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At Guernica, Rebecca Solnit on 'The Hunger Games'

May 11, 2012 |  3:55 pm

I thought I didn't need to read another word on "The Hunger Games." It's a bestselling book for young adults, a blockbuster movie starring an Oscar nominee who wields a bow and arrow, and it's generated almost as much Internet chatter as HBO's "Girls." But then comes Rebecca Solnit and, well, I'm curious.

One of our most interesting contemporary thinkers, Solnit has lately been looking into and beyond the surface of the news to try to understand how people exist together in the world, examining the elements of social cohesion and decay. Her recent books include "Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas," "Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics," and "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster."

In Guernica, she writes, "science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment." That trilogy is, as you can see, "The Hunger Games." She begins with the books themselves:

That these 24 youths battle each other to the death with one lone victor allowed to survive makes it like—and yet not exactly like—high school, that concentration camp for angst and competition into which we force our young....

But really, in this moment, the cruelty of teens to teens is far from the most atrocious thing in the land. The Hunger Games reminds us of that. Its Capitol is, of course, the land of the 1 percent, a sort of amalgamation of Fashion Week, Versailles, and the KGB/CIA. Collins’s timely trilogy makes it clear that the 1 percent, having created a system of deeply embedded cruelty, should go, something highlighted by the surly defiance of heroine Katniss Everdeen—Annie Oakley, Tank Girl, and Robin Hood all rolled into one—who refuses to be disposed of....

Then she turns to point out that the travails faced by Katniss have echoes -- much larger echoes -- in the real world. Like in "The Hunger Games," children from poor families are more likely to serve in the U.S. military, and Solnit points out that thousands of lives have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. She looks at real hunger, at how the burden of student debt is blocking education as a means of social advancement, at climate change and at quiet revolutions worldwide.

Along the way, she also mentions a few books: Bill McKibben's "Eaarth"; Jonathan Schell's "The Unconquerable World"; "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict" by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan; and "News from Nowhere" by William Morris.

"Resistance is one of your obligations," Solnit writes, "but it’s also a pleasure and a way of stealing back hope." Read her complete take on "The Hunger Games" at Guernica.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close / Lionsgate