John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
You have to wonder why it is that American movie audiences love dystopian, failed-state movies that portray this country as a place where everything went wrong at some point and we end up as a plutocracy run by imbeciles, bullies and power-mad psychotics.
The latest entrant into this odd, disquieting genre is “The Hunger Games,” based on the first volume of a trilogy of young-adult books by author Suzanne Collins.
It features a nation gone completely mad, in which the wealthy elite create a gladiatorial fight to the death among teenage “tributes,” youths selected from a dozen “districts” that make up what is left of the United States of America.
Like other gladiatorial fantasies depicted in pop culture, it is a regular event, put on annually for the enjoyment of the lazy, febrile rulers in the capital who need bloody entertainment to relieve the boredom of their humdrum, luxury-laden lives.
I must admit, before going on, that I have not read the trilogy nor seen the movie, though I guess I’ll do both just to see what all the fuss is about.
But I also should note that I’ve seen enough precursors of this kind of thing that I feel as if every new example is an exercise in dejà vu all over again.
An early example, in my cinematic experience, was a remarkably bad movie titled “Wild in the Streets.” Released in 1968, a year of iconic associations in this nation, it centered on the granting of the electoral franchise to anyone 15 or older and subsequently lowering to 14 the age at which one can run for national office.
The film is a hodgepodge of political philosophies and dogma, and those seeing it for the first time today would undoubtedly find it simply hilarious and nothing more.
But in 1968 it was heady stuff, particularly for impressionable teenagers wondering how they would ever live through the hypocrisy and evil surrounding us on all sides.
It was, after all, the year that gave us both the Summer of Love in San Francisco and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. To describe our national mood at the time as deeply confused would be putting it mildly.
But the confusion, as anyone with eyes and a brain can see, has not abated in the years since “Wild in the Streets.” And that fact is brought glaringly into focus every now and then by one offering or another from that arbiter of our national conscience, Hollywood.
“The Hunger Games” is one such offering.
It is wildly popular, having topped the weekend box-office sweepstakes with $61 million in its second week of release.
Granted, the film’s target audience, teenagers, have been known to flock to theaters in droves over just about anything that promises relief from their prosaic lives and confirmation of their important role in the world.
The more fantastic the content, the better, as shown in the ongoing enthusiasm for stories having to do with vampires, alienation and young lust.
This one is a little different, dealing as it does with themes that do not bode well for our current realities.
Consider the ingredients of this recipe for our future: a ruling class completely out of touch with the sufferings of the masses, an entertainment vehicle that calls for competitive mayhem and death, and a promise that the winner will bring back tons of goodies for his or her home district that does nothing to alleviate the suffering but everything for keeping the population distracted and calm.
It’s all hyperbole, to be sure, but underneath there is a tone of desperation, a wailing appeal for a more compassionate, more honest way of running our country that cannot be ignored.
And according to some, it is an abysmal film, erratic and flawed enough to be considered unwatchable.
But maybe those critics simply don’t get the underlying fear and frustration and deliberately try to discount the message for the rest of us.
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