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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hunger Games and History

I had a rare yet welcome experience this past week. I was able to read the book “The Hunger Games” over the course of a couple days and then quickly follow-up that read with watching the movie in the theater. The reason I call this experience rare (at least for me) was that it’s infrequent I get to experience such a moving and intricate story by book and then film so quickly in succession. Thus, while watching theatrical version, I was able to not focus so much on the plot or the turns and twists of the characters, but an attempt to follow the deeper themes of the story. 

At the very basic heart of the story, there is the idea of innocent human sacrifice under the ruse of an elaborately entertaining game to maintain control, or at least the illusion of control from the ruling class over the working class. My mind literally raced through all the times in my education over the years during which I had heard of similar stories - except in recollection those that I remember were in fact factual. Examples included (just to name a few): the gladiators of ancient Rome, the sacrificial practices of the ancient Aztec culture (most recently and entertainingly depicted in the movie Apocalypto), the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, and then even more recent cases of this such as the Crusades

Of course there are plenty more throughout history. In fact, I bet that if I looked hard enough I would be hard pressed to find a culture throughout history that did not have a similar practice interwoven throughout its history. Moreover, I realize I would certainly qualify as anything but an expert on any of these practices, but it certainly seems that each of these practices at the very least contained elements of an attempt at controling one's 'world' through the ending of human life.

Not only had I remembered all these stories, but also that there have been people throughout the ages who have at least attempted to understand them. Rene Girard was one such person that  I remember hearing about at least peripherally while in a collegiate philosophy course. If one were inclined, one could continue to read about this man’s thoughts here, but for the basic purpose of my understanding, he seems to think practices such as those mentioned above were developed to control the violent tendencies of humans that are brought about through desire -- desires which ultimately lead to conflict followed by scapegoating and violence. 

However, what struck me throughout the movie as it compares to this deeply woven occurrence throughout  the course of human history was not that it depicted one of these processes from the past, but that the story actually takes place in the futuristic good ole' English speaking United States – or at least what is left of it after a nuclear holocaust. I find so many times that it is so easy to look back at the practices of people of ages gone by and think sometimes to myself – “what could they possibly have been thinking?” and that “ah, we would never go so far in modern society…” But this movie encouraged me to think that just maybe we would, or even worse, maybe we already have