Race, Violence, Kids: Watching ‘Hunger Games’ with My 10-Year-Old Son
A good discussion of The Hunger Games and speculative fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction and you may find this worth reading.
The best works of speculative fiction can take aspects of the present to far-reaching extremes that are simultaneously familiar yet disturbing, offering us a magic lens that renders visible the machinations and ultimate repercussions of social, economic and political forces around us.
In a dystopian, post-apocalyptic North America, 16-year-old protagonist, Katniss, is one of two-dozen teenaged participants representing the country’s 12 districts in an annual gladiatorial battle to the death conducted in a specially designed arena. It is no coincidence that the country where the Hunger Games are held is named “Panem.” Commemorating a failed rebellion by the districts against the Capitol, the televised spectacle serves as part of the futuristic state’s policy of “bread and circuses” or “panem et circenses,” as originally referred to by first century satirist and poet Juvenal writing about ancient Rome’s strategy to distract, appease and control the populace.
The futuristic world in The Hunger Games seems utterly believable, the logical extension of a voyeuristic, consumerist culture, where significant segments of the population are obsessed with reality television and celebrity news, while sticking their heads in the sand about the blatant social, political and environmental problems going on around them. The marked contrast between the extravagant Capitol and the impoverished districts in the Hunger Games is no less stark and no less unjust than the economic stratifications and disparities that exist today. As for exploiting children, cage matches with boys as young as eight fighting in front of sold-out adult audiences were held in England last year.
Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy is a definitely page-turner. But I hesitated about going to the film. Meanwhile, my 10 year-old begged me to see it. He’d already raced through the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy twice, reading the last one four times. I’d thoroughly enjoying them too, and was reminded of the speculative fiction I’d devoured when I was a teenager — Brave New World, 1984, The Chrysalids, Dune.
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