The Hunger Games' Legacy

With DVD of the last Hunger Games instalment been released the global phenomenon that has evoked a renewed round of young adult screaming on good and evil, love and hatred and life and death ever since Harry Porter had finally rolled over. However, its legacy has surely surpassed the age groups Suzanne Collins initially intended to target. Young and old, everyone can find at least the silhouette of their past or present and one could certainly turn the last page with the feeling that the world doesn’t have to be the way it has always been.

A Capitol view: blood for entertainment and crashing all but one hope

It happens in Panem, the remaining of civilisation after worldwide collapse due to war and rising sea levels. A shinning Capitol ruled absolutely over twelve impoverished districts in the location of present-day North America. Political power is centralised in one man, president Snow, under whom life in the districts seems no hope at all. People work in slave conditions and for slave hours to supply the Capitol with necessities. Injuries and illnesses are entirely your own. Yet what keeps the system working is one single hope the Panem regime leaves for its people, a one twenty-fourth chance to survive in the annual Hunger Games.

Created after the Capitol’s defeat of the country’s first rebellion seventy-four years prior to the story begins, the nation-wide televised Hunger Games is the Capitol population’s entertainment to keep the country’s political oppression distracted from public concern. One young man and woman aged between twelve and eighteen are reaped in each district to fight in a gladiatorial arena to the death until a lone victor remains. Designed to crush all hopes for ever raging another uprising in the districts and for ever keeping the enslaved in line by demonstrating their incapability of even protecting their next generation, it does leave one hope to be clung on to – the chance to be crowned an annual Hunger Games victor by the president. When everything goes dark, it is the slim light penetrating through seams that alights the one single hope that keeps people going, thus maintaining the Capitol supplied and Snow in power. It’s not difficult to name many countries working on similar mechanism. Tesserae, the one month-worth of grain and oil roll available to families whose Games-aged child entering names one more time into the draw, serves the same purpose. By barely sustaining the lives of the ruled on eliminating all but one slice chance of life, the Capitol’s machine has achieved a period of seventy-four year’s peace on humongous human rights violations, until Katniss Evendeen steps out of line to volunteer for her sister in a tribute reaping.

A Mockingjay view: civilian heroine and action of conscience

If things do happen they happen fast. Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation over the confiscation of his wares sparked nationwide riots and uprisings that led to the departure of Ben Ali who has ruled for over 23 years. A month after the crowd congregated at Tahrir Square, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president for nearly three decades, was gone.

Absolute control builds-in a dangerous precondition that once something it fails to control things will spring up quickly. The more people see and hear about it the larger the movement is. Many times such breaking-free actions are spontaneous and acted purely on human conscience without a grand freedom agenda.

Katniss’ stepping forward to volunteer for her sister was the first incident that began to shake Penem. Worse still, it was televised nationwide. It turned the only hope Snow left for the population to cling on into two, a caring sister’s sacrifice. In the Games, Katniss defied the one absolutely undefiable gladiatorial rule of being ruthless to any tribute through commemorating Rue’s death. Of course, much contrary to what was her pulse on the instance, when Katniss pulled out the poisonous berries towards the end of the seventy-fourth Games, she told the nation on live television that a tribute doesn’t have to kill her companion and fellow tribute, if not exactly lover, for the Capitol’s amusement; she can die with him and leave no victors for Snow to crown. In the interview on the eve of Quarter Quell, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark’s witful play of baby stroke led to the unison amongst tribute-victors, the first alliance of different districts in seventy-five years since the first rebellion. There was no going back for Panem. Once people’s fear is stripped off, the regime’s days are numbered.

Manipulation of media has always been a part of Snow’s ruling tools, from broadcasting the Games to televised confessions, but not without flaws. Again, the cost of breaking free would well be lives. The hijacked Peeta captivated by the Capitol after the Quarter Quell, at a time when the districts were already in full-scale war with the Capitol, risked everything during scripted TV confession to reveal that Katniss’ hideout in district 13 was about to be bombarded. There couldn’t be many left to fight for the dying regime after that.

A view from the rebellion: necessity and consequence

Donald Sutherland, the actor who portrayed Snow and one of the most vocal proponents of real-world implications of the Hunger Games, has repeatedly reiterated his hope for the books and films to become a catalyst for young people to take actions in saving the world his generation has failed. There are of course moments that revolutions are needed and conflicts are glorified rather than feared, but as the film director Francis Lawrence pointed out, “When you enter into something like that there’re going to be consequences and losses”.

This is what the trilogy truly leaves behind – not a conclusion on propelling us to the streets but a pro-and-con thought process and an open answer and choice for the readers to decide on.

Katniss doesn’t want the war. She hates Snow but if the results are destruction of her native District 12, massacre of her people and loss of her loved ones including her sister whom she would rather die to let live, Katniss would choose to accept the status quo. Her anger was infuriated by the rebel leaders to better solidify her position as the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. Until she has, involuntarily, achieved her goal enhance outlived her usefulness.

Consequences are not only personal, but collectively to the very reasons why people would rather die to rebel. The rebel power centre is not a constant flow of hope and glory, rather it could be tinged with power struggle and thirst for revenge just as the regime it aims to replace. Coin, the district 13 president and self-claimed rebel leader, is a skilled power player. She has popular support and stays on course to prepare for what the people want her government to do, but tolerates zero dissent. When Katniss’ potential danger of threatening her post-war power monopoly outweighed her rallying usefulness Coin spared no mercy in planning Katniss’ secret battlefield death, only to be avoided by fellow rebel comrades who continued to sacrifice everything to keep Katniss, thus the revolution, alive.

History repeated itself when Coin proposed another round of Hunger Games with the children of Snow regime Capitol officials as tributes after the war. Once again the Mockingjay would have to resort to violence to end the tragic cycle, the same cycle that has been plaguing humankind ever since we as a species emerged on earth, by killing Coin on Snow’s execution, a point where herself was finally breaking down after so many struggles, losses and betrayal. Only after years and decades did she feel alive again. Freedom fighters are the ones who can barely enjoy any freedom after all.

Contrary to Mr Sutherland’s wish, there hasn’t been a reported Mockingjay revolution so far. But here and there, from Missouri to Hong Kong to Bangkok, people have taken the three-finger salute to the streets in defiance of what are imposed on them. Others like me, stayed home, deep in cry and prayer, to recite the choice made out of imperfection and repression. Mine is: If I have to die; I would rather in a battlefield than in an arena, a martyr than a slave.

The Hunger Games’ greatest legacy to the present world, just as Katniss to the dystopian Panem, is that it tells dark side of things as they are, leaving the living beings to make their own choices. Although we have no idea of knowing if this was what Ms Collins wanted to convey when she first conceived the story whilst channel surfing realty TV show and Iraq war footage.