Shared Text: Hunger Games Enters American Political Sphere

A Shared Text moment occurs when a book or film has become so much a commonplace among members of an extended family or community that references can be made to it in other contexts to make points of meaning without fear that those in the conversation will not understand the points because they have not read or seen the film in question. Harry Potter is the first ‘shared text’ of the 21st century, for example, and it is something of a sport here at HogwartsProfessor to pick up references to Muggles, Quidditch, Owl Posts, and He Who Must Not Be Named in newspaper articles, teevee advertising, and editorial cartoons.

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games is rapidly gaining ‘Shared Text’ status, if, as often as not, references to the story in print media and online still come with some helpful explanation.

Much of the discussion, for example, about Hunger Games and specifically the Film because of its great success at the box office is about its political meaning. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, that is because its spiritual allegory has been hijacked by the Gamesmakers who chose to downplay the one (and the anti-Hollywood theme) to score political points instead. Be that as it is, partisans on the left and right of the American political spectrum, statists and tea party members, are invoking the Hunger Games to make their assertions and denials. The story is entering our speech as Shared Text and specifically our competing political monologues.

Check out this title reference in the article masthead of The Wall Street Journal: Paul Ryan’s Hunger Games

The President’s depiction of the wonkish and formerly obscure House Budget Chairman as some political monster is itself telling. Mr. Obama is conceding that he can’t run on the economic recovery, the stimulus, health care, green energy or any of the other grand liberal ambitions that have dominated his time in office. All of those are unpopular or failures. He was elected on hope and change, but now his only hope is to change the subject to the ogres he claims are the disloyal opposition.

Did you hear about the GOP’s red-in-tooth-and-claw plan for Medicare? Grandma and Gramps are going to be drafted for the Hunger Games.

From CNN Opinion on the left bank, another title reference in the article headline, Is the Lottery More Dangerous than the Hunger Games?

$640 million dollars. We all know that number. It’s the amount of last week’s record Mega Millions jackpot. The media coverage reached a fever pitch as the prize rose to an awe-inspiring amount of money….

The media bombarded us with stories examining the lottery from every angle: The odds, the ways to increase your chances, how people would spend their new fortune if they won, etc. Issues like the presidential election, the economy and the Rush Limbaugh controversy faded to the back burner.

In a way, the lottery had morphed into our own version of “The Hunger Games.” It became our national obsession.

For those who haven’t read “The Hunger Games,” it’s a popular book series which is now the No. 1 film in America. In the story, the nation is obsessed with the “Hunger Games” — an annual event in which contestants are chosen to battle each other in the ultimate reality TV show. The rules of the game are simple: The winner is the one person who stays alive.

Our lottery, along with the “Hunger Games, ” share similarities with another game of chance: The gladiator games of ancient Rome. Despite the stakes being obviously different in each of these three types of games, all are state-sponsored forms of entertainment. And all three not only amused the citizenry, but lead the public to ignore — however briefly — the more pressing issues of the day.

But our lottery is far more dangerous than either the “Hunger Games” or the gladiator matches. The lottery is not just a distraction — it’s an opiate for our masses. The lottery can numb people into believing that since you have a chance to become a millionaire by simply spending a dollar on a ticket, then you can achieve the American dream without putting in the real work.

This mentality can dissuade people from battling the true barriers to economic mobility that threatens our society, such as the inability of many to afford a college education due to soaring costs, the gender wage gap that allow men to earn more than women for the same job, and the income stagnation that has plagued the middle class.

The gender wage gap?… Moving right along, note that this writer felt obliged to explain the Hunger Games narrative line briefly, though his title assumed familiarity with the subject. The cusp of Shared Text status, I think. After another movie, we’ll be there.

Bob Burnett at The Huffington Post laid out the six political themes as he sees them one by one in mechanical exegesis in The Politics of The Hunger Games. A sample:

Unlike other recent blockbuster movies — Harry Potter, The Dark Knight and Spider-ManThe Hunger Games is set in a recognizable America and expresses themes from the contemporary zeitgeist.

The first is that things aren’t going well. The Hunger Games is part of a wave of dystopian novels — other examples are Pure and Divergent — that are favorites with young-adult readers. The books assume an America that has been ravaged by nuclear war or an environmental calamity. This builds upon fear that the US is headed in the wrong direction — in the most recent Gallup Poll 72 percent of respondents felt this way.

The second theme is that the central government cannot be trusted. In The Hunger Games President Coriolanus Snow, an autocrat, governs the Capitol, which controls the twelve districts by means of a ruthless police force. In addition to forced-labor camps, Panem utilizes extensive electronic surveillance, and during the period of the games, compulsory television viewing. This reflects the belief the US government cannot be trusted. Those on the right believe the federal government has been usurped by “socialists” and gotten too big. Those on the left believe the federal government has been bought by plutocrats and isn’t doing anything to protect workers. Many Americans believe there is too much government intrusion into our private lives.

The third Hunger Games theme is that government no longer works for all the people. There’s a small group that lives a life of privilege while most people struggle to fend off starvation. Collins doesn’t use the terms 1 percent and 99 percent, but it’s clear that those in the Capitol are members of the 1 percent and everyone in the Panem districts is part of the 99 percent.

Mr. Burnett gives a brief two paragraph explanation of the story line for the uninitiated, but, again, his title has already cued the surfing reader to the subject matter and s/he is not going through the door unless s/he knows what the ‘entrance’ sign promises. He makes a few points that are probably consequences of his not reading the books (“set in a recognizable America,” “Even before Katniss enters the games, she’s aware that most of the time her movements are being observed”), but he tries to see throug the political transparencies with a somewhat even hand — until he is obliged to say, like Donald Sutherland, that the story clearly suggests the mantra of percentages from the Occupy drum beaters. It is The Huffington Post, right?

There’s more, of course, and I hope you will share your favorite Hunger Games Shared Text spottings, especially in the context of politics. I’ll close with this smash mouth cartoon from as far right as Huff Post and CNN are to the left. This presidential election promises to be ugly, no?

American Thinker Cartoon: The Anger Games (4 April 2012) Hat tip to Grant in Dallas —

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