San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Monday, December 21, 2015

My Take On "The Hunger Games"

(Spoiler Alert:  I discuss some details from all four movies below.  If you have not seen them and are planning on seeing them in the future you might want to skip today's blog post, unless you have already read the books, in which case it does not matter what you do; can you think of any way I can make this run-on sentence any longer?)

My wife joined me at a showing of the fourth installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, plus 1, last week.  Let me say in advance that I am a huge fan of the books and the movies.  My wife introduced me to the books while on a trip to Death Valley several years ago.  She reads to me while I drive on some of our longer road trips.  The trip to Death Valley is a long one from the Denver metro area and she was able to get through a good portion of the first book on the way there.  I was so captivated by the dystopian nature of the first book I forced her to read the entire series to me while we sat  watching the sun go down on Telescope peak each night.  I have watched the first three movies multiple times and was looking forward to the fourth, and final, movie in the series.  I was not disappointed.
It is my understanding that the author of the Hunger Games intentionally wrote for an older teenage audience.  Hence the emphasis upon the teenage romantic threesome, with Katniss in the middle, features prominently in both the books and the movies.  I don't mind that but I know that a fair number of adult fans of the series find the romantic element somewhat tedious.  I don't believe it is fair to judge a book for being what it is.  The author had no responsibility to write the book for me and my socio-economic class and age cohort.  On the contrary, it is my responsibility as the reader to ascertain precisely what message, or messages, the author was attempting to convey to her readers.
I have a definition of art that many people find strange and filled with multiple errors.  The philosophical discipline of aesthetics is an important one that is generally ignored these days.  What is art?  What is beauty?  What makes art good or bad?  These are questions that I have considered over the years and I have developed a theory that I would like to tell you about today.
The first distinction that I make when it comes to defining art is that between a work of art and an artifact.  An artifact is something that many people consider to be beautiful but that only has social utility and conveys no additional message.  A work of art, on the other hand, is something that many people consider to be beautiful that may have utility but exists for the purpose of conveying a particular message.  For example, a piece of Hopi pottery can be considered beautiful by many people but a Hopi pot exists for the purpose of holding water or some foodstuff.   The spyrographic type designs on the surface of the pot can be considered "artistic" but if they do not convey any message to the observer the pot itself is an artifact and not a work of art.  Conversely, if an artist creates a painting of something with the intention of conveying the message that Christians will be persecuted if they do not comply with the world system, that painting is a work of art and not a simple artifact.
The second distinction I make is that between good art and bad art.  Good art successfully conveys the message that was in the mind of the author of the piece and bad art does not.  For example, Warhol's painting of a can of tomato soup is, in my opinion, merely an artifact.  I cannot conceive of any possible message being conveyed by the painting.  But it is possible, indeed even likely, that I am too dense to understand the message that Warhol is attempting to convey to those who observe his painting.  Maybe his meaning is that life is like a bowl of soup....sometimes hot and sometimes cold but always satisfying!  If that is the case the painting is a work of art but a poor one because he does not successfully convey the idea that was in his head as he painted to the mind of the person who observes the painting.
As a side note, I will get back to the Hunger Games soon, that is why I believe most all of what is called "modern art" is really nothing more than artifact.  I have asked people who create what they call pieces of art, that are nothing more than canvasses splashed with paint of various textures, what they were attempting to do.  They will describe, in intimate detail, the coalescing of the various colors and textures for me but when I ask them what it all means I receive nothing back but a blank stare.  It seems to me that most of what passes for art these days is nothing more than artifacts containing a wide variety of colors and textures in them that are then talked about by the artistic community, whoever that is (I think most of them live in Taos, NM) as being beautiful works of art. I don't buy it.  And I don't buy their "art."
The Hunger Games is a work of art and I joyfully plunked down my fee to enter the theater to watch it.  There is one main message associated with the story and several corollaries to that message as well.  The main message of the Hunger Games is that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  One of the corollaries of the movies is that the most unscrupulous among us are those who seek absolute power.  Another of the corollaries of the movies is that those who are closely associated with those in power are blessed while those who are not in favor of the current establishment are cursed.  Yet another corollary found in the movies is that people who cherish freedom and personal responsibility want to live under conditions of laissez faire capitalism.  Allow me to explain my understanding of the author's intentional messages in the Hunger Games.
The message that absolute power corrupts absolutely is not new.  It is, however, a message that must be continually repeated as men have a propensity to forget it quite quickly.  Due to the natural desire in most sinful human beings to worship some sort of civil government, it is inevitably that God, in His providence, will give men the sort of government they want which will eventually function as a curse upon them for their statist idolatry.  The Capitol is the source of all decadence in the dystopian world of the Hunger Games.  The gut-wrenching practice of gathering two children from each of the twelve districts each year for a contest in which they will battle to the death for the entertainment of the ruling class is, for me, a most powerful metaphor of the tyrannical state.  I simply can't get the emotions associated with that contest out of my head.  I have watched the first movie multiple times and I cry like a baby when Pru dies and Katniss buries her under the watchful eye of the Capitol's cameras.  What a stark contrast is exhibited between an act of human compassion and the deadly power of a corrupt state.
It is not long into the fourth movie when we learn that Katniss has come to realize that the military power associated with the 13th District, in combination with her star-power, is going to create another version of the Capitol, only worse in that it does not hesitate to kill its own people to advance its cause.  A comparison to the Socialist Democracy of Amerika is impossible to avoid at that point in the movie. The ultimate irony of the entire movie is the decision of the President of the victorious rebels to continue to practice of the Hunger Games, only using the children of the Capitol city as its cannon fodder.  Small wonder that, when given the chance, Katniss executes the President of the 13th District and spares the life of President Snow.
President Coin illustrates one of the corollaries.  Although initially appearing to be virtuous and selfless, she turns out to be like all rent-seeking politicians.  She assumes power for herself, even attempting to have Katniss killed in battle (in a scene eerily reminiscent of what David did to Uriah in the biblical story) so as to avoid a conflict with her when the rebellion is complete.  Coin ends up being morally inferior to Snow, who was the paragon of immorality prior to Coin's appearance.
The end of the movie, although no doubt considered far too sweet by many people, portrays a happy married couple with children living in District 12.  For the time being at least, the civil government is being restrained by being populated and controlled by people who have not yet become corrupt.  During this short window of opportunity the world becomes a better place.  The literal change of seasons that takes place in the final scene of the movie, from the stark deadness of winter to the beautiful vibrant greens of summer, dramatically portrays the truth that men and women who live in freedom end up prospering.  There is no government there to tyrannize them.  They are free to do as they please and for the first time in the entire movie we see Katniss with a smile on her face.  What a beautiful sight it was to see a smiling Katniss tenderly cradling her infant in her arms.  And what a beautiful work of art the Hunger Games series turns out to be. 

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