Bread, Circuses, and The Hunger Games (Guest Post)

NO SPOILERS AHEAD Twenty-three children must die. This is all I knew about the “Hunger Games” before walking into the dark theater to watch the very popular film with...
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NO SPOILERS AHEAD

Twenty-three children must die. This is all I knew about the “Hunger Games” before walking into the dark theater to watch the very popular film with my little sisters. If you know me at all then you might be shocked to hear that I would endorse such a movie being not only a pacifist but also a future social worker (The “Hunger Games” would be a child protective service nightmare). Throughout the movie I was shocked to find myself enthralled and at the end of my seat begging for the movie to never end. I left the theater and demanded an immediate trip to Target so I could purchase all three of the books because I needed to know how it all ended. As I plowed through book one in a couple of sittings I was amazed at what Suzanne Collins was doing with the story. You see, this story isn’t just another form of violent entertainment, and this story isn’t merely about kids killing kids, this story is something way bigger.

Much of world knows about Invisible Children’s famous KONY 2012 video and all the circumstances surrounding it. Many criticized the movement and when the director and co-founder, Jason Russell, was found having an episode of psychosis, people massacred him with their words. What’s so fascinating by all the criticism is that no one ever really stopped to write an article about the fact that people were actually dying. Kids were killing kids. Instead of caring about kids killing kids, all Americans wanted to do was make the whole situation into some kind of weird spectacle shoving the story through media outlets and every avenue of criticism. Along the lines of weird spectacles, another thing Americans love to do is watch reality television. Isn’t it wonderful to watch “Real Housewives of wherever” as women go through divorces and spend their days trying to look prettier than naturally possible. We love to watch people in pain, and then we love even more to criticize them. What about these recent stories of Apple’s use of labor in China? Apple is becoming one the richest and most powerful companies in the world as they feed into the American needs of their iPad’s and iPod’s. The Chinese are working in factories for twelve hours a day, six days a week, earning about $132 per week making products for our grubby little rich hands.[1] Americans are the epitome of consumers, and we don’t care that our lifestyle causes suffering for many around the world.

In the Hunger Games, Collins makes it so obvious that the privileged minority is the Capitol (most Americans) and the Districts are everyone else who suffers so we can be satisfied. Collins makes this clear by naming the featured country “Panem” which is a twist off of the Latin word, “Panem et circenses”, which means, “Bread and Circuses”. This stems from the ancient practice of politicians making their citizens happy and distracted not with their exemplary public service, but with food and entertainment. Sound familiar?

I admit that I am no better than who I am accusing here. I am desensitized to war, I watch reality television, and I am typing these words on a MacBook (I am distracted by bread and circuses!). But this is why instead of feeling weird or angry about Collins storyline in the “Hunger Games”, I felt like she had literally come through the movie screen and slapped me in my face. Because Americans (me included) put their needs of gadgets, food, entertainment, and wealth above so many things. We so often distract ourselves from the realities of this world to keep ourselves comfortable with how we are living our lives. Are we guilty of getting so caught up in bread and circuses that we have completely lost focus on the negative effects from our consumerism?

If you walk away from “Hunger Games” thinking that that could never happen in our lifetime, that we would never stand for such behavior, think again. A reality television show that keeps us entertained, powerful, and is made up with the suffering of others? Not so far off our current radar. Because we already live in world where we will accept anything the media or politicians throw at us, and we are happy to embrace almost any kind of entertainment. We love our bread and circuses.

 


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?pagewanted=all

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  • Andy
    21 April 2012 at 10:10 pm

    I have a brutally frank question: seeing as you just admitted that you fall prey to many of the classic consumerism traps, does any of this motivate you to alter your ifestyle?

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  • Carrie Allen
    21 April 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Woa. I love this question!

    The answer is yes, absolutely. The problem for me is that many times I am falling prey but not realizing I am falling prey. The other problem is that it is almost impossible to NOT fall prey. I have been on this road for many years – trying to avoid consumerism traps, but things become so normalized that until you are woken up by something like The Hunger Games it is hard to keep track of all your downfalls. I think this is where the “bread and circuses” comes in because the media/television and government does such a good job at distracting me from what’s important that I begin to lose focus at times. And I don’t even own a TV!

    Now to be honest, I am a grad student… a social welfare grad student at that, so most of my time is spent in reading and writing and thinking about things. So it would and will be easier for me to stop watching reality television (which I plan to stop watching some shows that are just awful… I won’t’ give up Amazing Race..), and I would never personally bash IC or Jason Russell because they are my friends and I have worked with them, but the apple computer one… that is something I am still trying to figure out how to tackle.

    I think my point of the article is not only to challenge people in their consumerism, and encourage them to read the trilogy, but also to open their eyes to how the government tries to control us through these things (Just like in The Hunger Games). Just yesterday I had a great conversation about Tupac. Tupac was such a great rapper because he actually had important things to say about life, poverty, and death. The government was always very concerned about Tupac’s messages because they don’t want anyone causing an uprising. So nowadays when the rap stars come out and have these awful songs about treating women horribly and killing people because they are pimps and gangsters, I am sure the government loves this because all it does is cause war within their own community and helps distract the inner-cities from the realities of racism in America.

    I believe the more you know the more you WILL change. The more you learn about injustice the more you WILL stand for justice. So yes, I have made some changes from this. What about you?

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    • Andy
      22 April 2012 at 10:46 pm

      I agree that the pimary challenge to living more responsible lives is to first realize how many traps we’ve fallen into. While I like to think of myself as a very self-aware person, that’s simply not true. Truth be told, I’m one of the more absent-minded people I know (though apparently, according to my friends, I hide it fairly well). So I’m sure that there are many facets of my life that warrant further examination.

      That said, I have a pretty active conscience. When something about my life IS brought to my attention that I consider hypocritical or irresponsible, I have a hard time ignoring it. For instance, I draw a hard line on Apple products; I won’t use them at all if I have the choice, and DEFINITELY won’t own them. (Though I should clarify, my primary motivation for this are reasons of sketchy corporate policy, rather than factory conditions in China.) As another example, I feel that Americans as a whole are far too cavalier regarding their consumption of gasoline. This doesn’t mean that I openly condemn my city slicker friends who drive gas-guzzling SUV’s, but it does mean that I ride public transit almost 50 miles per day, and that I opt to ride my bicycle around town as much as possible.

      What I think I’m trying to say is that, while I understand that everybody feels more strongly about different issues, I know very few Christians who would argue that we’re NOT too consumeristic. And if that’s the case, I honestly feel that we should be prepared to make some lifestyle changes. Ans sure, some of them may be drastic. But I’m constantly frustrated by my peers who seem to say, “Yeah, I know I’m part of the problem, but changing would be too inconvenient… everybody else is doing it, so why should I bother to change? What difference can one person make?” I find that sort of attitude to be disingenuous and selfish.

      So, Carrie, thank you for indulging my curiosity with your answer. I find your candor refreshing. :)

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      • Carrie Allen
        24 April 2012 at 3:19 am

        Hey Andy, thanks for the feedback. Yes, I feel you on everything you are saying.

        I think I honestly felt a little uncomfortable listing off my “lifestyle” so I apologize if I was vague. I also mostly ride the bus (but that’s just the Bay Area for ya).. I have a compost pile in my kitchen.. I buy clothes from thrift stores.. I spend my days serving the homeless.. I occupy Oakland 😉 etc. etc. I hesitate in listing all of these things because I am still weak in so many areas (i.e. how can I give up my mac????!!!!). While I have my convictions in this area and I am not afraid to express them, I also know that I am living a more extreme lifestyle than many in these areas we list. And so I do try to encourage others to be challenged, convicted, and changed by these areas that I am Challenged, Convicted, and HAVE Changed or am TRYING to change in. In regards to people thinking they cannot make a change single handedly, I disagree. We have so many amazing examples of people who have made a difference in this world by standing in what they believe in through simple acts (I think of Rosa Parks). Bringing up the Apple computer issue again, I have thought about this horrible issue of the slave market a lot. Locally, I am trying to battle sex slave trafficking often. On a worldwide level, it is such a difficult issue because while I know these people are working in inhumane conditions, I also know that they need to feed their families. PLEASE understand that I do not condone what Apple (and many other big businesses) are doing, but the answer might not be so much in boycott’s, but in journalism and policy making. Our generation is living in an exciting time to make decent changes for people through the avenue of television and the internet (i.e. Invisible Children). I have heard reports that ever since that Apple story broke, they have really shaped up their factories in China. Again, please do not take this statement the wrong way… I study social welfare at UC Berkeley so I am obviously pro-justice in every area. 😉

        But this issue can’t be stopped at only three C’s: Challenged, Convicted, and Changed – there is a fourth! Because I can get so easily caught up in all of these things I speak of in this blog, I forget to mention what drives it – Christ. I am not trying to get all preachy here but my life is about loving God, loving others, and sharing the Gospel. I hope that all of these changes I make in my life are representative of Christ and how He wants me to live. If we truly sat down and made a list of the things we consume that have something evil tied to it, we would have a list of everything. While this is no excuse to not be aware and try to not feed into certain markets, I believe it is a wake up call for Christians to constantly reorganize our priorities in life, and make sure that we are putting enough focus into Christ and His Kingdom than trying to be “perfect” in all of these ways we have mentioned. Again, I am not looking for a way out of my mac consumption, but only trying to say that the road of focusing on social justice is wide and long (and a great and noble path!) and we can get lost on it at times and lose focus of why we stand for justice in the first place.

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  • Carrie Allen
    22 April 2012 at 12:09 am

    PS. Something else I realized while writing that response is that most of the time when I choose to watch reality tv, I am actively trying to bring those circuses into my life to distract me from what happened in my day. My days are filled with homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and death. In order to continue my work, I have to distract myself at times. It’s mind-numbing… which can be harmful for most but is actually helpful for me, and is a lot of other social workers go-to for “self-care”. Something to think about…

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  • Kami
    22 April 2012 at 1:00 am

    Your thoughts and amazing ability to put those those thoughts to words are amazing on this book. As I read I kept thinking of different reality “stars” that we’re built up only to be brutally taken down. How the media throws money and fame at families only to have them ruined by divorce. I especially was thinking of Invisible Children and how the public lives to watch the demise of one of its founders but those same people had no idea what the organization stood for.

    You are going to be an amazing social worker and I hope you keep your passion for people and desire to improve the world!

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  • Carrie Allen
    22 April 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Kami – Thanks so much for the encouraging feedback! I really appreciate your kind words.

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