All through history, there have always been movements where business was not just about the accumulation of proceeds but also for the public good. -Anita Roddick
I tend to enjoy dystopias. I loved 1984, A Brave New World, and A Handmaid’s Tale. They were brilliant.
I’m a political junky and a social critic, so their exploration of alternate social orders is fascinating.
Naturally then, I was looking forward to reading the Hunger Games trilogy, which you may or may not agree qualifies as a classic dystopia. I just finished the books and was enthralled by the series (though I was not impressed by the unimaginative ending).
For those of you who haven’t read it, here is a loose overview.
There is future country called Panem. It is comprised of the ‘Capitol’ which is the seat of power and 13 surrounding districts where people toil to provide food, energy sources, and clothing for the Capitol.
The vast majority of people in the Districts live in desperate poverty and are disenfranchised under the repressive Panem regime led by President Snow.
Every year the Capitol holds the Hunger Games, where 2 young children from each District fight to the death as a form of entertainment for the Capitol and to punish the people of Districts for rebelling 75 years ago. The Hunger Games are a reminder of the consequences for questioning the absolute power of the Capitol.
One of the things I really had hoped would happen would be that Katniss (the main protagonist) and the other victors for the Hunger Games (who are celebrities) would get the people of the Capitol to connect with the plight of those in the Districts during the Quarter Quell, (a special Hunger Games that happens every 25 years).
Certainly there were those from the Capitol who ultimately rallied behind the mockingjay the symbol of the new rebellion (symbolism which I thoroughly enjoyed), including Cinna, one of my favorite characters.
But how do you get people to do that en masse? One of my readers asked this very question in response to my earlier post, Help, I have Privilege. As she said: “The challenge is — what to do to make the privileged even care…”
I still don’t know the answer to her question, but I believe fiction would be an interesting venue for exploring these ideas.
My second question is closely related.
Why is social malaise so tantalizing in fiction, but unsettling in real life? Sometimes, I wonder why do people need soap operas (the most popular television format worldwide) when there is so much drama going on in the world? I am not against escapism, we all need it from time to time, but there are real life, brutal regimes and efforts to overturn them happening at this very moment.
A recent example is what has happened in Myanmar/Burma, and the election of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament after spending decades under house arrest.
Most people in the US have never heard of her nor understand the significance of her becoming a member of parliament. This is a good example of the difference between having access to information and being informed.
There have been short-lived movements like the ONE Campaign and Kony 2012. They managed to bring wide-scale attention to societal concerns, but they have generally been flashes in the pan. What about after the media frenzy? What are sustainable means of getting people to care about the plight of others?
Langston Hughes mused about what happens to a dream deferred; I am maddened by the thought of what happens to a people disengaged from the world beyond themselves… a world beyond the bread and circuses.