Last weekend I saw the latest film in the Hunger Games series. I enjoyed it – always assuming that “enjoy” is the right verb to use for this kind of film. But before you read any further, I do have a confession to make. I’ve never read the books and I haven’t seen the first film. So if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the nuances in the trilogy, then I’m afraid that you won’t find it here.
Instead, I’m going to confine myself to one aspect of the totalitarian regime it portrays (which I understand is meant to have survived for 75 years) that strikes me as implausible and so (for me) severely limits the power of the story. If you wanted to suppress an entire population for that length of time, then the system used to control the districts (“the games”) simply wouldn’t work. And I believe that the portrayal of the victor’s tour at the start of this film makes this point for me.
If social identity theory is right, then the most effective way for a totalitarian (or any other) regime to ensure that the majority remain on your side (or, at least, have no reason to oppose you) is to identify specific groups of people to scapegoat and discriminate against. You then use tools (language is a pretty powerful one) to further encourage depersonalisation of these out-groups. That way, you reinforce a positive social identity in everyone else (the in-group) on the basis of the out-groups being “not like us”. So long as you can ensure that the vast majority have enough different out-groups to scapegoat and deflect attention away from the regime, then you stay in power.
So the problem with The Hunger Games is that the reaction to the victor’s tour demonstrates that the out-group isn’t the “volunteers” who are forced to play in “the games”, but that it’s the regime itself. I’d estimate the regime would be overthrown shortly after the first games – in other words, about 74 years before the film is set. Which is a bit of a problem of course. Whereas I believe that the totalitarian regime portrayed in Orwell’s 1984 would last forever, as the shadowy leaders of that fictional country appear to understand how to manipulate the tenets of social identity theory to their advantage.
Now, as I said at the start, I haven’t read the books or even seen the first film. I know that it’s fiction and has much to commend it, not least the positive portrayal of Katniss. And you’re obviously a decent human being, because you wouldn’t be reading this blog entry if you weren’t, so I’m sure that you don’t want to start a totalitarian regime. I understand that. Really, I do.
… but, hypothetically, if you wanted to establish a successful totalitarian regime, you’d pick the model in 1984 rather than the one in The Hunger Games, wouldn’t you?
This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 4th December 2013.