We had our Annenberg Innovation Summit yesterday and it was a smashing success. So today for the first time in two weeks I went to the movies. I saw Hunger Games, because I am going to give a lecture on Monday on technology, politics and the future. The movie is the latest in a long line of dystopian science fiction films from Metropolis to Bladerunner. I long since came to the conclusion that science fiction is our way of writing about our fears about the present. Metropolis (1927) was about the exploitation of the masses in a machine age. Bladerunner (1982) takes the metaphor farther by imagining machine made humans, called Replicants. Both invoke world’s of such radical change, that we don’t recognize our self in the protagonists.
But Hunger Games is radically different, because it essentially is about the 1% vs. the 99%. It is about what could happen in the world we are experiencing today. The Hunger Games is in essence a story about Bread and Circuses. As the Poet Juvenal wrote of the period in 140 BC Rome when the politicians were for sale and the people didn’t care as along as the bloody entertainments kept coming.
… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things:bread and circuses
We start the movie in an Appalachia not too far distant from the haunting Walker Evans photos of the Great Depression. Dirt poor coal miners living under constant police presence. All power and money resides in the Capitol–a New York on Steroids. The Capitol is filed with a society of the very rich that are every bit as decadent as Rome in Calligulas’ time or New York in Andy Warhol’s prime. The Hunger Games are a combination Reality Show and Gladiator match. The contest creates a kind of Lord of the Flies world with knives, spears and (most importantly) a bow and arrow that our heroine wields beautifully.
But finally it is a story of teen empowerment and rebellion. It is a vision of a future of the total failure of democracy because security of the rich was more important. That’s a very dark belief that obviously millions of young readers of the novels have bought in to. That the movie made $150 million in its first weekend is testimony that some profound mental shift has happened in the society. 1%-99% metaphor has sunk in to the collective consciousness.
Now that it is obvious that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, this same metaphor will dominate the political debate. Mitt is the candidate of and for the 1%. Look at his tax policy, which will enrich them and his hawkish military policy which will continue the 65 year Military Industrial Complex boondoggle, further enriching them. Finally his oil and environmental policies are made for the Koch Brothers and their friends in the oil and gas business.
The trick for Obama is to make the connection to the 18-24 year olds who didn’t get a chance to vote last time. These are the kids lining up for Hunger Games. I sense they are ready for Obama’s message. But he has to take on the Inequality Issue head on.