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Movie notes - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is sure to be well analyzed by lots of people who have read the books, which I haven't, so these are really just some quick notes from a radical politics & critical theory junky to read the movie in that world of reference. My way into the universe of The Hunger Games is through vulgar political comparison and ideology critique. ***Mild to medium spoilers of the middle part of the plot throughout; you might want to wait on reading this until you've seen the movie if you don't know the plot and want to be surprised.***

The mix of iron fist police state and velvet glove (even opiate) spectacle is striking here. My friend (incidentally, the blogger at Work Resumed on the Tower) remarked on the absence of capital in The Hunger Games series. You see allusions to a capitalistic world of sponsors and so forth, but they play a secondary role in the spectacle. Instead, the police state apparatus seems to more or less directly run the spectacle apparatus of the games and the TV system. (Not sure the exact terms, here, and perhaps there is more nuance given in the books.) Coming out of 20th century historical experiences, we often think of "totalitarian" or centralist attempts at spectacle as clunky and frankly less effective than capitalism.


It was hard to imagine that a police state of this nature would not have a "deep state" or a security apparatus that would check the president's actions. President Snow settles, on the misleading advice of Plutarch Heavensbee, the designer of the game, on a tactical combination of increased repression and enhanced spectacle (first, focusing on the romance between Katniss and Peeta, second, on a new edition of The Hunger Games). He banks a lot on the idea that Katniss will smirch her revolutionary image in The Hunger Games by killing her allies, when it might make more sense to imagine that she would be martyred.

From the standpoint of the government, why focus on Hunger Games at all when citizens in several provinces are showing open signs of defiance? Deep state apparatchiks should have seen that the spectacle of The Hunger Games, effective as it seems to have been for the last memorable period of history, has lost its pacifying effect. Probably the right tactics for the government here would have been to put The Hunger Games on hold while pursuing a combination of repression of dissent, on the one hand, and reforms or short-term distribution of bounties which would be implemented with a pattern of plausible deniability in terms of relation to dissent, on the other hand.

Note to any deep state apparatchiks reading this: a fictional universe is the only time you get free advice from me.



I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek with my vulgarity here. Part of what this gets at is that of course Hollywood and mass literary culture are very focused on the figure of Katniss, when in all likelihood a real revolutionary process even in a spectacle driven culture would have a more touch-and-go relationship with celebrity. It is interesting that she's seen by the revolutionary (more precisely: putschist?) schemers as a symbol of revolution, yet they do not bring her into their strategic discussions. Given their apparent willingness to break eggs to make an omelet, or at least leave some eggs to be broken by others, why wouldn't they want her to be martyred? Are we somehow supposed to assume that martyrdom doesn't have the same impact in Panem, or that they really think she's important as a living figure, if secondary as an actual leader?

Ok, all of this is picky. The movie was fun, and it's great to see people rising up against repression and against a police state in particular in a mainstream movie.

I think there probably is something interesting in the question of the articulation of managed spectacle with repressive force as conditions change. While it's not imaginable that a single president would be making these decisions in a real social system, it does seem entirely possible to imagine a police apparatus getting caught of its guard by changing conditions and making tactical blunders. And the question of finding the weak spots in a seemingly totalistic spectacular apparatus is interesting, as well.

I was comparing The Hunger Games series to V for Vendetta, which are both movies focused on a futuristic police state with a very sophisticated but ultimately extremely fragile spectacular apparatus. V for Vendetta certainly struck a chord in regards to contemporary politics, and there has been some question of whether The Hunger Games series will do the same. Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow, seems to hope that The Hunger Games will be the most revolutionary thing you've heard since the last Russell Brand rant, while Salon's Andrew O'Hehir points out, "Ultimately, the entire 'Hunger Games' franchise is self-contradictory, as is nearly all of pop culture. In fact, it’s precisely the thing it claims to criticize or oppose: a work of symbolic and quasi-therapeutic violence, designed to make us feel better about oppressive conditions." Of course this is entirely true, and yet in the V for Vendetta example, this kind of pop culture can also provide resources for resistance in the real (and virtual, but political and non-cinematic) world, if only in the rather thin example of the ubiquity of Guy Fawkes masks as used by some in Occupy and Anonymous. Of course even without the cinematic element, the US has the cultural contradiction of celebrating its (bourgeois, and ok maybe not as great as France) revolutionary history every year in a reactionary, patriarchal "founding fathers" framework.