The coming of the Hunger Games

This weekend, the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, first in a series of enormously popular young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, will open in theaters nationwide.  CBS News reports that the movie is already breaking records for the pre-sale of tickets.  2,000 shows have already sold out, it’s accounting for 92 percent of Fandango’s daily ticket sales, and a $140 million opening weekend is possible.

I haven’t read the books myself, but John Tamny at Forbes has.  He offers an interesting review that suggests conservatives and libertarians will find much to appreciate in this impending blockbuster, which offers a chilling critique of the horrors of the total State:

To provide background for those who’ve not yet read the book, The Hunger Games takes place in a post-modern North America where society has collapsed thanks to drought, famine and war. The country is Panem, which has a major city called Capitol run by the governing elite. Those in power oversee twelve districts.

Each year at the pleasure of brutal politicians desperate for sadistic entertainment, two representatives from the twelve districts engage in a televised game of survival whereby only one person comes out alive. Though the novel has a variety of characters, most of the story centers on Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, Hunger Games representatives from District 12 (presumably West Virginia), and their efforts to emerge from the games alive.

On its face the book reveals the oppressive cruelty that is big government. Indeed, while the global political class and their enablers in the media to this day try to explain away droughts and the resulting famines from an “Act of God” point of view, the simple truth is that economically free countries don’t suffer them.

Tamny goes on to discuss the way hunger is used as a tool of oppression by socialist tyrannies, a history Collins appears to have understood quite well when crafting her books.  Famine is largely a political phenomenon in the modern world, the result of collectivist failure and deliberate cruelty by dictatorships:

Those who were around in the ‘80s doubtless remember the droughts that allegedly created a famine in Ethiopia, but the greater truth is that Ethiopian citizens at one time exported food so plentiful was it; the famine that properly tugged at our heartstrings a function of a brutal dictatorship that socialized agriculture. It was said after Great Britain left India that famines in the former Jewel in the Crown became a thing of the past, but the truer reality is that “famines” were redefined to whitewash the socialist basket case that India became once independent. “Inflation” is presently low in the United States, but that’s only true insofar as the commodities most sensitive to monetary error have been removed from the calculation. Droughts and famines are an inevitable effect of overbearing, interventionist and greedy governments.

As Tamny notes, lack of food is one of the problems solved most quickly by free trade and capitalism.  It’s interesting that capitalism is forever denied credit for its simple and obvious success in destroying hunger.  Nothing is more effective, and nothing ever has been.  There’s plenty of government meddling and market distortion in agriculture, of course, but you have to cross the line into outright government control and nationalization before people begin starving.

The Hunger Games has plenty to say about the way oppressive government seeks to divide citizens against each other, milking power from constant strife, according to Tamny’s review:

Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s best friend back in District 12, ably fills the role of wise government skeptic. Katniss imagines him saying in response to the government’s efforts “to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper”, that “It’s to the Capitol’s advantage to have us divided among ourselves.” Of course it is.

Free societies, personally and economically, don’t rely on government. Instead, a natural harmony eventuates as self-interested individuals create what they’re best at so that they can trade their production for that of others. The problem for political types under such a scenario is that people realize not only that they don’t need government, but that even those who can’t provide for themselves are taken care of thanks to the benevolent doings of those who can.

Pop culture matters.  It provides a powerful medium for the transmission of ideas, although it’s frequently underestimated by conservatives because of its superficial frivolity, and the blinding hypocrisy of its power players, as documented in Jason Mattera’s new book.  Pop culture also establishes the symbolic language we use to debate ideas.  Assuming the Hunger Games movie is reasonably faithful to the book, we may be about to witness the arrival of a truly subversive blockbuster at the multiplexes.  It’s been too long since we had one of those.