Thursday afternoon I finished reading the third book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. 1163 pages since Sunday… a true orgy of compulsive page turning that kept this “old” lady awake way past her bedtime. I wanted to see the movie on the big screen, but I always have to read the book before seeing the adaptation, and once I started I was hooked! Great fun!
On Thursday Charlie Rose interviewed the film director, Gary Ross. I hoped that would give the enterprise some credibility with my sceptical husband, but since he thought they would not be talking about geopolitics, the environment, or the economy, he left the room. Too bad, because that is really what the books are about. Imagine the very worst possible outcome in these three areas; ask yourself the classic question, “what if”; create a series of inescapable ethical dilemmas; and hand the hypothetical situation over to a very talented author who has great insight into the minds and emotions of her “young” readers. If you haven’t read them yet, put them on your list!
Ross described the story as a cautionary tale in which the popular entertainment of reality TV is extrapolated into contrived spectacle and then becomes a tool for political control. He talked about colonial exploitation of subject states for harvesting their manpower and resources, the relationship between the pampered super rich and their economic slave states, the contrast between senseless hedonism and relentless suffering.
Against the serious premises of this appalling dystopian setting, we watch intelligent, strong-willed, sensitive and ethical young people struggle to survive without completely sacrificing their integrity and humanity. What happens if you are forced to participate in a system that violates your personal moral values? Is suicide preferable to torture that may force you to endanger others? How much empathy and compassion can you afford in a life and death situation from which there is no escape? What would you, could you, the reader do that is any different, any better?
I haven’t had time, yet, to form my own interpretation and response. This is a story that will stay with me for a very long time, like the impact of reading The Lord of the Flies or The Day of the Triffids for the first time. Good science fiction is probably the most challenging genre for examining ethical truths. Even Jurassic Park forces the thinking reader to respond this way. You may hear about this again!
I found some really informative articles on-line:
1. What’s behind the boom in dystopia for young readers? Laura Miller (in New Yorker) says , among other things:
If, on the other hand, you consider the games as a fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience, they become perfectly intelligible. Adults dump teenagers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it’s supposed to be. The rules are arbitrary, unfathomable, and subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good-looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake. Adults don’t seem to understand how high the stakes are; your whole life could be over, and they act like it’s just some “phase”! Everyone’s always watching you, scrutinizing your clothes or your friends and obsessing over whether you’re having sex or taking drugs or getting good enough grades, but no one cares who you really are or how you really feel about anything.
2 .(In Slate) Miller also compares the appeal of the heroines in Twilight and Games: …Bella and Katniss are very different. You even could view their stories as embodying the two major value systems of Western culture, the Romantic and the Classical.
3. David Denby (in New Yorker) reviews two films about kids at risk: Perhaps it’s that the books offer a hyper-charged version of high school, an everyday place with incessant anxieties: constant judgment by adults; hazing, bullying, and cliques; and, finally, college-entry traumas. If you stretch the metaphor a bit, the books could be seen as a menacing fable of capitalism, in which an ethos of competition increasingly yields winner-take-all victors.
There is much, much more… You may not have the time or interest to look at the links, but they are there to peruse at your leisure. I find checking things online similar to reading a rich assortment of magazines every day. It often adds depth or breadth to what I have been thinking about, or sends me off in a new direction altogether. It is fun being my own mentor… I chose the topics and make or miss my own deadlines. Join me in this, sometime!