For the longest time I’ve wanted to read the Hunger Games books. I’ve finally had a chance to do and think they’re absolutely fabulous. I enjoyed them immensely. I’ve still only seen the first movie, not the proceeding two. I decided it would be best to read the books first, before seeing the movies. Now, having done so, I’d like to share my thoughts on them. I would first like to remind the reader that I am no way trying to claim what the author, Suzanne Collins, was intending to say. I’m only giving my view of what took place in the series.
The story takes place in a dystopian future where the United States as we know it, has ceased to exist. In its place is a country called Panem – a capital city surrounded by “districts.” They’re areas that seem to function more like cantons (administrative regions) to me. How the land mass of the U.S. came to be organized this way is not explained in the books. However, there is mention of a nuclear war that seems to have torn many of the world’s countries apart. In the fallout from this war, the U.S. was reorganized as we see it in the books and movies.
The capital is the center of all power in the country. Each of the districts is subservient to it. Panem is overtly capitalist. There is a great class divide between the capital and the districts, as well as inside each district and the capital. When these books first came out, right wing media claimed that this future was one organized by socialism – which made absolutely no sense. The intent was clear, the capitalist class and its representatives wanted us to fear the idea of changing anything. Their claims were of course utter nonsense, as socialism would have taken an opposite form.
The districts live at the mercy of the Capital and its power. Each of them has been assigned a particular industry depending on what kind of land they’re on. Some were dedicated to forestry, textiles, mining, etc. The Capital resides in a symbolic position, up in the mountains of the former Colorado. It’s physically placed above the rest of the country. Citizens of the Capital live in excessive luxury while those in the districts commonly face starvation, disease, and injury. Those in the capital hardly ever see any kind of intense physical labour, most of them are in the possession of mental labour employment. As they live in great abundance, those in the districts live in abject poverty . The districts, however, are where the wealth of the Capital comes from. The Capital itself doesn’t produce anything, it merely lives off of the production of the districts.
Most obvious to me, is the representation of the First and Third World. The tremendous similarities between them, I suspect might be intentional. The capital is a perfect symbol for the First World. People live in an astronomically higher living standard, while not being particularly productive. Much of the First World we describe as a “mall economy.” Like a mall, not much is actually physically produced there. Almost all of it is services, or stores that sell products that were created somewhere else. The food court is a good example, the food is made there, which is different from the rest of the mall most consisting of retail stores, or some kind of service. This certainly describes the First World, where manufacturing has been almost entirely outsourced to the Third World. Most of the remaining employment is service industry jobs: retail stores, gas stations, telemarketing, customer service, various mental labour, etc. These jobs are a part of facilitating the flow of commodities, not the physical production of them.
This reflects our reality where the people of the First World live off of the super-exploitation of the Third World. In the story, the hero, Katness Everdeen, is horrified at the discovery that people in the capital attended feasts where they cause themselves to vomit so that they can keep tasting more foods. This abundant food, existed only to be tasted, not actually eaten. It is in fact wasted, while the Districts starve. This is not unlike our own world where the rich countries waste half of all food based on pickiness and presentation, while almost a billion people go hungry. The Capital characters were completely oblivious to their bourgeois decadence, just as First World people today turn their eyes away from the reality of global hunger. Instead they comfort themselves with the idea that since they work, they can do whatever they want with their money, and can thus ignore to the consequences.
The similarities between our real world and their fictional one do not end there. In the Districts, a good deal of Capital violence is used to keep the citizenry in line with their interests. The Peacekeepers are basically soldiers used by the government of the Capital to brutalize the Districts into submission. Executions are common place for minor infractions. Often they face killings as a mere demonstration of power the Capital has over everyone else. The loyalty of the Peacekeepers is only to the country and their commanding officers. Which in turn answer directly to the authority of the Capital government. The peacekeepers themselves aren’t even from the Districts they control.
This not unlike the reality of imperialism today. One merely has to switch out the Peacekeepers for the U.S. military (or any other imperialist army) and we have the same thing the people of the Third World suffer from. These occupying armies arbitrarily execute people for no committed offense. Videos have surfaced of soldiers killing for sport. The real goal of the occupying armies is to keep the country under the control of the imperialist country for economic exploitation. The whole point of the imperialist occupation is to prevent the country from asserting independence. Many countries are forced to be one crop economies. Cuba was formerly the primary sugar producer for the U.S., oil from the Middle East, rubber from Asia, fruit and minerals from South America, etc. This is just as it is in the Districts of Panem.
The Districts, like the Third World, suffer from unequal wealth transfers, i.e. inequality. The products and wealth are produced in the Districts and then transferred to the Capital. In return, they receive poverty wages, unsafe working environments, lack of health care, and general poverty. Nearly all of it is transferred to the Capital where a great deal of it is wasted. This is entirely like our global wealth gap today. People in the First World live off the suffering of people in the Third with no regard to it. They live lives of luxury compared to the Third World, and care only for their own entertainment.
In the story there is a tale of the great rebellion that took place in District 13. It stood up and said that it was no longer going to be dictated to by the Capital, and carried out an armed revolt. The Capital’s response was to annihilate the District into obscurity. At some point nuclear weapons were obtained by the District which it threatened to use against the Capital. A ceasefire was agreed to: District 13 wouldn’t nuke the Capital, but in return the Capital would perpetuate the idea that 13 no longer existed. The Capital proceeded to spend decades laying about District 13, using the falsehood as an example of what happens when you oppose the status quo.
I see this as very much like (but not completely) the situation between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Western imperialist world. The DPRK fought a war with the United Nations that essentially ended up in a ceasefire. The U.N. totally destroyed the DPRK, and has spent decades lying about life there and its people. Since the Korean War took place, the DPRK has managed to keep a massive military as a deterrent against any further attacks. The U.S. can attack the DPRK, but it will have to face the threat of nuclear attack. The DPRK, like District 13, doesn’t have the power necessary to attack the U.S./the Capital. District 13 has economically recovered into a highly militarized society just as the DPRK has. Both of them, completely out of necessity.
In this class dynamic we also see the second world manifestation. District 2 enjoys a privileged position with Panem. It includes higher wages, higher standard of living, higher general level of wealth. A great representation of this difference is its relationship to the Hunger Games. In the poor Districts, people throw their name into a pot to be chosen in exchange necessary food stuffs (oil, grain, etc.). In District 2 they have “professionals” who compete in the Games. They are raised to specially be “warriors” for the competition, with the goal of winning honour. For the poor, it’s a desperate move to get food, for the rich it’s honourable sport. It’s very clear that poverty is being used as a coercive mechanism. While anyone can be drawn if they’re in the right age group, those who take the food put their name in more times. In District 2, they commonly rig the draw in favour of chosen candidates.
This privileged position is also a weapon used against the poorer Districts. Most of the Peacekeepers in the story come from District 2. This privileged position is used to ideologically control the Capital’s coercive arm. District 2 born Peacekeepers have an interest in maintaining the Capital’s domination. If there were to be some kind of equalization of wealth, it would lose its privileged position over the other Districts. The District 2 people are willing to suffer abuse from the Capital, just so long as they’re kept a class above other Districts.
We can see here clearly the “Second World” nature of District 2. They too suffer oppression, but tolerate it and in turn inflict it on others to keep their privileged position. In the story, 2 was the toughest District to get on the side of the rebels for this very reason. Eventually they came over to the rebel’s side, but not before a great deal of convincing, and I suspect, a recognition that the Capital was going to fall.
The Capital eventually falls to the rebels. When it did, it was due to an alliance of the Districts. It took a combined effort of all of them together in order to topple the seemingly invincible wealthy giant. The Capital, just like the First World, was dependent upon the Districts for the production of basically everything. Once those supplies were cut off, the Capital was left in position that drove it towards economic collapse. The same is true of the tactics of Third Worldism. A pan-Third World movement would seek to cut off the theft of value carried out by the First World. This loss of super-exploitation would almost instantly crash the rates of profit among First World firms. This would directly affect the banking system, leading to an eventual collapse. Today, if we removed India or China as a source of super-exploitation, the capitalist system would collapse at near light speed. The system would not be able to absorb such a drastic loss of manufacturing (wealth generating) capability. The Third World doesn’t need to physically invade and destroy the First World. It merely needs to exercise a mass independence from it.