Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hunger Games II: What does it take for coal to catch fire?


Anthracite coal miners - Hazleton, PA
at the time of the coal strike of 1902
I've been reading the Hunger Games trilogy because I think we need to pierce the veil of popular entertainment culture and figure out how to use it to change the world we live in.

When I started Book II -- Catching Fire -- I thought this was going to be an "action" tale -- all about combat and weapons. But what really got my attention was the depiction of oppressed coal miners.

Of course any Hunger Games fan knows District 12 is the coal mining district, and that coal mining is a terrible job: "The claustrophobic tunnels, foul air, suffocating darkness on all sides. . . . [A]fter my father and several other miners were killed in an explosion, I could barely force myself onto the elevator." (II, p. 5)

What's really interesting is the way Book II depicts people becoming aware of their own oppression, including the forces of state repression, and developing consciousness of the need to resist.

It first jumped out at me the protagonist wonders if she should've acted differently -- if that would have allowed everyone in her coal mining district to remain safe. Her friend sets her straight:

"Safe to do what?" he says in a gentler tone. "Starve? Work like slaves? Send their kids to the reaping? You haven't hurt people -- you've given them an opportunity.  They just have to be brave enough to take it. There's already been talk in the mines. People who want to fight. Don't you see? It's happening! It's finally happening! . . . " (II, pp. 99-100)

When I read this, I thought, "Oh my gosh -- Germinal!"

Emile Zola, Germinal
Way back in the fall of 1978, when I was a sophomore at Harvard, I took a wonderful course on 19th century European history with a visiting professor -- Simon Schmama. I wrote a paper on the forces of repression depicted in Germinal -- Emile Zola's novel about an uprising in the French coal mining region in the 1800s. I wrote pages and pages about it -- I remember the moment when I handed in the overdue term paper and Prof. Schama said, "It's very late . . . and very long!" -- and I wish I still had a copy of it. But I also know everything I learned in doing it can be summed up in one sentence: the police are here to keep us in line; and that it begins with "subtle" hints, and by stages becomes full-on suppression of rebellion.

Sure enough, Catching Fire explores this exact phenomenon. As the rumblings of dissatisfaction in the mines increase, the state responds:

"The square has been transformed. A huge banner with the seal of Panem hangs off the roof of the Justice Building. Peacekeepers, in pristine white uniforms, march on the cleanly swept cobblestones. Along the rooftops, more of them occupy nests of machine guns. Most unnerving is a line of new constructions -- an official whipping post, several stockades, and a gallows -- set up in the center of the square." (II, p. 128)

"Justice" Building. "Peacekeepers."

And it is from this point that the rest of the plot of Book II develops . . . .

Coal . . . on fire . . .
Now, I'll admit that Catching Fire does also contain "action tale" plot elements -- combat and weapons -- but what I think is really valuable to all of us in the peace and justice field is how it is exposing millions of young people to questions like:

* Is the way that many people are treated fair? Is it acceptable?

* What does it take for people to stand up and resist their own oppression?

* What does the state try to do to stop them?

(Okay . . . off to buy Book III!)


More on the Hunger Games - Germinal connection: 

‘Suzanne Collins on the Books She Loves’

"Comparons Germinal and Hunger Games"


Related posts

Granddaddy Melker probably would have been proud to have mined any kind of coal. But he was especially proud to have been an anthracite coal miner.

(See "I was an anthracite miner . . . . ")














People in Illinois are standing up against the attempt by Governor Bruce Rauner to gut services in the state.  Courageous people are demanding change in "Moral Monday" protests.

(See PROTESTS IN ILLINOIS: Do these people look like they're gonna back down? )





When will more people begin to ask about the connections between inequality and the military-industrial complex?

(See WHERE'S MINE? Inequality in the US and the Military-Industrial Complex )







Two themes -- hunting vs. healing and the socio-economic underpinnings of war culture -- are just a few of the many that have leapt out at me as I've ready Book I of The Hunger Games.

(See Hunger Games: Hunting vs. Healing)








I recently wrote that "the means available to us today for eliminating war vary greatly from those available from those working to eliminate war in decades past." One of those means is popular literature and film!

(See War Resistance: Is "The Hunger Games" Laying the Foundation That We Want? )








The outstanding aspect of the "global hibakusha" phenomenon that I learned about at the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima was that in situation after situation, great harm is done because someone has the attitude that "these people don't matter."

(See GLOBAL HIBAKUSHA: The Result of the "People Who Don't Matter" Mindset )