The Hunger Games, and a game of hunger

WARNING: This is somewhat of a rant. Please comment, especially if you agree or disagree with something.

It’s not true that people have been desensitized or lost their capacity for emotion. People are connecting still to books with morals, music with principles, and and movies which depict ethical dilemmas. The disconnect, I think, is when people cannot connect to those things HAPPENING IN REAL LIFE.

Take The Hunger Games, for example. People are excited about it, captured by the books, and waiting in anticipation for the first movie to come out. And for good reason, it’s a fast-paced story about love, sacrifice, strength, and a propensity for humans to construct unfair systems which perpetuate wealth and repress the poor. It’s also a dramatized analogy to real life.

Teaser Poster for the Hunger Games Movie

So how is it that people are moved so easily to tears by the turning pages of this novel, the pre-released soundtrack, or the teaser trailer, but not compelled to obsessively seek out the latest news on the (still going!) drought in the Horn of Africa, the updates on corruption in West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria, or better yet, the drama excruciatingly unfolding on a yearly basis in many of First Nations’ reserves in Canada. I admit, I too am way more likely to be sucked into reading Harry Potter than the next book on recent International Affairs.

But why? Where is the disconnect here? How can we not make the connection that even though the stories we read and hear and see are over-the-top, romantically tragic, and usually feature alternate technologies, actually have a lot in common with what many people that WE are connected to face on a daily basis?

The elites of the Capitol in the Hunger Games series spend lavishly on themselves, are ignorant of the realities of where their produce comes from and how their consumption is supported, and have relative liberty to explore as much as they want as long as they don’t ask too many questions. You’re thinking I’m guilting you all about being a Canadian citizen.

Well, yes, if you can see that connection, I’m seeing it too. But I also want to draw in a recent blog that I’ve read (see here: You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!), connecting what we in international development discussions call  “brain drain”, or what I see as a natural propensity to further one’s own situation, while balancing an equally natural urge to navigate social connections.

This post talks about all of those overseas-educated Africans, who have worked hard, had good opportunities, and really made their living situation much better under their own steam. No one can blame anyone for that. It goes on to underline, in stronger words than I prefer, that all of those self-made Africans are frittering away their talent in places like New York, Accra, and Lagos, with little regard or understanding for their fellows, who may have faced similar struggles, with less luck, and less success. And how social expectations of professional dress, flights to important conferences, and networking in bars should be considered, but not override that knowledge of the ability to affect change, as members of their global and local communities.

Yes, we’re stuck in systems that encourage blind living, with set “career paths”, identifying with our consumption patterns (I’m a mac person), but does that validate them? I don’t think we should be blind to how our own game of life entrenches an economic game of hunger.

Note: Yes, things are much more complicated than I’ve laid them out, but I believe that the omission of detail doesn’t degrade the overall implications of our actions.

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About Janine Reid

What is Janine? -board game enthusiast -political observer -Vancouverite -questioner -listener -health provider
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2 Responses to The Hunger Games, and a game of hunger

  1. Hey Janine,
    To be fair, I haven’t read the book (but did read a Wikipedia summary of it now – a terrible substitute for novel-reading), but still want to throw in 2 cents.
    If people are connecting emotionally to the book more than the real-world equivalents, the difference could be the dramatic and calculated plot-line, which takes all the most exciting parts of real life and crams them into wonderful and manageable chunks. But it could also be that we as humans are just better at relating to individual personal stories. I’m guessing it’s at least partly the second one.
    The question then would be how to turn those individual personal stories from the real world into something that can reach halfway around the world. There are all kinds of barriers to that – language, literacy, access to communication networks, cultural story-telling styles… and then the actual things people would want to say in a story if they knew it had access to a global audience perceived as infinitely rich. (For the last one, think about how many times in Ghana someone walked up to you on the street, and told you a story about their life as a frame for asking for money. The idea of rich-giving-to-Africa is very entrenched, and would definitely colour the stories presented. Often, in my experience, that would be towards the World Vision -type commercials I hate.) Which leads me to think this isn’t the solution, at least not yet.
    The next possibility that comes to mind is figuring out a way to objectively paint day-in-the-life type pictures. If people understand what poverty means for individuals, maybe they will want to stop it. Again, this risks turning into the sad commercials, or the idea that “poverty isn’t so bad, you just have more babies and farm and sit around waiting for the rain to stop.” Either version still misses the point.
    What I can see that’s left is voluntourism, which I also don’t like as a solution at all, but it does bring individual stories closer to a collective consciousness. It’s also highly dependent on individual interpretations though, which can easily turn into the two negative versions above, or be diluted in re-tellings into an over-simplistic ‘save-the-world’ mentality. All kinds of examples of this exist.
    I’ve written too much, and don’t have any answers. But if it is about connecting people to other people, instead of a messy and complicated and dense and difficult system, how can we do it in a way that works?

  2. Grace says:

    I haven’t actually read The Hunger Games, but in general I think that the difference between reading a novel and a book on international issues is that a novel introduces characters that we as readers care about. We want to know what happens in the individual characters’ lives. Individuals are hard to see when you’re looking at international events.

    Novels are also a nice escape from reality. Even when they reflect reality, they don’t contain hard and fast facts about suffering, so the reader is exempt from the feeling that they need to take action. I don’t think people like being told that their comfortable lives need to be interrupted.

    How do we get people to care? I think telling stories is a good start. We need to see the global situation as a story about people so that we can care about the systems that create such dramatically different lives for people.

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