Friday, August 24, 2012

Why Katniss Matters

Not Yet A Phoenix

In March of 2012, the world watched the first round of The Hunger Games unfold. The film adaptation of the novel by Suzanne Collins destroyed box office records, and ensured the remaining two books of the series will also be turned into movies. The book series dominated book shelves, and was to be found on the USA Today Best Seller list for more than 134 consecutive weeks. Scholastic Publishing reports sales in excess of 26 million for the series , a staggering amount of books for a society that allegedly no longer reads.  If you calculate the number of US residents between the ages of 5 and 18 at around 52 million, then we are to understand that nearly half of the target age group has at least a passing familiarity with the Hunger Games. The series has exceeded the bounds of children’s fiction. As an anecdote I am familiar with at least 4 grown men and women having enjoyed the written series, it is not for children alone. Much as Harry Potter before it, these Hunger Games have become cultural icons in the landscape of popular literature.

 It is a curious effect of written stories; stories engaged by active reading have far greater resonance with the consumer then do mere movies or television productions. The intuition available to us is obvious. Reading requires more time intentionally spent engaging with a story, reading a story requires a far greater time commitment then do movies. Reading series of books frequently surpasses even full length television series in time required for consumption. Books read intentionally for pleasure have a long lasting memory in the minds of the readers. While the ‘classics’ which required reading and dictated various assignments in educational settings are swiftly forgotten, books which present delight in turning the page are long remembered. Lord of the Rings, Dune, Atlas Shrugged, and more recent examples including Harry Potter embed themselves in both private and public consciousness in a manner different from films. Where intelligent discussion can take place following a movie, an intelligent discussion is nearly always the norm in a conversation where common ground can be found upon a good book. Novels may not reach as far, but they are accompanied by great depth of understanding and memory. This brings the Hunger Games back into view. Beware, in the lines to follow, there will be spoilers. 
This is why Katniss of District 12, Tribute to the Hunger Games, matters to the culture of tomorrow. Suzanne Collins has clearly struck a vibrant chord with her series. This is not only the product of engaging writing and a strong central character; it is a story that resonates with readers. The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, wherein the North Americas and some undisclosed population of man have been divided into 12 subsidiary districts, with the Capitol of the Hegemony firmly astride the people. Every year, a male and female youth is randomly drafted or volunteers from each district, to participate in a widely televised death match with the others. These so called Tributes are permitted to apply their names into the draft pool to increase their supply of food to stave off starvation, and the games are used to remind the world of the consequences of insurrection. The sole winner is lauded, but is ultimately only a tool for control of the minds of the people. 

 The texture of the world is part of what makes the story so compelling. A centrally directed economic system, nationalized industry, collective agriculture, state controlled food distribution, and walls to keep people in, are all indicative of tyranny by the state. The Hall of Justice used as a place where youth are selected to go to their deaths, showing that even a legitimate function of government has been corrupted by application of malignant law. A capitol thrives with wealth based on the taxation and repression of the other districts. People within the capitol live lives enriched only through the labor of others, while producing nothing but vanity and chaff in the wind.  

These themes of the world are not unfamiliar, indeed; many are far common in our own history, only recently having been supplanted with the upstart age of enlightenment. Katniss and other protagonists are willing to recognize this system, to recognize the both the symptoms and the cause of the world around them. Degradation of human life as a mere tool of the state is no way for life to be lived.  The apex of this particular story is a rejection of the state’s imposed rules, and a willingness to sacrifice all to save the lives of another. That the rules could be broken is a new revelation to many watching the games. It is a remarkable conclusion in a modern story. That the reader and the viewer find inspiration and hope in this should cause joy in the hearts of those eager for increases in liberties. There is still a yearning for liberty in the hearts and minds of Americans, and the youngest generation is not one in which we should have no hope. Katniss will resonate for a long time in the hearts of the young.

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