The Hunger Games and Real World Parallels: Can Kids 'All Become Katniss Everdeen?'

Hunger Games - Katniss Everdeen

Young heroes rebel against a fascist government that controls its citizenry through institutionalized terror and reality television, igniting a revolution that spreads across an isolated land via broadcast images and word of mouth. The Arab Spring? Nope. Try The Hunger Games, set in a dystopian sci-fi future that parallels current global unrest, which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland say they hope could spur a generation of YA-consuming youths into political action.

“We live in a world where in the past, present, and possibly future governments and certain countries are controlling their people by keeping them separate, weak and hungry so that they’re not strong enough to fight back,” said Lawrence, who stars in the adaptation as teenage coal miner’s daughter/District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen. “I think that there are a lot of messages [in The Hunger Games] about history repeating itself and how something is wrong when you stay quiet, how we are the new generation.”

Elizabeth Banks, who plays Capitol-assigned chaperone Effie Trinket, echoed the sentiment. “There are oppressive regimes all over the world that are being toppled by young people using YouTube to start revolutions,” she said. “There is no greater connection. This book is happening right now.”

It can certainly be argued that Collins’ book series and the Gary Ross-directed feature adaptation has the potential to influence a generation of youngsters who’ll come for the sci-fi escapism and leave the theater appreciating its personal messages of personal accountability and standing up for what’s right in the face of impossible odds. More subtle are the franchise’s critiques of capitalism, celebrity, and media exploitation; if The Hunger Games succeeds in teaching kids to think critically about reality television alone that will be some sort of cultural coup.

(Of course, there’s the tricky contradiction of getting such message from a heavily-marketed $70+ million studio production whose elaborate campaign has tapped social, online, and mainstream media in the pursuit of a huge box office, not to mention the issue of selling “Capitol Couture” as a merchandising tie-in.)

Thankfully, here’s Donald Sutherland to put the Hunger Games potential for real world translation into relatable terms: “This has the possibility to change everything – to motivate, to catalyze, to activate, whatever revolutionary instincts there are in what is, essentially, from my point of view, a dormant generation.”

“I just hope that they see from this allegory that the future is unacceptable. But more than that, it’s unimaginable. If you look at the weather, if you look at fossil fuels, if you look at a political party that just says no only because they want to get elected – they have no concern for four years for the people… those people are our business managers!

"We own this country; they’re supposed to administer it for us. It’s not for them. They’re not supposed to be profiting from it! You don’t profit from it in Canada. You don’t profit from it in France. You don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get elected! Nobody in their right mind would spend that much money in Canada, it’s just a bad investment! But it’s a good investment here, and that’s a problem."

“And you’ve got a Supreme Court that says a corporation is a citizen? Sorry, no. They don’t file the same tax forms I file… if they do, I’d like to know what it is. Because General Electric can make $4 billion in profit and they don’t pay any tax? I’m sorry. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, ‘Taxes are what you pay for a civilized society.’ If you carry that all the way backwards, we’re not civilized."

Of course, while older viewers may be prompted into critical political thinking by The Hunger Games, 12-year-olds clutching Mockingjay pins may not quite grasp the world as Sutherland sees it... yet. Then again, maybe all that needs to be planted is the seed of awareness. “It could make them stand up and become aware through this allegory of the political structure that they live in and what needs to be changed," insisted Sutherland. "They could all become Katniss Everdeen.”

Read more on The Hunger Games, which arrives in theaters March 23.

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