Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 24, 2011

Foreshadowing Reality

I bet Suzanne Collins didn’t know she was an oracle. That when she wrote her Hunger Games trilogy, she foretold a revolution that no political expert in the world saw coming.

While watching the Arab revolution unfold, I was suddenly struck by how similar the circumstances of the two revolutions were. I found five eerie parallels.

Revolution was “impossible”
In the Hunger Games trilogy, the Capitol of Panem ruled all, controlling everything about the 12 outlying Districts, including supplies of food and medicine. While the Capitol glutted itself, people starved in the Districts. The Capitol considered the people of the Districts too weak and too cowed to ever rebel.

An Arab democratic revolution seemed equally impossible. The regimes were too powerful. The societies were too oppressed. There was no freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble. The people had been starved and terrified into unwavering compliance. The youth had known no other way of life and would therefore not even think of demanding a change.

Unbearable conditions
In Panem, the chasm between the rich in the Capitol and the poor in the Districts was vivid. Every day, every year, the poor were forced to watch the rich grow richer. The rich grew ever more lavish and wasteful, while the poor sunk deeper into the depths. The most glaring reminder of their servitude to the Capitol was the Hunger Games, where a boy and girl from each District was sent to the Capitol to fight to the death—a sacrifice as punishment for a past rebellion.

In the Arab autocracies, the money stayed in the hands of the dictator and his family and cronies. They grew incredibly wealthy while many of their citizens struggled to put food on their table. Instead of focusing on bringing down rampant unemployment and bringing up the standard of living for the entire country, the ruling class focused on lining their pockets at the expense of their people. While no literal Hunger Games existed, many people sacrificed their dreams and their children’s dreams in order to survive, and many disappeared at the hands of brutal secret police.

The power of media
One key to the Capitol’s continued hold over its people was that they controlled all communications. The Districts saw only what the Capitol wanted them to see, and the citizens in the Capitol never ever saw what really went on in the Districts. Katniss Everdeen’s participation in, and subsequent winning of, the Hunger Games gave her a mass platform from which the message of revolution could spread. When the rebels managed to hijack the communications network, they were able to show the truth to the Capitol citizens, rather than the lies the government told.

Most of the Arab autocracies had tightly controlled state-run television and radio, and also limited cell phone and Internet access when it suited them. Technology eventually broke through the blackout, though, as the youth used social media to find each other, form protest groups, and get the word out to the world about what was truly happening in the protests.

Going viral
In the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss’ mockingjay symbol became the symbol of the revolution. All the Districts, not just her own, adopted it, using it as a secret sign of loyalty to each other and of defiance to the government. Katiniss did not initially wear it as a symbol of anything except her home, but the mockingjay spread virally to become the symbol to bind the rebels together.

Through the phenomenon of “going viral” allowed by the Internet, the protests that followed Tunisia’s revolution used many of the same symbols, particularly the same chants and musical anthems. The information on how to stage successful protests and avoid the police also went viral, and was adapted for use in many of the other Arab countries.

Unwitting catalysts
Katniss Everdeen never wanted to be a revolutionary. She just wanted to survive the Hunger Games and go home. In the end, though, her desperate act of survival sparked a revolution that led to the fall of the Capitol.

Mohamed Bouazizi never intended to start a revolution, either. The Tunisian street vendor simply could not cope with his life and its many frustrations and humiliations anymore. In a desperate act that was his only means of being heard, he set himself on fire—and his death ignited his countrymen.

Perhaps many revolutions follow these patterns—I am no expert. All I know is that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy was a brilliant, searing look at what violence does to children and humanity. It also turned out to be a pretty prescient blueprint of a revolution yet to come.

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Responses

  1. Excellent post Kerry! Very insightful. I’m in the middle of this series. Amazing story.

    Like


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