Published on December 9th, 2013 |
by Mark Bou Mansour
The Politics of The Hunger Games’ Catching Fire: Simulation and Struggle – Pt 2
We talked about the online debate over the political message of the latest Hunger Games film in yesterday’s blog, arguing that the Hunger Games had a lot more to say about how reality is simulated in order to maintain power than about just economic inequality. We’re going to continue that argument today by analyzing the means of struggle, defiance and attack in the Hunger Games, and then look at the role of the media in today’s politics and during the Gulf War. We ended yesterday by looking at Baudrillard’s theory of simulation which brought us to the conclusion that everything is simulated by simulacra –signs which do not refer to an original- and so brought us to the conclusion that original reality has been destroyed. Where Baudrillard might see that as a dead end, Gilles Deleuze would see a way forward. SPOLIERS ahead.
Deleuze agrees with Baudrillard about the current condition of empty simulacra referring to each other and destroying original reality. But he isn’t so upset about it. If we stop looking at the original in a nostalgic way like Baudrillard does, and recognize that the original actually forms a structure of hierarchy –the original way of doing things, the original interpretation of a text, and so on- then the usurping of the original may not be such a bad thing. Attempts to prioritize the original in effect repress the possibility of something different or rebellious from emerging. As such, Deleuze argues for raising the simulacra to the same level of authority as the original. The importance of a sign shouldn’t be to communicate an original meaning, Deleuze states, but to explore the sensations and perceptions we can experience. So where people like Baudrillard would lament over pop art’s reproduction of the Mona Lisa because this process completely severs any link to the original meaning of the painting, Deleuze embraces pop art because it allows for a proliferation of different sensations and perceptions. Once the simulacra is put on par with the original, it is no longer the underlying ideas of the original that matter but the viewer and her manipulation. This is exactly what Katniss does when she decides to eat those berries.
Everything in the hunger games is simulated, and more importantly Katniss’s struggle against the Capital is a struggle over simulation. The actual hunger games themselves are held by the Capital not for the sake of killing adolescents but to simulate a reality dominated by the Capital. This reality is merciless, brutal, painful, cut-throat competitive, and hopeless. The only means to survival is to submit to the Capital’s rules. This simulation does not just apply to the arena and the games themselves but to the whole of Panem. The hunger games, the ceremonies and talk shows, along with the fashion, architecture, infrastructure and cleanliness of the districts, and the presence and brutality of Capital soldiers, all form a system of simulacra that refer to the unchallenged strength of the Capital’s rule over Panem. Through these simulacra, all is mediated so that a simulation where the Capital cannot be defied is produced. Hence, after 75 years of obedience, the only action which returns hope and sparks rebellion is not a militia attack on the Capital or a kidnapping of a political official from the Capital, but Katniss’s defiance of the simulation produced by the Capital. She refuses to accept a simulated reality in which she must kill Peeta. Katniss’s attack is an attack on the system of simulacra.
When watching Catching Fire, we’re never actually watching a struggle in the strict sense of physical combat but instead are watching a symbolic struggle, a struggle over simulation. Violence is almost completely restricted to the monopoly of the state. The rebels defy the Capital not through violence but through representative action –Rue’s whistle, the District 12 hand gesture, Mockingjay graffiti. Even when the Capital does use violence, this violence almost always primarily serves a symbolic purpose. The response to a crowd from Rue’s district whistling Rue’s song when Katniss gave a speech was not to punish the whole crowd, but to drag the old man who initiated the whistle to the top of the steps and execute him in exhibition. When Captain Thread arrives at District 12, the first thing he does is setup a public whipping post in the center of a square.
This struggle over simulation is captured best, however, when President –and part-time gardener- Snow and Head Gamemaker Heavensbee discuss their strategy to eliminate Katniss. “She has to die but in the right way”, Heavensbee states and elaborates that what they have to do is “not destroy her, only her image”. Meaning, her death is meaningless. What matters is the simulation of her death, or looked at differently, the death of her simulation. What ensues is an attempt by the Capital to cast Katniss as “one of them”, and to have her compete in the hunger games once again so that she would be forced to betray people. In effect, they want Katniss to submit to their simulation. Katniss, however, does not yield. Instead, she challenges their monopoly over the system of simulacra by producing new references, new sensations and perceptions. And, most important of all, by surviving while living in this new simulation. Katniss proves that cooperation and mercy can prevail in the hungers games. She fosters cooperation among the tributes, encouraging them to hold hands at the ceremonies in a display that strongly contradicts the Capital’s dog-eat-dog simulation. When forced to wear a wedding dress, Katniss twirls and transforms her attire into the symbol of the rebellion –right in the center stage of the Capital. And when finally trapped in a situation where her option for survival is betrayal, she instead fires her arrow upwards at the arena dome, effectively shattering the Capital’s simulation and making way for a new simulation to move in.
While The Hunger Games speaks of economic inequality and government dictatorship, it says much more on the struggle to question and challenge the simulated realities produced by authorities that dominate us.
It’s not difficult to see this struggle surrounding us today. Events and facts matter little today in comparison to the how they’re portrayed in the media. Unemployment rates and economic output statistics mean nothing in themselves. What matters is how they’re simulated to us by political parties and the media. Is a drop in unemployment indicative of the success of conservative policies or labor policies? Looking again at US politics, coverage over universal health care has been so simulated by the media that false rumors like “death panels” have been accepted and widely spread as facts in the debate. For Fox News, the battle against health care is very much a battle of simulation.
This is more so when it comes to media coverage of war. In his The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Baudrillard compares the actual events of the conflict in the Gulf to media coverage of the conflict. He concludes that the Gulf War was not an actual war but was an atrocity disguised, or simulated, as a war. Because the West’s perception of the Gulf War was saturated by media –by simulacra- it was impossible to differentiate between the stylized media representation of the events and what actually happened. Here is a video showing how the Gulf War was simulated.
While this video seems to suggest that the whole news report was a hoax filmed in a studio, recent debunking however has proved that the crew was actually filming on a set on a roof of a hotel in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. However, the issue here isn’t whether this was a hoax or not but how there is a stark contrast in tone when reporting. An elevated, almost exaggerated sense of urgency is adopted by the news reporter, despite his repetition of the fact that they have not seen any scud missiles and that local people were not panicking. At one point the news reporters put on their masks and take cover, but just how much this action was out of genuine concern or just for show is tricky to tell, especially when considering the city claimed to be under attack was Riyadh and not Dhahran. Regardless, the point here is not the authenticity of the news report, but the simulation of a live war scene despite there being little actual events taking place. A more recent example would be the war on terror where a war was waged on grounds that turned out to be complete farce –the threat of WMDS.
Summing up, there is a political struggle today over the simulation of reality through media representation. This struggle is not just captured in the Hunger Games series, but also in the debate over the meaning of the political context of the Hunger Games. It’s not the original meaning intended by Suzanne Collins that matters, but the simulation of this context over the blogosphere that is crucial. For both right-wing and left-wing writers, the challenge is to shape the Hunger games into simulacra that reinforce their simulation.
Food for Thought:
Will Catching Fire stir up a revolution?:
George Washington on the Hunger Games:
Major Works by Gilles Deleuze:
Difference and Repetition
The Logic of Sense
Anti-Oedipus (in collaboration with Felix Guattari)
What is Philosophy? (in collaboration with Felix Guattari)
Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.