July 27, 2020

Daily Dystopia: Marxism and The Hunger Games

A classic Marxian analysis, arguing that the world of the Hunger Games succinctly presents the intersecting struggles of race, class and gender.

Daily Dystopia: Marxism and The Hunger Games

Few novels can claim the success of Collins’ Hunger Games, spanning three books and four films, millions stand to have been made by the author, and the vast cultural impact can not go unstated either. The three-finger salute was outlawed after use in real-world protest, and references to the series are rarely out of the spotlight. Examples of the latter ranging from protests in 2018, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and even the George Floyd Protests.

The Hunger Games stretches its primary fame through an era of turbulence, the first novel being published in late 2008, noteworthy for the economic crash, and the last film releasing in 2015, a year before Trump’s election and the UK’s infamous Brexit Vote.

A narrative following from this, constructed by white liberal commentators, is that Dystopian literature at this time inspired, usually youth, activists to protest. These references also draw on The Maze Runner and Divergent in most cases. Such a narrative is paternalistic and one dimensional, giving credit to white authors and works of fiction for movements often rooted in material concerns.

A movement such as the Floyd Protests may on a surface level be argued to share similarities to The Hunger Games, Floyd can be positioned as a martyr, various black radicals are being treated like figureheads and a popular movement in solidarity against an authoritarian government is arising.

This requires, however, erasure of reality, in Black Lives Matter not being a particularly hierarchical movement, not aiming to bring down the government, and Floyd’s status as a martyr being questionable given just how broad the causes of this movement are: Trump’s ongoing racism, BAME deaths from Covid19, and wider history of state violence towards Black People.

Opposing this common use for The Hunger Games is instead a Marxist use. The Hunger Games provides a great lens through which to examine facets of our present capitalist system.

The Hunger Games provides a very clear intersection between class, race, gender, and political power while also examining land relations. All of these themes can be seen to link directly to capitalism.

One of the most easily identifiable instances of class defining position in society is The Games themselves. Not only are The Games a profitable, seemingly privatised affair, benefiting individuals such as sponsors and fashion designers, but the likelihood of victory is impacted by traits such as District. This second point is most clearly seen through career tributes, a symbolic middle class, described as lap dogs to the Capitol, people who have been trained their entire lives for success in the games, and who, by nature of their wealthy districts, have far more potential for sponsors. The training can be seen through a lens of private tuition or schooling and the sponsorship may be seen as an analogy for parental aid in circumstances such as unpaid internships, where those from working-class backgrounds may struggle. The Games, therefore, may on a surface level appear fair, while in reality they are very much decided by background, similar to the capitalist myth of meritocracy.

The most striking moment in The 74th Games is perhaps the death of Rue, showing us that it is not only class oppression which matters. The career tributes, who are responsible for the death of Rue, are homogeneously white, this pairs with portrayals of The Capitol, particularly in the films, as primarily white. Furthermore, the frequent display of black characters from District 11, as well as its main output being agriculture, and canon artwork, allow us to place Rue’s District as being a representation of southern American states. Therefore, there is an argument to be made that the death of Rue may be interpreted as a representation of lynching, or broader acts of white supremacist terror, a reoccurring feature of capitalist societies both modern and historical. Power is concentrated not only in primarily white areas but also with white people, matching our society. A more structural examination may consider how the white aggressor stunts growth through violence here, sharing similarities with colonial exploitation and the way in which it accelerates the predominantly white West at the cost of the Global South and East.

Class is incredibly visible in The Hunger Games, in a way which it is not always in our society. In our society, the media as part of the Ideological State Apparatus often attempts to hide inequality, and aesthetics do not represent class quite so cleanly, as often the middle classes will fetishise or appropriate proletarian aesthetics. The Hunger Games shows us sickening bourgeois excess literally. In this way, The Hunger Games can be seen as unmasking that which is usually hidden, which makes it far easier to get to the conclusion of a proletarian revolution.

Media’s role in the Ideological State Apparatus is an open secret in The Hunger Games, from broadcasting The Games, to Propos created by District 13. The most powerful application of media comes in the oppressive ‘star crossed lovers’ narrative it paints between Katniss and Peeta. This narrative is essentially forced onto the pair, though Peeta is notably more consenting than Katniss. This is a Capitol media reinforcement of patriarchal male gaze, the strength of Katniss as a Tribute, and the bravery of her volunteering is swept aside in favour of a focus on her love life and sexuality. A similar erasure of talent and excessive focus on romantic activity can be seen with celebrities under capitalism such as Taylor Swift, who openly criticises patriarchy in The Man and Emma Watson, who drew backlash for being self-partnered. In propagating a narrative of women’s primary use being romantic or familial, capitalist media can continue the unpaid labour of childcare and reinforce hierarchy within the home.

Land relations are at the beating heart of capitalism, from colonial theft to private property, central not only to capitalist land relations, but the entire stability of capitalism as a system is borders.

Under capitalism borders, both literal and hypothetical, serve to divide us, by stoking an ‘us-vs-them’ narrative, Trump’s Wall and Orban’s Fence both embody this. Both Orban and Trump display a fascistic movement of aesthetics into politics, they opt to make their borders very literal. Rather than nations, The Hunger Games has Districts, which are fractured both culturally and physically. In both circumstances, this division aims to distract from the overall horror, by focusing on doing the best for your immediate circle, rather than for the collective, the globe, and Panem respectively. The citizens of America focus on citizens doing better than refugees, rather than World Revolution, the citizens of the Districts focus on their District winning The Games, rather than ending The Games. To end this hegemony would require cross-border solidarity, seen best through Katniss’ compassion towards Rue.

There is a clear intersection between class and borders. Geographical inequality is central, on an international scale wealth is generally most concentrated in the North and the West, a result of colonialism, and on a national scale, the UK has a huge wealth and power concentration in London, housing 22% of UK GDP and the Westminster Parliament. Inside of Collins’ Hunger Games, there is a similar concentration of wealth and power in The Capitol, named likely to match The Capitol of America, in combination with inequality between Districts. District one, two and four, are favoured over others such as eleven and twelve. Analysing this as a geographical metaphor we can examine how the wealthier Districts are used to produce luxury goods such as jewellery while the poorer Districts are used for raw materials such as coal and lumber reflecting Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory. This mode of extraction is tied directly to capitalism, as analysed by Lenin when discussing the relationship between imperialism and profit motive.

When faced with the crisis of Revolution, the Capitol moves into full defence from a siege, this may symbolise Protectionism. Often such a tactic is deployed alongside a movement towards more authoritarian politics and is enacted to continue the survival of capitalism. Trump is a contemporary example of this, due to his ongoing trade war with China, and desire to move industry back to the US. Such measures are merely a natural outgrowth of a system prone to crises.

The natural outgrowth from drawing borders and stoking tensions between them is war, a tool commanded by capitalism for various purposes. In the instance of Thatcher, the Falklands War was used to strengthen her image and create a political spectacle. In the instance of Blair, the Iraq War was used as a means to control resources and financially benefit western nations. The Shock Doctrine criticises both wars, putting forth that they were cynical and used to push forward free-market capitalism. The Games match how war is used as ‘shock’ under capitalism. It is an event of spectacle, young working-class people are sent to their deaths, District pride plays a key role, and resources are directly linked to The Games through Tessera and Victors Rewards, all ultimately for the benefit of The Capitol.

Capitalists, and The Capitol, seem at first to hold all of the power. Corporate lobbying such as that of ALEC directly impacts huge social policy changes and the state has control of the police and army. The Capitol is ruled exclusively by its own citizens and holds the vast majority of wealth. Yet upon further inspection the contradiction is clear, our labour makes them strong, and our labour can make them weak. Katniss shows us this, much as the text as a whole shows us that, capitalism, designed to be Dystopian, oppressive and totalitarian, can’t be reformed, it must be abolished. A shadow haunts not only Europe but the world. Reformism has failed us, and abolition calls.


This piece was first published by Black Rose Labour, a caucus in the UK Labour Party for libertarian socialists. You can find an audio recording on Youtube and Soundcloud.


Photo by Psk Slayer on Unsplash

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