they have a system of government that is clearly totalitarian. The people are divided into districts that each produce a particular product (coal, agriculture, meat, textiles, computers, jewelry, etc.). These all go to ‘The Capitol’ — a place of lavish excess. Here, the residents don’t simply partake in over-consumption, their lives are based around the practice. It’s their way of differentiating themselves from the ‘Districts’ where the products are made. Their way of feeling superior and exerting power — by living lives of privilege.

It doesn’t end there. The commodification of the working class, the desperate poverty and oppression of these people who make the lavish goods enjoyed by The Capitol, is a clear allegory to the proletariat/bourgeois division. Or for those who don’t like Marx, master/slave, self/other, 1%/99%. This is an old concept: those who have living at the expense of those who don’t.

The root narrative of this story is that of the working class rising up against the 1%. Those who have the money have the power — and are subsequently able to control the lives of those in the districts.

This is all wrapped up in a despotic government that doesn’t hesitate to kill its own citizens for the sake of control. The people are literally this ‘excess’ of capitalism. They are expendable units of production. At least our cops settle for pepper spray. (Though I can’t say the same for Syria).

What makes this particularly interesting is the fact that Panem is located in what was once North America. Suggestion that, even here, this could happen. Our civilization was destroyed by some unknown force (I like to think climate change has something to do with it…).

I’m interested to see how things end in ‘The Hunger Games’. Right now, there are hints at widespread rebellion. But the Districts are cut-off from each other and any of the high-technology enjoyed by The Capitol. Here’s hoping the 99% can win. (And that the world wakes up and does something about the bloodshed in Syria.)

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