I went to see Inglourious Basterds
a couple of times this past month, and there is that scene where Eli Roth and Omar Doom are in the theater, and they dress themselves up to look like waiters and then whip around the corner and kill the two Nazi guards to some funny Ennio Morriconi(ish?), spaghetti-western sounding music. And everybody in the theater laughs, and then the film cuts to Hitler laughing, watching a movie of a Nazi soldier killing Americans. It’s one of those great story-telling moments where I’m nice and comfortable and morally superior, until I realize that actually I’m exactly the same as someone I think is Evil. There was a moment when I first saw Merchant of Venice that was like that, and I was depressed for a month after I read Notes from the Underground because of the same type of experience. I don’t know where you get that brand of story-telling ability, but Suzanne Collins has it coming out of her ears, in the sort of young adult variety.
Catching Fire was maybe not as striking as the first book in this series, The Hunger Games, in making me disturbed about myself, but it definitely had its moments. Also, I was in my second week of law school and had just gotten back from an exhausting wedding when I read it, so I might not have had the capacity to self-reflect that I normally do. If you don’t know already, even though you should know, the premise of this series is a that in the future, post-apocalyptic world of the super-badass Katniss Everdeen, one rich city controls twelve poor-to-starving cities that produce all of the goods for the rich city. In order to keep the poor cities in fear, the rich city requires each of the poor cities to send one teenage boy and one teenage girl as tributes to play the Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games the kids have to kill each other until there is one survivor, who gets to party for the rest of his/her life but never really feels like partying because everything’s so fucked up. Usually they go crazy, if they didn’t start out that way. It’s very Lord of the Flies, and yes it is the same premise as Battle Royale, but not as determinedly nasty as those two books. Also, girl action hero!
Anyway, a couple of days after I finished this book, I was spacing off instead of briefing cases, and I started thinking about the description of the capital city that controls the other cities. There is a part where Katniss and another character have to go to a party at the capital, and there are as many amazing foods as they can imagine. It’s a big party, and they’re celebrities, and everyone loves them. They have one bite of every kind of food, so that they can taste everything, but unfortunately they get full. One of their entourage explains to them that there are puke closets, so that everyone can keep eating for the whole night, and our two characters suddenly step back from the party and remember their families and neighbors, who are starving while the capital lives in decadence. I was thinking about that and how the shallow people in the capital city were just as culpable for the evil in their society as the military that imposed starvation on the cities, and then, suddenly, I realized, duh, she’s talking about me. This story is really about the global economy
, and (passive, consumption-driven U.S. citizen that I am) I’m not the hero.
So, that’s about three times this month that I’ve been on the side of terrorists. I don’t know whether that means story-tellers are gettin’ pretty tricky, or if it just means I think there’s a problem with the way stuff is. Or that, like, I’m becoming a rager, or something. (FBI, if you’re reading this, JK about this whole paragraph. LOL!)
When I was working my 8-5 job last year, I started listening to some iTunesU classes while I was doing my work so that my brain wouldn’t die. One of them was given by Carolyn Marvin at Stanford, and it was called “True Colors: Myth, Magic, and the American Flag.” The premise, to summarize very briefly, was that for any culture to stay together, the culture requires a blood sacrifice. This article
goes into more detail about nationalism and blood sacrifice. She really convincingly pointed out how, civilized though we think we are, blood sacrifice in modern Western culture is not really significantly different than tribal human sacrifices. It’s a seriously creepy theory, but I’m not kidding when I say that she’s right. Really, listen to the lecture. So, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks doing a mental compare/contrast of the U.S. with this futuristic dystopia. We don’t come off looking too good, guys.
Obviously these are really complicated topics, but nothing seems as simple as “violence is not the answer” or, on the other side of the argument, “destroy civilization.” I’m not positive what the right answer is, but I’d like to find out. I think Suzanne Collins’s books should be taught in high school social studies classes, so maybe we could get some young brains working on this problem. How do we effectively refuse to benefit from universally destructive and dehumanizing trade practices, but still live healthy and productive lives?
So, go read everything Suzanne Collins ever wrote (including the episodes of Clarissa Explains It All
because that show is awesome) and reflect on international trade and the global economy. I don’t know if you’ll be a better person for it, but I think so. Maybe after you do all that reading you can help me figure out some way for us not to be Evil.