Monday, November 25, 2013

The Weekend; The Hunger Games

Hey!  Hope everyone is doing okay.  It's been rainy and cold here in Austin over the last few days.  I sorta like having an excuse to just sort of hunker down and stay warm at the house for a while.  I can only handle it in small doses, though, and then I start to get restless.

Amy has been out of town since Friday.  She's out in Arizona with her family.  I leave on Tuesday evening to fly out and meet her for the holiday.  I'm looking forward to seeing her!

So Friday I drove Amy to the airport and went to work.  Friday was when the cold and the wet rolled in, so Friday night I stayed home and got caught up on TV shows on my DVR.  I started watching Almost Human, the new J.J. Abrams sci fi show about a future cop and his robot partner. 
The show isn't super original in its ideas, and I think it will either rise or fall on the basis of the acting and the character development.  The show started with a kind of "detective distrusts robot partner" thing going on, but, perhaps sensing that the partner distrust motif is a little worn out in cop dramas (I still think of the first Lethal Weapon movie fondly), the show's creators sort of sharthanded the distrust scenario and quickly moved into a more entertaining buddy story between Karl Urban ( the world-weary human detective) and Michael Ealy (the bright-eyed robot who embraces his electronic emotions).  So far the show isn't particularly thought provoking, but by the second episode it was starting to seem sort of fun.  It could go either way.  It'll be interesting to see where they take it.

On Saturday I got some exercise, ran and errand or two, and went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  It was a pretty good movie.  Maybe better than the first one.  The movie, like the series of books, is getting progressively darker, and the audience is slowly led to understand that the violence which takes place in the Hunger Games' arena pales in comparison to the potential violence that the nation of Panem may face if a war breaks out between the impoverished, oppressed districts and the illustrious, authoritarian capital. 
I first read the Hunger Games books upon the suggestion (and near insistence) of some friends from work who were reading them.  I was struck, at the time, by the violence in the books and the dark philosophical messages in the novels.  The Hunger Games, both in movie and book form, are not simply tales of an action movie heroine overcoming difficult odds.  The books are actually more of a morality tale, meant to convey the idea that violence, even when undertaken for the most noble of purposes, exacts a high cost for both those who victoriously inflict it and those who are defeated by it.  No wars can be undertaken without sacrifice, and the consequences of battle are often as unforeseen as they are brutal. 
Further, The Hunger Games contains a depiction of a society of vastly unjust society, where the citizens of the opulent, decadent capital live lives of tremendous comfort, supported in their lifestyle by the oppressed suffering of the impoverished, famished citizens in the outlying districts.  The wealthy citizens of the capital are so removed from the lives of the citizens in the districts that they completely lose empathy for them and their plight.  Morality is not so much absent as it is suspended when considering the plight of people living outside of the capital.  While the citizens of the capital aren't exactly bad people, through years of custom they have come to be enthusiastically entertained by a game in which citizens from the districts are forced to fight to the death.  Any potential cognitive dissonance is overcome by government propaganda and habituation.

Soooo... it's been sort of weird to watch this series of movies splash it marketing campaign all over products ranging from fast food soft drink cups to bags of potato chips.  Americans, like the citizens of The Capitol, are drawn to The Hunger Games in search of a visceral thrill and a lot of on-screen action.  While The Hunger Games are obviously meant to be an allegorical work of fiction, we do live in a country that benefits tremendously from the resources of regions of the world where people are living in poverty and very difficult conditions.  We drive SUVs that guzzle oil pulled out of war-torn regions of the middle east and forge alliances with oil rich leaders regardless of their humanitarian or economic policies. We walk around talking on iPhones that are made cheaply in China, knowing that the Chinese govenrment continues to oppress and imprison political dissidents.  We wear inexpensive clothing that's maufactured in Bangladesh- disposable fast fashion constructed in factories with questionable working conditions, unconscionable wages, and spotty safety records.
And speaking more directly to circumstances within our nation's borders, it's hard not to see the decadent citizens of Panem's capital as surrogates for our society's wealthiest members (we do, after all, live in a country still struggling with unemployment but where the top 1% of the population owns 40% of our nation's wealth).
The Hunger Games, in the end, tells a story about the uprising that will almost inevitably occur when the ruling class becomes inured to the struggling and suffering of the people who support them.  The books contain warnings about the moral decay that can occur as one class of citizens loses empathy for anything other than itself.  In a movie that preaches the dangers of what can happen (namely revolution) when a class of people cast aside their moral compasses in favor of bright, shiny baubles and creature comforts, it's kind of ironic to see the advertising for that movie appearing on fast food wrappers and ads for Covergirl makeup.
Oh well.  Even if the movie is being sold as a big, dumb action flick, maybe the underlying themes will sort of sink in with the audience.  Maybe.
Otherwise, I guess, the joke is on the audience.  Our protagonist is Katniss, but we most closely resemble the citizens of The Capitol who made the hunger games possible in the first place.

Saturday night I went over and had pizza and watched Archer with my friends Libby and Jordan.  It was fun hanging out with them,. Archer makes me laugh (even when it turns out to be about cancer).  They have dogs named Omar (a giant Great Dane who is sort of a celebrity by virtue of his size) and Weller (who is less of a celebrity, but equally fun).
Saturday was good.  Thanks to Jordan and Libby for having me.

Sunday I did some chores and exercised.  In the afternoon I went to see the new Thor: The Dark World with Ryan and Jamie.  The Thor movie was just about exactly what I was expecting.  The villains were powerful, but their motivations, and thus, the plot of the movie itself, were vague and sort of nonsensical.  The important thing to know is that they really wanted to destroy the world (well, several worlds, really, but who's counting).  The special effects were pretty cool, and the movie was relatively lighthearted and entertaining.  I enjoyed it, but I couldn''t really tell you what it was about.  Something regarding space elves. 
No, I'm not kidding.

Sunday night I got together briefly with Reed and played some music.  It was fun.  then I watched Walking Dead.  Then I went to bed.

And that was my weekend!  Hope you guys are doing well and staying warm.


poetrymatters said...

It seems like the commercialism further inures people to the loss of all human emotions except acquisitiveness and rendering violence as entertainment.
I haven't read the books or seen the films so I have appreciated what you have written about it.
Writers want their work to be popular but they also want it taken seriously. In the age of rampant commercialisation that can't happen, except for a moment, before the next grabs attention.

J.S. said...

Thanks for the comment! Both the books and the movie are sort of interesting. Like many things that are marketed as young adult fiction, they definitely have some commercial appeal. But there are some themes in there that run a little deeper than you might expect.