Second Part, Hunger Games: Popularizing Dystopia and the Accidental Heroine

larawan ng haring si Oedipus matapos bulagin ang kanyang sarili

Knowing oneself comes at a great cost, so says the classic tragedy/

The classic drama of yesteryears requires that the hero must have noble birth. He must also have one tragic flaw that will show his humanity and cause his downfall. The hero’s fall must incite pity or fear from the audience, inasmuch as it will result to  the hero’s self-awareness – that of being human. Oedipus from Sophocles’s works and Prince Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are the classic examples of tragic heroes. The hero is up on the pedestal at the beginning and descends his way through the story. The climax of the drama is the fall from grace and the realization of his humanity, necessarily uniting the audience and the hero. He is but one of us, he commits errors.


In modern day drama, noble birth has been replaced with ordinariness. This is often termed in Literature as the anti-hero – the average member. In this paradigm, the reversal of fortune is not caused by the action of the flawed hero but due to circumstances, accidents, that could befall any member of that society. Heroic deed, therefore, is not restricted to a man with a larger- than-life presence, but rather, to anybody. He or she will exhibit his heroic sides as he struggles against the hardships and challenges thrown his way. The audience will identify with the hero, not because of his weakness, but because he does something extraordinary while still remaining human – one of us.


Katniss Everdeen, the character in the movie, Hunger Games, is an example of today’s anti-hero. She volunteered in behalf of her younger sister, Primrose, in Panem’s annual ritual called the Reaping. She has become our accidental heroine, unwillingly thrown into the fray, to play the game of death – to kill or be killed. She was very ordinary, in many ways. She came from a very poor village, known as District 12, living the close- to- starvation existence, a rather common lot. She provides for her family – a mother who chose to escape from reality after her husband’s tragic and untimely death, and a sister, who is still young and innocent.


The Reaping is a tradition in that country. It is a killing spree with only one survivor  in the end. It is a public spectacle, as the “meet” is televised in the whole kingdom or territory. The drawing of lot at the village level is a much-dreaded point among the citizens, but the actual fight among the delegates in the center is a much-awaited event. It is organized at the highest level, with all the glamour and glitz, as it is followed by every citizen  with zeal. The Reaping calls to mind the ancient tradition among the Aztecs, the rite of offering up virgins to the gods. On the other hand, there is also the gladiators – slaves made to fight among themselves in the arena – for the amusement of the emperor, his friends and family. We are no strangers to people killing each other to wow the roaring crowd; world history has these episodes.

Catharsis or the idea of an organism bleeding itself is also a feature of the classic drama. In the play, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus blinds himself, to pay for his errors and finally see the truth. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello commits suicide. In Hunger Games, the Reaping appears to be a catharsis of the system. The battle among the delegates, is Panem’s  annual rite to renew its people’s way of life. What kind of life, we may ask. It is hinted, the unequal kind – the rule-maker versus the rule-follower, the cosmopolitan people versus the village people, the life with the wide economic and technological divides. Another way to put it – the Reaping is a tradition to keep the peace, to keep the lid on constituents who dare to rise in mutiny to upset the system. Successive attempts at rebellion are prevented by bringing bloodshed close to people’s memory – a cruel but necessary reminder – from the point of view of those who run the system.


Thus, Hunger Games seems to be about a system based on coercion of the many by the few. It is a flawed system. It is full of defects and it is suggested in the movie’s first installment, not tenable. Over time, it will be undone. Will the heroine be the cause of the system’s undoing? Will she rise to the occasion?  Will the system give way all too easily?  We do not know yet… The first of the Hunger Games series acquaints us with the background of the contending parties – the way they live their everyday lives, their ties to the people around them, the pecking order or the hierarchy in the  lower and the upper echelons of that society and, the motivations of the characters – what keeps them going, what do they prize? The movie takes us on tour around the heroine’s community and gives us a glimpse of her laid-back life – a young woman with a love prospect but keener on keeping what remains of her family – together.


larawan ng mga mamamayang pare-pareho na nagmamartsa sa isang lipunang dystopic

Dytstopias often rally against standardization of life and uniformity of the individual/

In our earlier discussion, we pointed the difference between Utopias and dystopias. Utopias are big narratives inspiring people on what kind of world humans can achieve if we perceive and work together as humans connected. Utopias usually talk about breaking chains – the chains of selfishness, nearsightedness and discord among people to bring about a better, more prosperous, more harmonious world. On the other hand, while dystopias concede that there is a structured society woven tight by strong and well-set mechanisms and traditions, they talk about undoing it. In this sense, utopias often play the part of critiques, tirades against the system. The dystopian genre in Literature normally features collective starvation, class divide, remote governance and wide technological gap. At the individual level, it poses the questions of superficiality, loneliness and disconnect among society’s members.


In Literature, dystopian works fall under science fiction, a subset of speculative fiction. Thus, the society depicted in the works are always theoretical, fictional or, theatrical. They are usually ultra-modern societies set in the future. Curiously, they are against the standardization of life, the very core of structured and modern living. Thus, many dystopian works discuss the effects of automation, industrialization, uniformity of habits and routines on the people who are but intent to go on with their lives. Using the fictive setting, dystopian works take a snapshot of the individual lost and almost helpless, amidst the new technology and the new forms of enjoyment. They normally expose the system as oppressive and bereft of essential values – sense of family, sense of self and sense of community. The individual trudging along “modern” life alienated, will he or she see her way through the system? Or, will she bring down the system to make way for a new one?


As narratives, Utopia and dystopia have been examined thoroughly in the last few decades both in Literature and the social science fronts. Academicians, historians and leading intellectuals have chastised these forms as being too system bound, system centric and system focused. The time of metanarratives has long been over, some loudly proclaimed. It is now time for people to see civilization and history as fragments and not to be tied down to analyzing power and control. These are interesting topics for those who are into the history of philosophical thoughts. In the meantime, I would recommend the works of Michel Foucault (the French guy, yes) and the writings of Noam Chomsky (the American professor). Foucault’s works on the deindividuation of power deserves a look, while Chomsky’s universal grammar is worth studying (if one has the patience and the time, haha). These two personages featured prominently in my college years. ^_^

Chomsky is still around by the way, and is actively involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Foucault, however, passed away in 1984, one of the first to die from AIDS. These figures are important in the way that they make well-argued cases against structured society and control in today’s modern world. Chomsky argues fluently for anarchy while Foucault defended sexuality and care of self for the individual. In social science, Foucault’s works have triggered new concepts like the hubs, patches and oasis approaches to development, seeming to make change a much doable thing for the individual. For the big question appears to be – does the individual still matter, in this complicated day and age? Can he still introduce change into the system? Or, will the set-up crush him and his spirit,  just like the members of the society he belongs to – a collective grouping defeated – a long time ago?


As a drama, am afraid that Hunger Games, the movie, is too nuanced. It takes a swipe at several aspects of today’s living: ours. It pokes at the 99%  versus the 1% equation, it mocks the pervasiveness of reality shows in our lives (shows that put premium on the individual’s competitiveness and deaden the viewers’ sense of violence), it questions the use of digital technology (are the gadgets and platforms there to spy and control the vulnerable members?) and it stirs some issues in the field of  modern science (the moral use of genetic modification and engineering and bio-chemical warfare). On the other hand, I would suppose that all the conflicts mentioned  are mere backdrops of the story that is yet to unfold. Hunger Games is a character-driven narrative and it is to be expected that more film rolls will be employed to show the audience – what makes for a modern-day heroine.


larawan ni Katniss Everdeen bilang isang karaniwang babae sa komunidad

Heroes are ordinary human beings who are no strangers to difficult circumstances/

Does Katniss have special, inborn qualities that we do not have? Did she have special training that would prepare her for heroic deeds? So far, in the first installment, we are treated with Katniss doing the oldest survival technique: avoidance of danger. She survived the first round not by killing anybody, not by actively engaging in the fray, but by practicing the guerrilla strategy all by her lonesome. The romantic angle among the three – Katniss, Peeta and Gale – makes for a delightful touch for the movie’s distinct young adult viewership. For adults like me, I wish there were dashes more (haha, that’s just me). At any rate, I was talking about dystopia being hard stuff, reluctant heroine warming up to the role and about young people taking interests in systems and heroism in these times, even only at fictional dimension. The movie tackled the question of sacrifice – are today’s youth capable of it?  The fashionable orientation nowadays is to be competitive, to win the game of life –  only for the self.


Image of a poster quoting Alexander Hamilton about heroism and bravery

Heroism requires training and maturity that will prepare one for precarious situations/

Hunger Games shows the audience that the heroine is ordinary in several ways. And yet, the movie posits that she is also extraordinary. In short, I would presume that not everybody can be a heroine. How and why? It is their times, their personal circumstances and their location at that point in history that determine the role that they would play in history’s unfolding. In Literature, it is called context. Context explains that heroism is not achieved in a vacuum. The hero or the heroine must have special skills (hunting, trapping and climbing, in the movie) gained from being constantly exposed to danger, must be used to taking risks for others in her regular life and that society must affirm the heroic deed as an extraordinary act of compassion for the other members. Short of this combination, what one has may simply be called competitiveness or adventurism or, the daring of the amateur.


In short, heroes are made, not born. They are prepared to risk dangers and lay down their lives, when necessary. In this sense, while they may look ordinary to you and me, look like you and me, live like you and me, they are also special and exemplary individuals. And they do not come into their roles uninitiated. One might even say, they spent their lives preparing for it, not knowing that one day they would be commended for having performed an altruistic act. For them, the situation maybe precarious and they are vulnerable like any other, could even die, but it is a matter of duty for them to step in and be responsible for others. In this sense, heroes and heroines, fictional or not, do not come in as accidents. They come from a different cast, really feel life a bit more and see the need to merge their own with others in difficult circumstances. For only in so doing, could they realize and live up to the demands of that inner hunger. ***


larawan ng isang taong tumatalon ng mataas

Are ordinary human beings capable of heroic acts? Yes, if they are prepared to take the risks for others/


Hunger Games: Popularizing Dystopia and the Accidental Heroine

larawan ng bidang babae sa pelikulang Hunger Games

Hmmn, isn’t hunting for your food a kinky idea in these times of processed foods?/


I recently saw one of my nieces reading the book, Hunger Games. That was the third time I saw her read – the first was Harry Potter and the second was, you guessed right, Twilight. On the other hand, I know several people, a bit older than my niece, who are now reading 1984 or Brave New World. Hunger Games,  the movie, set them into reading trips. The said film talks about dystopia or a system gone wrong, also the subject matter of the two novels mentioned.

Dystopia, as a concept, is oftentimes huge and deep. Unless one is an avid reader of science fictions, the concept of a flawed system isn’t always that easy to understand or to digest. For young people, especially. I suppose that to think in terms of systems, particularly social systems, one has to do a lot of abstract thinking – accepting premises, ingesting milieus and familiarizing oneself with the literary nuances and details. I guess the average young adult does not usually bother with such. Certainly, there are far more interesting things to deal with.

The fact that Hunger Games did just that to many young people deserves praise. While one can argue that much of their resolve to read may have something to do with the hype or the desire to conform to peers, still, I give due points to works that are able to bring difficult concepts into the mainstream. To engage the youth to venture further, to learn a little more about the film’s subject, even as it seems to be” hardcore” stuff. Other popular films only set them off to buy souvenir shirts or memorabilia. Hunger Games directed them to read. That isn’t exactly a raw deal.


Before we go further, let me mention a bit about Utopia, the opposite of dystopia. It’s about social systems working at their best, if not perfectly. The concept is not really new to us. The idea of the paradise that was lost to Adam and Eve, belongs to that. So was the Republic of Plato. And yes, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the rendition of the futuristic, perfect society. Still not to be forgotten was Karl Marx’s communist society. These works of literature outline for the reader – the world –  the best that human civilization can achieve with a good measure of social engineering.

And even as we may question the premises of these thinkers or philosophers, their ideological frameworks, it should be noted that not all authors have gone through such effort – to envision and to paint the ideal world in a programmatic way, for the humankind. In Literature, those social models are called metanarratives or an all-embracing sytem of written thoughts. Metanarratives have the effect of mobilizing people – governments, movements and organizations –  making them act upon the philosophies forwarded therein, working towards the achievement of the visions  in the narratives. In short, carefully argued metanarratives often inspire people en masse.


On the other hand, dystopia as a narrative, poses a different perspective. It often  questions the prevailing system and the values holding the system intact. It points out the defects of the set-up and endeavors to show the cracks, the weaknesses and what goes on in the inner sanctum of the rule makers of the system. Oftentimes, the style used by the dystopia authors is contrasting the small citizen, the ordinary member, against the all-powerful, seemingly infallible, authorities. Curiously, one common feature of dystopia creations is the remoteness of the central government – the decision-makers – in relation to its territory and people.

Another latent feature of dystopia, as typified in Hunger Games, is the counterposing of modernity and backwardness. Dystopias call the attention of the reader or the viewer, as to the level of civilization humankind has so far attained. In the movie, this is accomplished by showing the main characters living in a pre-industrial mode, thriving and barely surviving through hunting and gathering, with their leisure hours spent strolling and looking over the verdant prairie. Contrast this with the cosmopolitan, sanitized center where foods are abundant, technology is state-of- the-art and leisure could be had in an instant and at its most stylish.


On one hand, there is the advanced segment – composed of those who enjoy the fruits of society’s labor and call the shots over the lives of ordinary citizens. On the other extreme, there is the lagging sector – comprised by those who toil and break their backs and yet, have been starkly left behind. Small, obscure lives suddenly brought to the fore by necessary rituals – to enforce society’s traditions. Dystopias often  point out the disparities in the everyday conduct of lives before zooming in to that one moment – when the two far ends would meet and clash – to test the strength of the system and the values that the opposing poles hold dear. And the outcome of that encounter will decide whether the system stays. Or, not… (to be continued) ~~~


roads and time unencumbered

larawan ng highway sa Kamaynilaan na walang gaanong trapiko

Days when the streets in Metro Manila are deserted are few and far between/


Cruisin’ the highways during the Lenten season has become a favorite activity of mine over the years. On those days, the big city looks deserted – most establishments are taking time off, very few people on the streets and suddenly, one notices that four-lane roads are just that – four-laned – after all. (On ordinary days, cars are parked on either sides of the road – indefinitely. The moving vehicles had to squeeze through.) No banks open, restaurants hang their CLOSED signs and only a few pedestrians dare to walk on the baking concretes. It’s summer, all right.

The vendors that usually line up most avenues have also taken their holidays – doing the laundry perhaps, resting with their families at home, maybe or most likely, catching up on the Lenten specials. The city streets and the side streets all get to take their breather. A couple of souls  grace the streets and the pavements – on errands or on their way home. One or two private cars would zoom past us. Even the traffic lights look desolate, the pair of eyes looking at them markedly lessened. How many million city-residents went back to the province to catch up with their relatives? How many opted for a weekend get-away?


A Jazon Mraz with Raul Midon song was playing on the car CD.  I like Midon, he’s got a manly, soothing voice, one of the few artists I immediately liked upon hearing for the first time. My sister and I are not exactly in sync’d when it comes to music. She has this  You-must-put-up-with-it-am-the-driver-I-get-to-select-what’s-to-be-played (One can only choose among Mraz’s songs and most of them are lazy). I allay her fears, often. I tell her that I happen to like Mraz’s  Details in the Fabric. To which she usually retorts, “only because James Morrison is in it.” Haha, there’s some truth there, actually. She drove quieter than usual, her customary road rage temporarily tucked away, I don’t know if in observance of the Christian holiday.  We were on our way to the province, before her scheduled out of town Easter trip. ~~~


We did not visit the siblings and the relatives in our native village. We just did the rounds of relatives in the city in our province, only two sets of nieces and nephews actually. Then, we swung to the public cemetery in town to update our mother on who among her grandchildren graduated. We told her that her eldest son’s kids finished with honors – the grandson will now be going to college and the little one, the granddaughter (who’s not so little anymore) is a valedictorian. Afterwards, we took photographs of the sky – the moon basking in its full glory – with crosses atop the tombs serving as picture frames. It was fun though uneventful, unhurried and unencumbered in many ways. The three healthy teenagers with us had a good time – in the cemetery. ~~~


It’s still holidays and I am very much infected with the laziness of the surroundings. At any rate, let me share with you the music I’ve been listening to, in the past month  ~~~



Elend – dark and gothic indeed.



In Gowan Ring – very poetic, sounds folksy somehow.



Elisa – talented girl, sings of tough love.


Happy Easter, people! Many happy returns of the week…  🙂


a silly, simple poem

larawan ng pabalat ng aklat uko sa lumang panahon

Good, old days are long gone/


Not the dog days and the forgotten ways

Not the highways and byways, of dark forays

Not the butts and ends, in creaky stairways

Not the jetsam and flotsam of the good, old days.



Not the pinching worries, where the future lays

The world’s no constant, nothing and no one stays?

Let me then sing to you, of gladness and li’l sways

Dear, oh, dear, I’ll tell you ‘bout now, today! 🙂