To those who called themselves the Mockingjay, where are you now?
2020 has been…a lot. I know beginning with a profound statement like that must be thought-provoking to say the least. But considering that, in a span of about nine months, we have suffered through and are continuing to suffer through a pandemic, another Civil Rights Movement and an economic recession, 2020 truly does take the cake. Without a doubt, this year has been especially difficult for the Black community. As protests swept the nation in wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Black America called to the forefront how the treatment of our community does not reflect the ideals this country promises to uphold for its citizens.
“The Hunger Games” is set in dystopian North America. These books center around Katniss Everdeen, a volunteer tribute from District 12. As a volunteer tribute, she is thrust into the titular “Hunger Games,” a concocted scheme by the Capitol to keep the districts in line. The only way to win the Games is to be the last person alive; tributes must outwit and/or murder one another in order to survive. A subplot of the series nods towards the power structures that exist among the districts. Those with ties to the Capitol enjoyed the wealth, acclaim, and security that stemmed from their proximity. However, the other districts were forced to simply abide by the Capitol’s rules, and forced to accept their own oppression.
It’s time for America to learn one simple fact: we are not as distant from the dystopian realities crafted in countless young adult novels as we think we are. We, as a country, must come to terms with the fact that for many marginalized communities, the standard YA dystopian novel is not fiction; they represent a theatrical version of their personal reality. Let’s take a look at some of the shocking parallels between the world of Panem and the United States that we know today.
There is never-ending, borderline addictive consumption of the tributes’ difficulties and the districts’ strife.
Perhaps the most condescending practice of the Capitol, and one that is more than prevalent today, is the consistent marveling at how “strong” the characters are, as they continue to battle through hardship or obstacles in an effort to attain a better life for themselves and their families. Not only does this shed blatant disregard on the fact that the people in question, whether they be members of the poorer districts or members of a marginalized community, should not have to live under the oppressive cards they have been given, but also it consciously absolves the privileged in question from any hand in that oppression. To place it into more simple terms, if your response to a community’s consistent adversity is speaking on how strong they are, then you need to conduct serious self-reflection. Question why your first instinct when looking at someone else’s sacrifice is to applaud them for pushing through it. In a country as rich and bountiful as the United States, avoidable loss and incessant suffering should not be written on a personal job description before one is even born.
The glorification of violence as it pertains to murder in the Games relates too closely to the celebration of another organization we know in our American society today.
I don’t know who needs to hear this but, violence is not necessarily…a good thing. In “The Hunger Games,” we see that although every district watches the Games, it is always the Capitol or districts adjacent to it that find true joy in the assured mutual destruction between the tributes. In comparison to the United States, there is a noted presence of the glorification of the military, and possibly more worrying, the practice of war. The purpose of this point is not to degrade people who are members of the military or the veterans who have retired. That being said, it is important to notice how the recruiting practices often target those living in the lower-income communities, disproportionately represented by racial minorities. Similarly to how the tributes in the poorer districts were compelled to accept their fate in the games, so are many of the recruits that become members of the military. When people are given the opportunity of achieving financial stability for their families, they will most likely choose the option that provides them with it. Of course, people of higher socioeconomic status are not burdened with this decision to make. Naturally, a divide in how the military is perceived becomes apparent. If one side views it as a way to escape their current situation, whereas another sees it as a choice of honor, then a disconnect is presented that exhibits the uncomfortable truth of socioeconomic status and resources in one’s community.
Being confused after handing communities decades upon decades of oppression, disenfranchisement and other marginalization tactics, expecting them to not only accept it but be happy with it, is one of the most textbook forms of gaslighting.
Last but certainly not least, there is one parallel that stands above them all. The pressure that marginalized people feel to not only accept their stance in society but celebrate it, is unfair at best and another form of oppression at worst. Tributes from the poorer districts were not only expected to be a worthy match for the career tributes but if they did happen to win, this was supposed to further convince the people of the Capitol and all the districts that the games were fair because anyone could rise to the top. The hurdles that the poorer districts faced could not be compared to the relative ease of life that the career districts did, and everyone knew it. Because a small pool of tributes from the poorer districts happened to win the Games, these people were applauded for exhibiting the possibility of achieving one’s aspirations even in spite of barriers put before them. It reinforces the idea that if someone happens to work hard enough, then they will always reach their highest goal. In the United States, this is simply not true. The “American Dream” is touted as the product of only hard work and perseverance; it does not take into account the underlying barriers and obstacles created to oppress specific groups. We know that this ideal is not attainable for everyone, yet marginalized communities are continually pressed to accept their positions in life and celebrate them.
In short, it must be noted that the America we have always been taught to love and never question is failing a large portion of its community. To sacrifice the experience for one is to commit to, and disregard the effect of, an injustice for all.
Hear the cries of the people around you. Recognize your privilege and (possible) status as a member of the Capitol. We have work to do!