I really enjoyed the movie, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” yesterday, and the strong emotional response I had experienced deepened this morning when I went back to read up on the movie and the cast. I had one of those moments when I realized something important had broken open inside me. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on.
The first and most obvious reason for me tears was empathy with Jennifer Lawrence. At 23 years of age she has already won a Best Actress Oscar and starred in two of what will be four block-buster movies that will set her up financially for the rest of her life. She is a remarkably talented and well-connected young lady who has met with extraordinary good fortune and can do anything she wants with her whole adult life. She has such potential, such possibilities – but it is all still unknown! I find this extraordinarily optimistic and exciting.
More importantly, though, my emotional resonance was with the political and social commentary of the movie.
I am reminded of the Terminator and Matrix trilogies. I believe their tremendous success manifested a real cultural fear of the time about technology becoming “conscious.” For me the particular of the stories is not important, but rather the general theme and its resonance with a public concern is profoundly significant. Maybe this fear is less in the younger generations, but us old folk were pretty paranoid for a while. This fear has subsided, but I think that in Catching Fire I was picking up on a new resonance with a new public consciousness – and one that I don’t think will wane.
This consciousness is reflected in the recent successful (and very enjoyable!) movies Elysium and In Time (also, more obliquely, as District 9), which told the story of a massive majority of the population living in awful and impoverished conditions and finally rising up against the brutal control of a police/military might operating for the affluent and extravagant tiny minority who are blissfully unaware. This same consciousness is present in a more mundane sense in articles people have recently sent me such as (An NY Times opinion) and (an interview with a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist).
I believe that there is massive institutionalized injustice in our nation. That it has become institutionalized is a horror, for this is a barrier to awareness that prevents those who propagate the injustice from feeling the suffering, and allows then to justify their pampered life with stories of their birth-right, talent, hard work, and responsibility; it hides from them the forces employed on their behalf to maintain their privilege. They are unable to see what is happening from inside their privilege.
The victims can see clearly, though. They see clearly but feel unable to change things. They have tried to use the democratic process but corporate agendas and entrenched powers preempt. They have tried to engage in conversation with their overseers but cannot find a voice that will allow the privileged to hear and understand. I feel great pressures growing. Catching Fire is a great title for a movie at this time: is our nation ready to catch fire?
A large part of me says “Yes.” There is great anger and resentment in a massive portion of the population and it is looking for an outlet. There is a very large population working as hard as they can, often holding two jobs, but on minimum wage (the inevitable result of our service economy’s drive to abundant commodity jobs in McDonalds and Walmart) and therefore unable to afford to house their children in decent homes, to put healthy food on the table for them, or to live where they can get a decent public education. There is a vast and growing population of people who are disillusioned, disenfranchised, and disrespected. Surely the wealth gap cannot continue to grow?
But the political system has also institutionalized a different form of class divide, one which polarizes the poor into rival camps of socialist and conservative; liberal and gun-owner; minority and white Christian right. So long as the population continues to be divided against itself, it cannot catch fire. We will grow ever hotter and more volatile, but deprived of oxygen we will be unable to catch fire until one day the system will blow. Explosion is what happened in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917, and more recently has been happening across the Middle East (the title picture is from my trip earlier this year to Taksim Square). I pray that the privileged minority living in luxury homes within gated communities will wake up to the economic and humanitarian need to address our growing societal divisions before the tinder becomes so hot that it can no longer catch fire, but must rather explode.
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