Panem in Our Midst

Suzanne Collins has been quoted saying that one of her initial inspirations for The Hunger Games, was an innocuous, and very common time wasting moment in her life in the early 2000s, when she was caught channel surfing on her TV. She switched back and forth, and noticed a strange, and disconcerting, as well as disturbing trend. On one channel she’d see Iraq War footage, guns blazing, coffins being

Dec. 1, 2013 - Kiev, Ukraine - A supporter of European integration talks to police officers during a People's Veche rally in Kiev's Independence Square against the government's decision to delay signing a trade deal with the European Union. (Credit Image: © Zurab Dzhavakhadze/ITAR-TASS/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Dec. 1, 2013 – Kiev, Ukraine – A supporter of European integration talks to police officers during a People’s Veche rally in Kiev’s Independence Square against the government’s decision to delay signing a trade deal with the European Union. (Credit Image: © Zurab Dzhavakhadze/ITAR-TASS/ZUMAPRESS.com)

wheeled out of giant planes onto airport runways, and sometimes battle footage– and sandwiched between the stark reality of war she saw reality TV programs where people played head games in uncomfortable tropical conditions to win a lot of money, a complete disconnect from the blood, and the smoke, and the death of reality. And that’s when it came to her, what if reality TV went so far that instead of the game being make-believe like it is on series’ like Survivor, what if it was real?

Years later the trilogy is complete, and now the last installment of it is being put to film. Mockingjay is becoming a reality though, but not in the way we’d all like to think whilst sitting back in our comfortable homes. Today three major socially changing events are continuing to unfold. Kiev, Ukraine is burning, and shaking in protest to their pro-Russian government leaders. The internet, print news, radio news, and broadcast news are buzzing with the flames, and the angry, desperate faces and voices of the opposition. West of Ukraine

Syria

Syria

an ongoing civil war has been raging in the country of Syria. People are starving, people are dying in their homes, and on the street as they forage for what ever they can find, and there’s no end in sight, even as leaders on opposing sides of the conflict are having so-called “peace talks”, in Geneva, Switzerland– thousands of miles removed from the mess back home. The talks aren’t working though, at least that’s what I keep hearing over and over again, and the people of Syria are still desperate, starving, and dying. To the east of both Ukraine and Syria is Thailand in Southeast Asia, people continue to take to the streets protesting their government calling their electoral system a sham– police officers are dragging every day, normal citizens away– and tourists still meander the streets of the capitol city of Bangkok. Suzanne Collins published Mockingjay in 2010, but the inspiration could be what’s plastering our TVs, Internet news feeds, and our broadcast news programs right now. We don’t need to wait and see how well Mockingjay is put to film, to see how well the scenes of Katniss and Squad 451 storming the streets of The Capitol– we just have to pay attention to what’s happening to our fellow human beings right now.

Peace.

Them There Eyes

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8 comments

  1. Very thoughtful post — thank you!

    For Panem before the revolution, I think the clearest parallel is North Korea. North Korea’s ‘songbun’ system classifies people via state assigned social classes. The Capitol is Pyongyang and, just as in its fictional counterpart you have to be part of the ruling elite to live there and even visits from the Districts are restricted. If you don’t toe the line politically, your entire family can be demoted and forced to leave the capitol. The Pyongyang elite have vastly better food, clothing and housing than people in the outlying districts (most of whom survive on close to a starvation diet). For those at the very top of the songbun system there are gated family compounds, multi-million dollar dolphin parks, and amusement parks, department stores, access to medical care, and the chance to attend big national celebrations.

    The state monopolizes the food supply and a recent UN report says that North Korea uses food “as a means of control over the population” – with those deemed to be important to maintaining the state prioritized over those deemed to be “expendable”. The report describes how, despite food shortages and an inability to adequately provide food to the population, the country maintains laws that prevent people from trying to fend for themselves – such as moving around the country to search for nourishment. In vast prison camps deliberate starvation is used as a means of punishment and control.

    http://www.channel4.com/news/north-korea-united-nations-report-crimes-against-humanity

    1. The DPRK is indeed the best (worst?) parallel to Panem we can have, though Snow has always seemed to be more akin to Marcos than the Kims.
      For the Peacekeepers, the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional would also be a good analogue.

      Incidentally, if Coin ended up coming to power, I’d imagine that the horror would continue, possibly including something akin to the Great Leap Forward or Five-Year-Plan nationally and a series of purges internally.

  2. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ve been thinking about these real life parallels too. It’s pretty scary stuff and certainly puts things into context.

    You forget Egypt, too. Even though they’re not in active conflict now, they are in a similar situation to the end of MJ, where, after the flush of post-revolutionary fervour, the new leader is ousted – and ousted for starting to sound like the former dictator. It also makes me think of what sorts of things might have happened in Panem in this time. Did political factions arise and did fighting between them lead to unrest? Were some groups persecuted?

  3. Don’t forget Venezuela.
    The recent photos from Kiev reminds me of the question: “How would you like to see a real war?”
    Especially of the wrecked square.

    “… is Thailand in Southeast Asia, people continue to take to the streets protesting their government calling their electoral system a sham– police officers are dragging every day, normal citizens away–”
    Um… Things have still been quite civil here so far despite the annoyance the protestors have created by blocking intersections (and playing loud, skyscraper-amplified, music till 1 AM). And barring incidents where people have gotten rowdy, there hasn’t been of this “dragging normal citizens away everyday”.
    Of course, there has though been troublemakers from both sides. Hence that now the stages have nets by them to prevent stuff being thrown to the stage.

  4. Collins does such a perfect job distinguishing between the horrors of a society dissolving into civil war and the even greater horrors of totalitarian government .

    That quote from Snow ‘How would you like to be in a real war’ sums of one of the reasons the world turns a blind eye to brutal regimes like North Korea — we dread the blood-soaked chaos that almost inevitably follows the overthrow of the regime more than we do the silent, helpless suffering of the oppressed.

    The Hunger Games is nothing short of a brilliant lesson in political theory. Collins’ Panem displays every one of the six hallmarks of totalitarianism:

    1. Elaborate guiding ideology.
    2. Single mass party, typically led by a dictator.
    3. System of terror, using such instruments as violence and secret police.
    4. Monopoly on weapons.
    5. Monopoly on the means of communication.
    6. Central direction and control of the economy through state planning.

    She also pretty much nails the brutality of the rebellion and the very typical emergence of Coin as a new dictator. I guess my biggest question is whether Panem could actually heal itself within Katniss and Peeta’s lifetime. I’m struggling to think of real world examples…maybe some of the former Soviet nations, like Poland. Poland was one of the least oppressive of the Soviet states and they were blessed with Walesa and Balcerowicz. Maybe Heavensbee and Paylor played those roles for Panem — a happy thought!

    1. Ah dammit, I messed up the quote a bit.

      As horrible as things are, in these days, the one silver lining about totalitarian regimes is how unsustainable they are. You add a wrinkle in just one of those hallmarks, and the whole system begins to unravel.
      It’s why such arguments to allow totalitarian regimes to remain standing because they “keep chaos at bay” (Assad being a prime example) are inextricably flawed. Because sooner or later, people will get fed up.

      I’m one of those optimists who think it’s possible, but enough of a realist that it’s going to be a rocky road ahead. I’m even willing to bet that there are going to be terrorist organizations that pop up: both of the pro-Capitol and pro-rebel/Thirteen flavors.

      1. Totally right about those wrinkles, ThatGuy. Katniss created just those sort of wrinkles and that’s why she was so dangerous: she broke through the state monopoly on food supplies and weapons and she challenged the ideology and the monopoly on communication with defiant moments like the one where she sings to a dying Rue.

        Poland was so fortunate in the real world to have people who played similar roles, like Pope John Paul (and I’m talking as a Jew!); and then to have political leaders who seized the moment in a responsible way. Awesome!

        PS: Are you writing from Venezuela or Thailand? Glad to hear things are not so bad where you are. My cousins grew up Panama in the 1970s and I remember asking them how they liked it and Justin (then about 6 year old) said: “Too militaristic!”

        1. I’m writing from Thailand.

          It’s really not as bad as they say it is. A nuisance (at this point, the good chunk of Thais are just tired), but not particularly troubling. Think of it as less a Egypt movement, and more an opposing political party expressing its dissatisfaction.
          In fact, Suthep, the leader of the opposition, has praised the efforts of the LEOs and denounced those who’ve done things like chaining shut the gates of polling stations.
          Most of the counter-protestors have been just as civil, mostly focusing on shirts that say “Respect my Vote”.
          And of course, both sides go home whenever there’s holiday, out of respect for either Buddhism or the Royal Family,
          In the end, it all boils down to opposing political parties; a cynical side of me states that if this movement wins, the losing party will just have another protest of their own in a couple years.

          Not saying that it doesn’t have the potential to get bad though. There have been nasty incidents in the past (2008-2010 being the prime recent example).
          And there are nasty unaffiliated factions from both sides.

          In any case, I don’t think there’s any way to downplay Venezuela. Same goes for Ukraine. Or Iran in 2009.

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