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The Hunger Games and Us

But one of the things that's happened since Ms. Collins began writing that has become especially relevant is The Hunger Games' depiction of a society in which a vast number of people scramble to get by while a tiny group of elite and ultra-wealthy make all the rules and control power, money, even food. Although Ms. Collins cannot have known when she began her epic that last year the Occupy Movement was going to draw the world's attention to the conspicuous gap between the haves and have-nothings, this story is a powerful retelling of our Great Recession, with those of us in the Districts toiling to get by while the 1% have big fun.

Whether or not Ms. Collins intended The Hunger Games to be about the worldwide economic downturn, her book and this record-setting film are here, with us now. As The Times pointed out this week, we actually underestimated the extent of income inequality in America of late. In 2010, 93% of new income generated went to the top one per cent, and a substantial chunk of that went to the very very richest—the one per cent of the one per cent, if you will. It hurts the head, and the heart, and the wallet. But even clearer than a bar graph is The Hunger Games, where we are able to dramatically see the excesses of the rich, the pain and suffering of the poor, and the wondering about what is going to happen next.

Maybe we're even wondering what we can do about it in the real world.

Maybe.

In Ms. Collins' story, injustice festers and the people are going to rise up—note the film's representation of District 11's revolt following the death of their young contestant Rue, a scene which isn't in the first novel. Katniss is already, by the end of The Hunger Games, becoming a figure around whom hope can organize itself—hope for a better, fairer, more equitable future.

In real life, though, the Occupy movement has lost steam, we have lost our sense of outrage, and bread and circuses have diverted our attention. Really? 37 per cent of additional wealth went to the wealthiest 15,000 people in America in 2010? Sorry. Can't possibly focus. Snooki is going to have a baby. The Desperate Housewives are at each other's throats. The Kardashians are losing their men.

Since our situation is not yet as desperate—or as deadly—as that of the Districts in The Hunger Games, I fear we may watch the movie, shake our heads, be glad for a nanosecond that our kids are not being taken away, and miss everything The Hunger Games might teach us.

Most importantly, we might miss this final message—that one person can actually make a difference. Katniss is a poor girl from an impoverished town in a beaten-down district. (For that matter, Jesus was a laborer's son from a backwater village in an unimportant Roman province.) She's only one person—or with her friends, a few. But as Margaret Mead said, never doubt that a small group of committed individuals is enough to make a difference. It is, in fact, the only thing that has ever made a difference.

Steven Zeitchik interviewed a college student who held onto this hope, that The Hunger Games would remind viewers that they can change the world: "I hope [the movie] opens up kids' eyes that if you do something about [injustice], it really does make a difference, because if one person stands up, other people start following."

Millions of people are sitting down to watch the movie. Will one person—at least—stand up?

3/27/2012 4:00:00 AM