With the movie release of Catching Fire on November 22, Hunger Games trilogy fans are excited to watch the next installment of the young-adult fiction series on the big screen. Although the many fantastical elements of the Hunger Games series make it alluring to fans, author Suzanne Collins was inspired by current events, crises and politics more than you might think.
Four College of Charleston professors show how the government, scientific advances and sociological elements of the Hunger Games’ Panem – post-apocalyptic America – is not so fictitious after all.
1. Power disparity.
The people of District 12 (protagonist Katniss’ home), specifically those in “the seam” are poor, working class folk who struggle daily to put food on the table. Even the wealthier among them, the mayor and his family, for instance, are still confined to the district, unable to rise in power or status.
Sociology Professor Idee Winfield studies distribution of power and wealth. She notes, “There are a lot of similarities between Panem and the world we live in today. In the U.S. the gap between the upper and lower classes is growing wider; we’re seeing conditions similar to those that have caused young adults to bring radical change to countries around the world, and to the conditions that threaten to start a revolution in the Hunger Games.
“If you look at the Arab Spring uprisings, educated young adults frustrated with the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of people who disregard the needs of the poor and unemployed propelled the uprisings.”
No country in the world idolizes celebrities like the U.S. does. Some theorists suggest America’s emphasis on celebrity culture is tied to the Latin concept of panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses,” a concept used to distract the populace from their problems. The name Panem comes from that concept. In the book, the Hunger Games contestants become celebrities who distract the people of the 12 districts from the inequalities that define their lives.
“If you look around and see how pervasive reality TV is in our lives, how frequently we make celebrities out of nothing, you’ll notice that distraction is everywhere,” Winfield said. “Celebrities are always in the news next to updates about politics and wars. The Hunger Games take the idea of celebrity and distraction to a more extreme level through the circus that is the annual Hunger Games”
3. Totalitarian Government
President Snow, the dictator who rules Panem, is not the kind of president you’d vote for – because there is apparently no voting in Panem. The idea of democracy is gone, replaced by totalitarian fascism. Snow serves himself and his supporters and poisons those who challenge him.
Professor of Political Science Claire Curtis studies utopias and dystopias, commenting, “A dystopia is supposed to be a fictional world that’s significantly worse than the world the author comes from. It’s written to critique the author’s own world. Collins’ dystopia includes both a post-apocalyptic setting and a totalitarian government.
“The U.S. government, as we understand it, didn’t survive the post-apocalyptic fallout that resulted in the government of Panem. So Collins is both critiquing the patterns of consumption and environmental degradation that put us on a path where one faction is able to control the survivors. Collins seems to have little faith in the sustainability of our world and in our capacity to effectively resist the rise of this centralized power.”
4. Biological Advances
While genetically engineering new species with one specific purpose (i.e. the Mockingjay) may not yet be possible, biotechnology and genetic engineering advances go beyond genetically modified foods and cloned sheep.
Biology professor Christopher Korey argues that the technology to identify and reproduce hyper-specific qualities in different organisms isn’t as far off as it seems. “Scientists have created bacterial and viral life from scratch already. People are also working on genetically engineering a type of salmon to mature faster,” he said. “Cross-breeding between species is trickier because if you can get offspring they are often sterile, but the technology to genetically modify animals already exists.”
5. Censored communication
One crucial element of the Hunger Games government’s power is its ability to minimize or eliminate communication between districts. This helps prevent free speech and commiseration from sparking a revolution.
“Today you see countries like China and Russia where freedom of speech and access to information is filtered, censored and even criminalized,” Professor of Communication Amanda Ruth-McSwain said. “Recently, there has been significant controversy over the efforts of U.S. government agencies in monitoring our communication – not censoring, monitoring – and it’s unsettling to the American people from both a trust and a control aspect. So clearly there is a difference between where we are with communication surveillance and that of the Hunger Games, but perhaps not as much as we’d like. ”