I’ve finally succumbed to cultural pressure and read the Hunger Games. I had to see for myself what the fetish around these books, and now movie, is about. Why would would people want to immerse themselves in a dystopian world? Are we drawn to it because it is so different from our world? Or maybe we’re drawn to it because it is so familiar, yet we can’t often name or see the similarities.
Coincidentally, at the same time I’ve been reading a recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas and a history of America’s expansion from the viewpoint of Native Americans, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. While I may be able to rail self-righteously at the fantasy dystopia of the Hunger Games as I eagerly turn to the next chapter, I want to avert my eyes as I read these other books, recognizing that I easily could have been part of unknowingly supporting the ‘games’ of these periods and places. Compared to these two historical books, the world of Panem looks pretty tame. At least the rules of the game in the novel are mostly clear, though horrific.
Bonhoeffer and other pastors in the German church started to catch inklings of something quite wrong during the early days of the Third Reich and even before. Slowly, certain groups of people were excluded from activities, including serving the church. The rules were changing quickly within this nation that was seeking to recover from the first world war. It was difficult to know where to stand. Should one accept the new rules and work within the institutions to make changes, loudly and vocally oppose the changes, or quietly try to live by the old rules until caught? Citizens, the church, and even the military tried many tactics to prevent these new ways in Germany, but the momentum of this engine could not be stopped. Bit by bit, the influence of the Third Reich expanded beyond imagination – yet it was real.
Closer to home, it’s painful to read about the slow and intentional demolition of Native American nations. The rules that these peoples had lived with for centuries were drastically changing, and by an outside group. They were forced to move from their hunting grounds and herded into areas not able to sustain large groups of people. Even when they were provided new rules in the forms of treaties, they did not last. At some level, this eradication of the nations was a strategic game for United States’ government. As those in power looked at the the needs of this new nation, it became necessary to destroy in order that the progress of American westward movement could proceed.
Looking at these two of many dark moments in our history as humans, I wonder what dystopia we are abetting even now. Maybe it’s not as slick and clear as that in Panem, but it’s there. In what game are we playing? For some it may be named church, for others politics, or education. In these and other institutions, good and true ideas can often become narrow ideologies that drive us to control the outcomes we desire – no matter the cost. In the midst of these movements it is easy to become lost and forget larger truths about humanity. A novel such as The Hunger Games may help us through our own blindness and find ways to show that we are more than pieces in the games around us.