A recent comic strip summed up life in these United States in 2012. Several rotund Americans are waiting in line at the movie theater. All are holding massive tubs of popcorn, jumbo candy bars and vats of soda. They’re queuing to watch “The Hunger Games.”
The movie is the hit of the year. In case you haven’t read it, the popular book takes place in a future United States that’s been rocked by civil war. A new “Capitol” is based in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by 12 “Districts.”
Author Suzanne Collins seems to be warning that the modern U.S. is similar to Rome. Many of the characters in the book’s Capitol have Latin names: Caesar, Claudius, Octavia, etc. And the people of the Capitol are certainly obsessed with their “bread and circuses,” with the Hunger Games themselves serving as the ultimate distraction.
As in the U.S. today, life in the Capitol is comfortable, with modern innovations and plenty of food available upon demand. That’s not the case in the other Districts, where most struggle to get enough to eat. The book’s hero, Katniss, hails from the poorest region, modern-day Appalachia. She supplements her family’s table by hunting almost every day.
In that way, at least, the Hunger Games seems to have taken readers back to the future.
At the dawn of humanity, the quest for food was each person’s biggest concern. Hunter-gathers lived hand-to-mouth, never more than a few days away from starvation. Eventually humans domesticated animals and crops. That made life somewhat easier, as food could be stored and animals could supply nutritious milk and meat.
Still, right into the 20th Century, humans struggled to get enough to eat. At the dawn of World War II, “officials said at least 40 percent of potential military recruits were undernourished,” the Fayetteville Observer recalled earlier this year. No longer. “Today, just over a third of U.S. adults are obese. By 2030, 42 percent will be,” the Associated Press reported recently.
In The Hunger Games, the country’s rulers have an excess of abundance.
“They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. In District 12, looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early. You see an elderly person, you want to congratulate them on their longevity, ask the secret of survival,” Katniss observes. “A plump person is envied because they aren’t scraping by like the majority of us.”