How far is too far to go in reflecting the excess of our society?
This time last year I read the Hunger Games trilogy in three days. As N.D. Wilson describes it ‘the books grab like gorilla glue’. However, that is about the only thing I agreed with in Wilson’s review of the trilogy. And I was bitterly disappointed. I love him as a writer and think that he has his finger on the pulse of society’s culture at the moment. Which is why I just could not fathom how he could infer that Suzanne Collins has profoundly misunderstood human societies, ‘arbitrarily forcing a group or character into decisions and actions they would never choose for themselves given the preceding narrative’. Excuse me while I check if we were reading the same book. What is N D on about? This short blog is an imperfect attempt to counter Wilson’s argument and explain why I think Collins has fundamentally captured the state of society today.
I hate to say this, as I feel claiming that someone is such always leaves the writer bereft of affection in the reader’s eyes, but I think N D Wilson is naïve in his portrayal of a hero. He wants a Gladiator like demi-god to step into the Hunger Games, with all of Plutarch’s defiance and Coin’s self-assurance. Instead we get a teenage girl who just wanted to save her sister, and who ends up killing people to live. You’re right, that is messed up. And its not what we hoped for. We don’t like the fact that she plays at all in the Hunger Games. And we aren’t supposed to!
N D Wilson is right, she is self-centered. She is a puppet for much of the second book, and quite far into the third. She is controlled by others, whether that be the capitol or District 13. No, the teenager who was plucked out of the arena at the end of Catching Fire, half collapsed is not the perfect hero. Wilson is right that Katniss disappoints us from the off by entering into the first arena, and then the second. But as Mark Cosper states in his response to Wilson, Maximus (Wilson’s ‘better’ hero from the Gladiator) disappoints as well -a general of the Roman army, an experienced soldier, and a tactician both on and off the battlefield. He would have known how to kill men, and a lot of them. If he is the pure hero who refused to enter into the game of the oppressors Wilson was appealing to, I think he was looking in the wrong place, especially since Maximus is motivated not for some greater good, but to seek vengeance – see ‘husband of a murdered wife’ speech for evidence. Not quite the Christ-model we wanted either.
Something I think Wilson’s review missed, but Cosper touched on slightly, was the culture of the Capitol and the Districts. Wilson wants a classic dark vs light plot, he wants his Gandalf and his Dumbledore and his Lucy, Edward, Susan and Peter. But what we are given in The Hunger Games is surely a more realistic portrayal of a revolutionary. And that is why I think Wilson is fundamentally flawed in his critique of the books. Collins knows us well. It doesn’t take a genius to look up, outside of our safe Western bubble and see countries like Syria – wrestling for revolution and seemingly failing. Lybia, torn apart by factions and fighting, Egypt, swinging between the goodies and the baddies except no one knows which one is which. If you want the perfect revolution then you have chosen the wrong world. There is only one man who was good and his name is Jesus. To look for the ultimate hero in a character who is merely displaying the full palette of human sinfulness and a rare spark of god-likeness is like looking for a cheerio in a bowl you know is only full of Weetabix. Katniss is not meant to be Christ. She is a brilliant portrayal of every weak thought, every misguided naivity and every bold defiance that the human race is capable of. And the society that Collins paints for us is a brilliant mish-mash of light and dark, exactly like real life.
The Hunger Games are sick – and yet scarily realistic. I’m a Celebrity, Jeremy Kyle, Dr Phil, Big Brother, America’s Next Top Model. What is the aim of these programmes? Entertainment at the suffering of someone on a screen. Sometimes we are entertained by their joy, but most of all we are entertained when they are hurting or hurting someone else. The only difference in the Hunger Games is that the reality TV show is used to muster fear not pleasure. One step away. Same Games, different motive. Same people watching. The truth of the matter is, we are not District 12 longing for a hero to save us from oppression. Most of us watching the Hunger Games fit into the Capitol with our crazy hair, stupid make up and unthinkable fashion. If a Katniss came along to take away our ‘pleasure’, we would probably sue her because we demand our rights up here in the Capitol.
My point is that Suzanne Collins has painted a society that is too close to the bone for some of us to realize what she is saying. We are longing for a hero when most of the time we are the ones oppressing the Districts and enabling the Games. We need a Katniss to slap us round the face. What I fear, is that when society takes the step of using our reality games to muster power, division and fear, we won’t realize what is happening. We’ll be as blind as the Capitol.
I vividly remember being at a dinner party once with a Serbian friend who warned us of a dangerous pride. She said, ‘You think you are safe sitting here in your ‘civilised’ country. But my country drowned in its war very quickly. We thought we were civilized too, but then brother turned on neighbor and it all changed.’ And Rwandan friends say the same thing. Don’t think it won’t happen to you in the West – when humans start fighting the depths of sinful darkness spreads out like black ink that cannot be recovered. Civil war might not break out here, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we started putting a little more danger in our reality games for the sake of the viewers. And when the government wants to inspire fear where are they going to turn – to the thing we are all addicted to, our televisions. Albert Einstein said once ‘I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.’ We are sleep walking into that idiocy.
To return to Katniss, she is not the Christ-like figure we look for. She is an imperfect hero who stands up against a regime for right and wrong reasons. She is a girl torn by the desire to preserve life and preserve herself. She is a woman haunted by the things she has done and the things done to her. She is a person hurting from the pain inflicted on the people she loves and wanting justice to be done. And the great affliction for her and us as readers at the end of the book is that we haven’t moved from dystopia to utopia. Things are still broken. Everything is fragile. In 2013 we don’t have colosseums to watch the expendable killing each other. We do it on TV’s with words. In 2000 years we haven’t moved from dystopia to utopia, we are in a mess. And we need a perfect Saviour to remove our iniquities and peel away this shadow to reveal the new world that is waiting.
When I say ‘God’ what do you think?
Do you imagine a beard in the sky?
Do you think of a grotesque picture of a dictator on high?
Do you see a judge making ‘guilty’ his cry?
Then we aren’t thinking of the same God
Allow me to paint you a song,
Of a God who became a baby
So we could belong…
On Monday it was my day off, and for the first time in a long time I took to the roads of Northumberland on my bike. My co-Relay worker Sam also came along for the ride. It was an absolutely stunning day – clear, crisp skies and snow in the fields once we got out into the countryside proper. The fresh air and bliss of riding around thinking about nothing except how fast to pedal was so relaxing. What a way to spend a day off!
There were however, a few hairy moments, largely due to the amount of snow on the smaller roads. Just before the ride I had tried to swap my summer ‘slick’ tyres for my winter grippy ones. But because the tyres were so cold and tight I snapped three tyre levers just trying to get them off. So swapping the tyres was not an option, I just had to brake gently in advance of any hazard or corner so that I didn’t end up flying off the bike. This only got slightly dangerous when we were out by Medburn and the snow and slush and ice meant that it was anyone’s guess where which direction my tyres would head in. Miraculously, I managed to stay upright, much to the disappointment of Sam who was watching eagerly a couple of metres back on all of the snowy areas.
All in all, it was a beautiful day, a beautiful ride and a wonderful way to spend a monday afternoon!
A very sombre title I know, but I have recently heard of way too many cyclists being killed by vehicles, and accidents which just sound horrific! The other day I was cycling out through Kenton and loads of ambulances zoomed past. Then I was gutted when I saw that they were all heading for a roundabout; lots of traffic, cyclist on the floor, metres away from his bike. He was in a bad condition to say the least. It was grim, and I’m pretty sure it was a collision with a white van, which barely had a dent in it. And recently there has been a load of controversy in London about cyclists after the chairman of Addison Lee, the taxi company, mouthed off about cyclists and seemed to be saying that he doesn’t want them on roads at all! (If you want to read up on the story, here’s a brief summary.)
What upsets me the most about the way I’m treated on the road is how little drivers think ahead. On Monday I went out for a ride and FOUR times and car overtook me at great speed only to slam the brakes on (causing me to slam my brakes on even harder) so that they could take an impending left turn. On a couple of occasions it was a very near miss (Mum if you’re reading this, don’t worry, I’m fine, and yes I was wearing my high vis). The only thing those motorists would have had to do to make the situation safe is think to themselves ‘right, I’m turning left in 100 metres, that means that the best thing to do is slow down for a very short amount of time behind this cyclist so that I don’t have to cut them off and almost cause a crash’. What annoys me is how little people would be held up, its literally a matter of seconds, not minutes! And yet drivers insist on taking the gut reaction of overtaking even when its an idiotic choice.
Another thing that really gets me going is when drivers don’t even bother to cross the white line to overtake you because there is oncoming traffic, EVEN when the oncoming traffic is only like 2 cars! All they would have to do is wait behind you for those two cars and then they could pull out safely and have loads of time to get round you. People don’t slow down either, so if its raining and I swerve to miss a drain and a car is zooming past me (within the white lines at 40mph) then I have little or no time or space to react. Its ridiculous! A car would easily kill me if it hit me at that speed, and yet drivers just don’t make the effort to take an extra few seconds and make it safe. Equally annoying is when people try and overtake you when there is an island crossing coming up and they just don’t have space so you get squeezed out! Disaster from the cyclists point of view but I’m not sure drivers even care! I really hope and pray that I never get hit by one of those careless drivers. But as I cycle more and more, I am increasingly realising how dangerous the roads are for cyclists. And it worries me! How long will it be before a near miss becomes something worse? It wouldn’t take very much at all for a car to cut it too fine and I would be a gonner! I’m not saying I expect this to happen, I just mean it would be an awful shame, especially considering how easy it is for motorists to take care and slow down for cyclists. We are talking about a difference between waiting for SECONDS behind a cyclist, and risking their LIFE.
Its a no brainer if you ask me.
As a driver myself, I know how easy it is to not think about other road users and just concentrate on getting where you want to go. But if you are reading this as any kind of motorist, please can I urge you to take those few extra seconds to slow down behind a cyclist and make sure its safe FOR THEM before you overtake. It will make such a difference to the safety of cycling on the roads!
‘if we must die, let it be cycling’
A thoroughly compelling insight into a group of people living and cycling together, despite massive disability.