Being a game-changer in the Hunger Games, the Roman Empire, and maybe planet earth


Warning – spoilers. The Hunger Games invites comparisons to other totalitarian dystopian movies like Gattica or V for Vendetta, with some Truman Show and Rollerball thrown in. But Sparticus and Gladiator, both set in that real-life dystopia we remember as The Roman Empire, seem like more appropriate comparisons. Characters from the Capitol sport names from the ancient world like Senica and Caesar. The name “Panem” comes from the Roman phrase “bread and circuses”, used by leaders of the empire to describe their strategy for keeping the Roman public happy.

The citizens of the urban seat of government called The Capitol are sheeple who simply accept the games as entertainment and never consider what it would be like to be vulnerable to the lottery. These people have all they need. They cooperate to maintain their well-fed, comfortable, fashionable lifestyles. The government feeds them information and attitudes via media.

The totalitarian government exerts control over the Districts by establishing a cultural/political tradition that calls for each District to offer up two teen “tributes” chosen by lottery to participate in what amounts to a reality-tv-gone-worse death match. The producers of the televised event and the government are one in the same. The government uses the lottery to illicit fear and continue to exact revenge for a nearly 80-year-old attempt at rebellion by the districts. The government also controls the flow of information and resources to the districts. Hunger, poverty, and lack of independence create a sense of helplessness and despair that fuels cooperation.

As District 12 tributes Katniss and Peeta are treated to an opulent train ride, a lavish apartment, and a makeover by a personal stylist. The emphasis on appearance and the importance of media savvy brings home the point that The Hunger Games is a reality TV show as well as a political tactic. The character of Effie Trinket and the scenes depicting the citizens of The Capitol enjoying their reality TV brought Idiocracy to mind. Embracing shallowness and stupidity is as dehumanizing as embracing violence or accepting oppression.

Dystopian societies are often depicted as totalitarian regimes accompanied by wars and rumors of wars, absence of free speech and privacy, pleasure overload, disinformation, environmental desolation, biological manipulation, cultural disintegration, technological dependence, and a general population of sheeple. The dystopia is usually a result of the worst-case results of human error. In other words, in a dystopia human beings bring it on themselves.

Dystopian heroes traditionally rebel against the totalitarian regime that responds to the results  of mankind’s self-destructive hubris with yet more hubris. They often are called upon to sacrifice themselves, Theo Faron in Children of Men and James Cole in 12 Monkeys come to mind. Author and producer Suzanne Collins says the story was inspired by the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which Theseus volunteers to enter the labrynth to fight the Minotaur in the place of another contestant. The Hunger Games starts with Katniss’ unselfish sacrifice to substitute herself for her sister. A reluctant hero like the Gladiator Maximus, Katniss just wants to survive and get back home to her family, but she becomes a game changer. Eventually Katniss’ sense of love and responsibility for Rue and Peeta force her into making choices that do not serve her self-interest.

Peeta expresses a willingness to die rather than allow the Capitol to make him become something he is not. As Katniss begins to own the impact she is having on the government, the media, and the citizens of the Capitol she recognizes that her choices might carry the potential for even greater change. In Gladiator Maximus recognizes what he can do as a game changer and (pardon the pun) maximizes his impact without compromising who he is. But he’s an adult and Katniss is a teenager who is still figuring it out. The movie ends with Katniss as victor but still on the fence about whether to continue to be a game changer and to embrace the responsibilities that come with that role.

From heaven’s perspective is earth already a dystopia? Can individuals change the game? Just as each of us came into the Kingdom through the unselfishness of Christ, could unselfishness be a key to bringing a little bit of the Kingdom into this dystopia we call earth?

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