The YA category has always been a repository of anxiety and zeitgeist. Now that the age of wizards is officially over, popular literature and Scholastic Publishing need a new hero and that comes in the form of Katniss, the heroine of the Hunger Games trilogy. This past several years, we have been visited by the end of the world in various forms -robots, zombies, flu, tidal waves, asteroids, and the old standby, nuclear annihilation. The last has been updated and promoted by candidate Newt Gingrich in the form of a high altitude EMP blast -a monstrous static discharge that will fry anything silicon, but I digress. The Hunger Games posits a dystopian future where the US is no more, and ruled by a west coast totalitarian state subjugating 12 districts of North America, enslaving the population and stripping their labor and resources. To remind them of their subjugation, the 12 districts are expected to submit annually a boy and a girl as tribute for the Hunger Games -a gladiatorial survival game to the death, televised in reality show style to the entire nation.
This current generation of youth does not know a time when 1984 was both a year and a warning, and I’m glad that totalitarianism is being reintroduced through literature and not the end of a gun. The brilliant thing about Hunger Games is the marriage of fascism and mass media, and in the the world of the Hunger Games, this exists in a vacuum of the internet. When televisions have only one channel and only the nomenclatura have access to telephones, when minor infractions are punished by death, and everyone is kept pliant through hunger, control is easier and really harks back to a time before the internet and reality TV which had its final days during the Reagan administration. It was a time when everyone watched network television and the population hadn’t balkanized into special interest groups. In fact, the Balkans had yet to balkanize.
The warning then is twofold -the hazards of resource depletion and collapse, and the loss of freedoms. We are being challenged at this time with the loss of habeus corpus for American citizens and the erosion of freedom represented by various efforts of telecommunication and entertainment providers to throttle non-commercial internet traffic. These things are happening and bring us a bit closer to the world of the Hunger Games.
I highly recommend the series -it’s mesmerizingly addictive, and my 9 year old, my wife, and I are all obsessively reading it this holiday season.