Wednesday, May 9, 2012

“Hunger Games”: The Dark Fantasies Of A Doomed Strata

By Caleb T. Maupin
In the modern world, two great hostile camps exist.
In the first camp lies the richest of the rich. They are the owners of the overwhelming majority of all the  banks, factories, giant stores, military production, oil wells, natural gas, and all other economic power in the world. They own as their private property not just all these things, but the governments of most of the world which move at their every command. The western capitalists, or the “1%”, make up this first camp of power in the modern world.
In the second camp, lies the rest of us. Those of us who sell our labor power in order to survive: the working class. The people of colonized world, no matter what their occupation are also in this second camp. The peoples of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America struggling against imperialism and foreign domination, along with the global working class make up the second camp, the 99%; the contradiction to Wall Street power. This second camp is the overwhelming majority of all humanity.
The first camp has entrenched itself as the ruling class over the last 500 years, vanquishing feudalism and replacing it with high tech exploitation on a global scale. It has itself protected with propagandistic media, military power and brute force, and all other means of establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with.
The second camp is now in the process of entrenching and cementing itself, as it rises in battle with the first camp, and take its place at the helm of the world. The rising Bolivarian movements in Latin America, the unified struggle against Zionism and U.S. imperialism in the middle east, the alliance of China with the people of Africa; on a global scale this represents the solidification of the global 99% in their opposition, to the 1%.
Within the borders of the U.S., the 99% is also solidifying itself and asserting its power. The 2006 uprising of immigrant workers, the huge outpourings against police brutality and racism, the struggle to defend public sector unions, and the eruption of Occupy Wall Street signify the second camp, the rising power of the workers and oppressed of the world.
The Dying Middle Strata
However as this struggle boils on a global scale between the global 1% and 99%, there is one sector that is doomed. No matter what force is triumphant, whether the global capitalists, or the workers and colonized peoples, this small strata is doomed.
This is the “middle class”, the “petty bourgeoisie.” It is the indy artist or musician. It is the small shopkeeper. It is the owners of the small “family owned farms.” It is the well known intellectuals and academics. It is doctors and lawyers with their own practice, and no regular employer.
It is those within the western capitalist countries who are not workers, but do not find themselves within the global 1% of wealth power. They “have their own” in a sense, with no regular employer renting them out each day, but they will never be among the ranks of Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. They “have their own” but it is just a small corner. It is a little bit of security, a little bit of freedom, and some economic priviledge.
But this is slipping away. The global 1% is destroying them. Wal-Mart is destroying every family owned hardware store. Major record labels, internet self-publishing firms, all of them are rendering “independent artists” out of existence. Agribusiness is turning the family farmer into a mere hired laborer.
Doctors, the once hailed “professionals” are now mere hired employees of big healthcare firms. Academic jobs are highly competitive, and highly stifling. Professors are no longer free independent thinkers who “profess” knowledge to the younger generation, but cogs in an academic machine that brings in billions to the student loan sharks of Wall Street.
However, if the global 99% are victorious, this will not save the middle class. In a socialist society, just as in modern capitalism, these professionals and “independents” will not be able to “do their own thing.” Decisions in the field of economics will be decided democratically and equitably, but they will not be “laissez-faire.” Doctors will be sent where society needs them. Art, media, and education will be subject to popular criticism, input, and regulation. Big box stores will remain, but under popular democratic control, with prices, hours, and all else regulated by the workers and the community.
The future holds collectivism. It will be either the collective obedience to wishes of a small, and shrinking capitalist class in its drive for profits, or collective socialist decision-making and democracy among the overwhelming majority of humanity.
No matter which side is victorious, the petty bourgeoisie will perish. So, as they look to the future, they see misery. As artists often find themselves among the ranks of petty bourgeoisie, this hopelessness and fatalism is reflected in art.
“Hunger Games,” Another Dystopia
George Orwell, expressed the fatalism of his class in his novel 1984. He described the future as “a boot stomping on a human face.” He spoke of a world where “independent thinkers” will not be able to proclaim “2+2=4.”
Though Orwell was a social-democrat, who also associated himself with Anarchism and other left-leaning petty bourgeois movements, his dark vision of the future was no different than Ayn Rand.
Rand’s Anthem and Orwell’s 1984, have the same bleak view of the future. They are not opposites by any means, but mirror images of each other. They fear nothing but the future and the inevitable collectivism of it.
Petty bourgeois fatalism preaches against all collectivism with the same repulsion. They view KKK lynch mobs and anti-racist rallies with the same level of repugnance. Both show conformity, coordination of efforts, and subordination of the individual to the needs of a group. The fact that two such mobilizations serve a totally different social purpose is meaningless in such a mindset.
 “Hunger Games” is another dystopian fantasy of the petty bourgeois variety.
The very premise of it is in some ways sickening. It is set in a future United States, 70+ years after a failed revolt of starving people.
Why not make a film depicting such a revolt? Better yet, depicting a revolt of the starving against the 1% that leads to victory. This is a “Hunger Game” that would be very relevant in the age of capitalist decay. Such a film would reflect on the Occupy Wall Street events, the Black Liberation struggle, and all the rising movements across the world.
However, Hunger Games starts with the premise, before the first lines of dialogue are uttered, that such a revolt is doomed to failure.
The country created in the aftermath of the revolt is one with a very small population, in which there is mass poverty. In order to remind the public of the mistake of the failed revolt, some 70+ years ago, a high tech gladiatorial show of sorts is carried out each year, where youths fight each other to the death.
Yes, “the mob”, descendants of those who took part in the revolt, now joyfully watch in public spectacles of death and violence of their own peers.  One character even bemoans this fact saying “If we just stopped watching it would be over.”
The message is that the people in their millions, the true makers of history, are a worthless mob of easily led sheep. They are oppressed, but they are responsible for their oppression as much as the oppressors themselves. “Conformity” is the films villain, not oppressive institutions and systems.
And the Heroes?
So, with the masses of people in their millions as the villians, who is the hero?
How many times before have we seen this in modern, popular art? Harry Potter was “the boy who lived.” Slumdog Millionaire won out on a TV game show. Superman is the orphaned child of space aliens.
The heroes are never ordinary people who accomplish great achievements, or engage in heroic actions.
No, the heroes are always “different”, they are always “special”, they are somehow “chosen.”
Hunger Games is not different. The heroin is “chosen” to do battle in an arena. She is “special”, and “isolated.” Of course, the ordinary working class people she grew up around don’t understand her, and victimize her, hating her for her greatness.
While the feminist implications of female battle hero are by all means progressive in our misogynist society, the character is still highly problematic. The early scenes of the film border on grotesque in the level of tragedy. The level of suffering the protagonist is forced to endure is repulsive and over the top.
Other aspects of the film are equally confusing and senseless as they reflect the alienation of the petty bourgeois from all humanity.
Though only one of the combatants in the “Hunger Games” can be victorious, and all others must die, somehow certain combatants band together, and begin traveling as a group, working together, hunting down the protagonist.
Despite it being irrational somehow “the mob” of Randian and Orwellian nightmares finds its way into the climatic moments of the film, as a conspiracy is formed to destroy the protagonist. This is odd as those conspiring with each other against the protagonist, are expected to kill each other.
Why do they conspire against the protagonist? What rational sense does this make? They are all equally doomed.
They do it because she is “the chosen one”, she is the “great individual”, and the world, the mob, is lined up against her. This petty bourgeois paranoid fantasy has no rational way of fitting into the constructed narrative, yet it still manifests itself.
The Revolution Is Not A Game
The heroin of Hunger Games by successfully “giving hope” to her district is seen as a potential liberator of the suffering people of this future world. A “special person”, a “chosen one” is seen as potentially achieving what a revolt of millions did not?
The hope for the suffering people of this world is not that someone will randomly chosen to become famous, and expose oppression with their fame. If this were true, the likes of Paul Robeson, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and Jane Fonda would have rescued it long ago.
The masses in their millions are the makers of history. There will be no “condescending saviors” who win freedom for the people.
Only a movement of millions of people, coordinating their efforts, empowering eachother, and eventually removing the small elite that rules can point the way forward. Yes, individuals will play a role in such a movement, and prove their exceptional qualities in the process, but they will do it by their ability to put millions into motion, shaping the course of the true makers of history.
A vanguard is just a small part of a larger army, and in isolation, it is weak and worthless.
Socialism and the Individual
While the rugged individualism of the petty bourgeoisie and its self-isolating hero fantasies will perish in the flames of worldwide socialist revolution, individuals will not perish.
The Soviet Union was filled with artists, writers, musicians, and theater. Cuba today brings music into the education of every child’s life, in a manner far beyond what any capitalist country has done.
Socialism produced the many well known scientists who conquered the heavens with Sputnik. Socialism brought us the films of Sergei Eisenstein. Socialism brought us epic breakthroughs in Ballet and Orchestral music.
China’s cultural revolution brought films, theater troops, and art to millions of people.
Socialism as it existed in the former USSR, and currently in Cuba and People’s Korea has brought us many great individuals, who have flourished due to collectivism. Collectivism empowers and unleashes the individual to do far more than is possible in a state of isolation and competition.
However, these great individuals were great because they showed selflessness, devotion, and courage in their service of the collective. They were not self-serving sociopaths like John Galt, or angsty egotists like Winston Smith.
The heroes of the Socialist future are the like of John Q, Tom Joad, and Jimmy Higgins. They are the selfless female liberation fighters portrayed in “The White Haired Girl”, and in “Red Detachment of Women.” They are unlikely tragic characters like the whistle-blowing Marine in Brian De Palma’s classic Redacted. They are the unknown masked freedom fighter in “V for Vendetta.”
These are the individuals hailed in Socialist art, art that fights for freedom for the 99%, against the 1%.
Our movie does not end with an explosion, or the vanquishing of a hated foe. No, the taking of power and the defeating of the 1% is the beginning of the epic masterpiece of human history, when we rise as one and continue to the line of march to stateless, classless Communism.
Hunger will be abolished, along with the sick egotistical profiteering games that hold it intact.

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