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Musings on History, Violence, & The Hunger Games - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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April 17th, 2012


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02:40 am - Musings on History, Violence, & The Hunger Games
When I saw The Hunger Games a bit over a week ago, one of the more striking things in the film was the use of the mass media in the movie's setting. They had a similar reality-TV-like aesthetic, but for a show about children murdering one another. My first thought was that nothing like this would or could happen anywhere in any nation at all like any of the modern developed world. Legal restrictions aside, the entire developed world (and much of the rest of the planet) is now a place where open bloody violence is no longer acceptable entertainment, that's as true in Germany or Japan as it is in the US, even long cultural traditions like bull-fighting in Spain are under intense public pressure and are in the process of (thankfully) being banned. Anything involving bloody violence against humans is on the far cultural fringes even if it doesn't involve any risk of death or serious injury.

However, then I considered the past, including the recent past. 150 years ago, public executions were considered great fun by many and morally uplifting by some – people regularly took their children to them, both for the spectacle and for moral education. Going further back, we have quite a bit of writing from various Roman authors, and while a fair number of them wrote about gladiatorial combat, only one, Seneca wrote against them, and his objections were largely that they were only fit for base minds and that they promoted decadence among the viewers than that they were intrinsically hideous and wrong. Of course, prior to the early 20th century, with the rise of modern medicine, death was far more ever-present, and quite honestly life, including human life was considered far cheaper than it is in any of the developed world and much of the rest of the planet (life sadly remains pretty darn cheap in places like Pakistan or North Korea, but such hell-holes are growing increasingly rare).

In any case, if there was some way to combine pre-20th century attitudes towards violence with advanced technology (which seems far from impossible, especially if, like in the film, access to this technology was drastically unequal), then I can definitely see people avidly watching their view screens at the sight of children murdering one another. Such are the ways that humanity changes, and yet another reason that I regard the pre-modern past as universally hideous.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:pendelook
Date:April 17th, 2012 11:38 am (UTC)
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I haven't read the later two books, but the impression I've been getting from them is that the main aim of the social commentary is exactly that-- to point out that people in well-to-do societies are a lot more blind to others' suffering, advertising-happy, and willing to whitewash reality, than we tend to think they (we, in general) are. (IIRC the Capitol is supposed to be in what's now Canada, I think?)

I think there's a lot in the books that fails my BS-o-meter, particularly the way the plot bends around Katniss in unlikely ways to allow her the chance to be heroic all the time and still not get her head blown off, but their view of society's response to advertising, propaganda, and the ability of the well-off to fail to see inconvenient things, seemed really spot-on to me.
[User Picture]
From:roniliquidity
Date:April 17th, 2012 01:29 pm (UTC)
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It more apparent in the books than the movie, but we're supposed to think it's horrible, it's just the Capital and two favored districts that enjoy the games. It was originally intended as a punishment to annually remind the Districts how powerless they were in the face of the Capital.

It's also not that far-fetched in modern times. Forcing people to suffer and die because they deserve it is alive and well at conservative rallies when it comes to discussing universal healthcare, just look at the hooting and hollering when someone yelled "Let him die!" after Ron Paul was asked about the consequences of not buying health care. It's not far removed from celebrating the gory deaths of our enemies, they deserved it. If you combine that bloodthristness with the growing gap between the ultra-rich and subsistence poor, and their tendency to dehumanize each other, it's not that far off at all.
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From:heron61
Date:April 17th, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
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There's a vast difference between talk and watching people actually kill one another in screen. I'm sadly certain that there's a percentage of the viewing public in the developed world who would love such viewing, but I'm also fairly confident that it's less than 5%, and that the vast majority of the rest of the people would be appalled and outraged. Sure, we could get there from here, but I think it would take some really major social upsets and a number of generations.
[User Picture]
From:pendelook
Date:April 18th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
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but I'm also fairly confident that it's less than 5%

I'm not. At all. I think a lot of people would object right now since we haven't been raised to think that it's socially acceptable, but if we had, I'm fairly confident it would be significantly more than 5%. (In comparison, how many people feel so strongly that the commercial meat industry is cruel that they're willing to not support it-- simply because they were raised in a society that has decided that it's okay?) I definitely think the majority of well-to-do people who weren't affected by the Games would ignore them and shrug it off.

Especially considering, firstly, that it doesn't require enjoying the particular fact that it is real-- it's sufficient to let yourself forget that it is real.

And even more especially considering, secondly, the tremendous cost to not forgetting, in this case-- you'd then have to reconcile your feelings with the fact that saying anything about how you feel is so treasonous you could be executed for it.)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:April 18th, 2012 07:46 am (UTC)
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In comparison, how many people feel so strongly that the commercial meat industry is cruel that they're willing to not support it-- simply because they were raised in a society that has decided that it's okay?

In part, I think that's because we don't see videos of the inside of slaughterhouses on TV or anywhere else that you don't have to actively seek them out. If someone managed to change that, I think we'd see considerably more impetus to reform. One of the things I've seen about our current culture is that the best way to eliminate obvious violence is to direct the public's attention to it, which can be difficult because there are groups who work to direct people's interest away from profitable forms of violence, like large scale commercial slaughterhouses.
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From:pendelook
Date:April 19th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
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It's true that most people don't have to look at it. But when people do see pictures or documentaries, often they still keep their old ways... I mean, plenty of people have to read The Jungle for school (side note: yes, I do know that's not supposed to be the purpose of The Jungle, but it's still exposure), and most of them don't come out of it changing their own personal habits. I also notice that whenever someone points out how cruel slaughterhouses are in a discussion, the other party comes up with what usually seems like a flimsy excuse-- the truth underlying it usually seems to be something like, "Supporting it can't be really that bad, because [as far as I perceive] almost everyone does it." So, I wouldn't underestimate the factor of being raised in a society where it's just what's done, and therefore acceptable because it's always been accepted.
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From:alephnul
Date:April 18th, 2012 11:21 am (UTC)
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I always find it odd that Pakistan is your go to for modern hell holes. Why Pakistan rather than, say, Afghanistan or Somalia or Republic of Congo? Pakistan actually rates pretty well on happiness polls.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:April 21st, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm guessing the US is considered a hellhole by many people in Western Europe.

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