Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Hunger Games: Reflections

(What follows is not a review but a reflection. I will, in a later post, cover the book on its merits and defaults as fiction. I was moved to write the following after a first reading and present it here as a testament to the power of the book's ability to make the reader reflect on the present age.)

The Hunger Games is not so much a vision of a world that can go wrong, but a world that reflects our own and is already going wrong. In a brilliant move as a writer she stretches boundary definitions of genre and pulls off a contemporary dystopic novel.

The great secret of The Hunger Games is not that it’s a powerful send up of the Bush regime, or that its about the way that television images of violence and reality tv desensitize us to human brutality, or that it’s a commentary on the nature of a society that has allowed its youth to daily fight to the death (and which happens on the streets of its inner cities). The great secret of The Hunger Games is that most of America is going hungry.

We have unemployment at an all time high. We are living through the worst economic meltdown since the great depression. Those jobs that are available, except for a lucky few, are those that barely pay the bills. Few are the families that can actually survive on one salary. Housing is at an all time low. Record foreclosures etc.
Go to the a Walmart in a rural region of the country. Look at the people. Look at the desperation. You see those rednecks as they come in the doors of a walmart, you see their thin bodies in wife beaters, their wives' with faces that look like rotten fruit. They are old before their time. These are the people of The Hunger Games. That is what most of America is living through.

Before I get off on too much of a rant here I will move on and look at the novel. But I cant stress this enough. The most moving aspect of the novel is not the technology, the fight to survive, the brutality that daily exists in Katniss' world, but that this is where we are as a country: we are starving, but the images on television show us nothing more than opulent wealth and power. And no one seems to care or notice. We live in a country that is supposed to be a world economic leader, and yet, most of us can't feed ourselves on our wages.

The most amazing thing about the Hunger Games is the way it gets the reader to focus on the here and now, on what life is like now, and not on how bad of a future there could be. The book is a window on the contemporary world, rather than the world of the future.

Another intriguing fact that is eerily similar to our time is that the world of The Hunger Games takes place in the former United States among twelve separate districts. Each district corresponds to some region in the country. District 12 for example, Peeta's district, is Appalachia. Whether that covers all of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia etc. though is anyone's guess because what the political regime has done is to keep the districts ignorant of the exact locations and borders of the other districts.

Again, when you think about it, not that far from reality. How many Americans have travelled to the Southwest? Or to the Northwest? Or Wisconsin? , Or to Missouri or Kentucky, or to any of the other states that do not draw huge numbers of tourists every year because of pristine beaches, or other natural wonders? How much do I as a reader really know of what goes on in South Dakota?

1984 is meant to scare the shit out of us. Its meant to make us be concerned about the future and what could happen. But Orwell is a political theorist and the world Winston Smith lives through is not as recognizeable as our own. Owrell sees dangerous currents in the political world and warns us of them.

Suzanne Collins looks at our world now, takes that from her starting point, and startles us with how what we see around us today is really just a step away from a nighmare world of political oppression.

Its also a brilliant accomplishment when a writer manages to make a dystopic novel work in a rural setting. Most dystopic novels take place in what is imagined to be the future of all human civilizations: impossibly large, overcrowded, dark and subterranean cityscapes of brick and concrete.

The Appalachia of the Hunger Games is dirt poor, poorly educated, and beset by oppressive technology.

That's all for now. Further essays on these books will include the mythic echoes and allusions in the story and how they comment on the larger narrative. The critique of a reality tv culture as well as the grounding for the technology in the book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A note to friends and family

Dear friends,family and coworkers,

Let me start this note by saying that I love you all dearly, value your various roles in my lives, and remain confident in your continued support of my aspirations, goals and dreams. I also am grateful for your continued daily maintenance in helping me cope with life's setbacks, real and imagined, microscopic and cosmic. I like to believe that I contribute in a similar way to each of your individual pursuits of happiness and fulfillment in this world and that my temporary absence in your lives will be noticed.

What you should know is that I will not be available for the next few days. Effective 11/11/11 I will be turning off my phone, shutting off my laptop and internet access, and even going so far as to turn off my xbox live. I will also never check my facebook or goodreads accounts so please do not try to get my attention there either.

There is no major crisis, I am not suicidal, nor am I homicidal. I am not bagging work, nor am I recruiting other job options. I have no romantic liasons planned, nor am I about to start a self destructive drug habit.

I will not be going camping, nor hunting. I have no long walks in the autumn woods planned, nor do I intend to go to the ends of the earth in a vain pursuit of enlightenment and improvement.

For those of you that know me well, and to indicate the seriousness of this weekend, I will not even be lifting weights, nor do I really anticipate reading anything besides an instruction booklet.

In fact, beyond taking daily dictation from the incessant idea and fiction machine that is my brain, you should know I have no desire to really write anything. But, such is the way I'm made that though I will endeavor not to write, I probably can't stop ideas from coming, so I will keep paper and pen handy to record the memos from my creative self.

I am not going on a hunger strike for some righteous left leaning political purpose. In fact, I have amply stocked up on caffiene, chocolate, various pastries, and microwaveable food that can be ready to eat in less than five minutes. So, though I wont starve I probably wont be eating healthy. But since it will only last for the duration of the weekend, I should be ok.

The reason for this sabbatical from the known world is that Elder Scrolls Skyrim has been released and I have effectively cleared my schedule to play it.

But let me elaborate. One does not "play" Elder Scrolls. One immerses oneself in the experience and the real world is a much better place as a result. If only for the simple reasons that the world at large is free from my middling attempts to improve it, or to continue to participate in a rampant consumer culture.

For this weekend, my only goals are to level up, and slay dragons(yes, Im partially mocking you Madden fans: "score a touchdown," or "slay a dragon," you decide which sounds more baddass and sexier).

Should my employers complain that I will not be available, I can only say that since I give you 40 hours per week, which adds up to about 2080 hours per year(not counting the overtime and training sessions I am required to do): I think that the organization can function without me for 48 hours. Our organization currently employs tens of thousands of workers in its various departments so I think you have it covered. Furthermore, since you are all so often fond of saying everyone is replaceable, then let me be replaceable for this weekend.

Think of it in these terms: would you rather have an employee who has spent a weekend problem solving, exploring wonders which will no doubt fire the soul with its archetypal imagery, and set said employee on a hero quest that is as old a need for human males as is breathing, eating, and siring a family, and emerge with a sense of accomplishment that those unbearably embarrassing "teambuilders" we perform at training sessions routinely fail to generate, or would you rather have said employee sitting passively before a television set watching endless reruns of sit coms obscenely blaring canned laughter and insulting one's grasp of reality and real world problems?

To put it another way, if this were the neolithic age I would be gearing up in my furs and hides, gathering my stone tipped arrows and spears, and disappearing into the wild with my tribe members to hunt mammoth, or saber tooth tigers. We would journey into a primeval forest, living off the land and our wits, hunting and being hunted, ridding the tribe of a threat and gathering meat and clothing for the winter months, communing with nature and at the end of said visionquest would have a deeper understanding of the world and our species role in the cosmos. Also upon returning after displaying our wares of teeth, hides, meat and tusks, we would be enthusiastically greeted by the ample bosomed, broad hipped, enormously grateful female members of the tribe who would endlessly bestow their sexual favors on us in exchange for our obviously potent dna.

Such as it is though in the modern world I must hunt via the computer screen and the only wares I will be in a position to display are the gamer points on my xbox profile. In a sense, it will announce to my "tribe" my accomplishments and prowess.

Consider this a heads up though. And think of it as me not really escaping reality, but refreshing my soul. If this impassioned plea really works we can maybe think of it as an extended retreat which in the sense of preventive health care. It might actually contribute to my greater health and well being, and make me a far more effective employee. If you accept this then perhaps we can deduct at least the cost of the game from my steep and ridiculously high insurance payments that are, as we speak, no doubt paying the mortage on some CEO's vacation home in the Carribean.

As I said, this was just a head's up.

To summarize, reiterate, and put it plainly: leave me the fuck alone for two days, Im going to kill dragons.

Thanks 