Opinion and Economic Analysis

HICKS: Finding freedom through 'The Hunger Games'

April 28, 2012

The Hicks household now boasts a newly minted teenage daughter. Those of us in similar demographic circumstances have spent most of the last couple of years hearing about a book series (and much anticipated movie) called “The Hunger Games.” I confess to having not paid much attention to the phenomenon, imagining it would be as mercifully transient as the Bieber haircut. In truth, I am far more interested in my newly 13-year-old’s algebra homework than I am her extracurricular reading. I now attend to both.

For this first teenage birthday, my wife and a friend treated their two daughters to the midnight premier of the movie. My wife shocked me with a 3 a.m. text message proclaiming the movie well worth staying up for. She was not alone; as many as one out of every 200 Americans watched it on opening night.

I am no movie aficionado—in fact, I think the industry took a turn for the worse after “Casablanca”—so I cannot speak to the movie itself. However, the buzz among kids was enough to compel my 11-year-old boy to sacrifice a day of spring break video game bacchanalia to read the book (Mrs. Hicks’ precondition for watching the movie).

What has kept me in a three-week state of shock is the message about values our kids are getting from this work. The story takes place in a dystopian America of captive states from which, each year, one boy and girl are chosen by lottery to fight to the death for the televised pleasure of prosperous city dwellers.

The story borrows liberally from literature and history that few teens now recognize, but they do understand enslaved gladiators fighting for reality-TV audiences.

Throughout the book, I wondered if I was reading something Ayn Rand might have written if she were a better writer. It is a scathing depiction of big government (and big Hollywood). More important, the book offers a moral take on loyalty that is absent in the missives of Libertarianism.

The protagonists in “The Hunger Games” would not recognize the unbridled caricature of self-interest that animates Rand’s philosophy. Rather, it celebrates humanity under the most difficult of circumstances. It is powerful stuff. But what will that mean?

At least two more movies are expected to extend the franchise. For the first time in half a century, a strong, successful and lasting message from popular culture is confidently delivering a very different story about personal freedom and responsibility than we have been accustomed to hearing.

Even so, “The Hunger Games” is thoroughly modern in its tastes. Its center of strength and courage is a poor, young Appalachian girl.

I do not know author Suzanne Collins’ politics and I hope she will not try to craft a new philosophy like Rand, but I hope she writes more books about the beauty of freedom, love and sacrifice.

These are matters about which we all need more frequent reminding.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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