SPOILER ALERT: I’ve been told I need to add a spoiler alert to these sorts of posts. I’ve never really understood this practice, as I’ve always assumed that if I am reading something, I am going to learn something about the subject at hand. Nevertheless, if you thought you were going to read this post and learn nothing about The Hunger Games, you have now been warned that this is not likely to be the case. Tread carefully.
Two weeks ago, I received my copy of The Hunger Games trilogy. With all three books currently scaling the heights of the bestseller list and with the first of the films due to be released this spring, I was curious to know what all the fuss was about. Much to my surprise, these books have not only been page-turningly-good, they have also provided many unexpected critiques of a culture that is in desperate need of such criticism. If you would like to read the first two posts, I include them here for your reading pleasure.
Today, I’d like to talk about the culture of indulgence. While most of us are somewhat uncomfortable talking about this issue, there is no question that America is an indulgent nation, unparalleled in its ability to meet every whim and passing fancy of its population. From an annual expenditure of $166 billion spent on alcohol to $41 billion spent on pets, we have the economic capacity to pander to our desires in a way that no country has ever possessed. But how many of us consider the food we take in to be an extravagance? According to Forbes magazine, one of the five most expensive “addictions” faced by Americans is the addiction to food. Last week, we celebrated a national holiday by spending $875 million buying enough turkey to give everyone who was celebrating three pounds of meat. According to the Center for Disease Control, 34.4% of adults older than twenty are technically overweight; while another 33.9% of the adult population is technically obese. So altogether, almost 70% of the adult American population is gorging on food, which in turn costs us $107 billion on treatment for heart disease, osteoarthritis, hypertension, gall bladder disease and cancer.
Now consider this timely passage from Catching Fire, the second novel in The Hunger Games trilogy. The context is a feast that has been thrown in honor of the Games’ champion and the novel’s heroin, Katniss Everdeen.
Every table present new temptations, and even on my restricted one-taste-per-dish regimen, I begin filling up quickly. I pick up a small roasted bird, bite into it, and my tongue floods with orange sauce. Delicious. But I make Peeta eat the remainder because I want to keep tasting things, and the idea of throwing away food, as I see so many people doing so casually, is abhorrent to me. After about ten tables, I’m stuffed, and we’ve only sampled a small number of the dishes available. Just then, my prep team descends on us. They’re nearly incoherent between the alcohol they’ve consumed and their ecstasy at being at such a grand affair.
“Why aren’t you easting?” asks Octavia.
“I have been, but I can’t hold another bite,” I say. They all laugh as if that’s the silliest thing they’ve ever heard.
“No one lets that stop them!” says Flavius. They lead us over to a table that holds tiny stemmed wineglasses filled with clear liquid. “Drink this!”
Peeta picks one up to take a sip and they lose it.
“Not here!” shrieks, Octavia.
“You have to do it in there,” says Venia, pointing to doors that lead to the toilets. “Or you’ll get it all over the floor!”
“Peeta looks at the glass again and puts it together. “You mean this will make me puke?”
My prep team laughs hysterically. “Of course, so you can keep eating,” says Octavia. “I’ve been in there twice already. Everyone does it, or else how would you have any fun at the feast?”
I’m speechless, staring at the pretty little glasses and all they imply.
At its core, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay are all novels of political dissent; and as such, they have to paint a society that is worthy of rebelling against. If they fail at that task, then the actions of the heroin and her friends are ultimately meaningless, or worse yet, wicked. So what kind of society is it that Collins deems to be degraded and worthy of overthrow? A society that is so overly decadent that gluttony is casually overlooked by the wealthy and privileged. When you consider the fact that Collin’s intentionally set her novel in the ruins of North America, her critique could be more explicit or plain.
What do you think? Do you think that the indulgences of the rich are ample grounds for political revolution? What if their decadence come at the expense of those that scratch out meager lives in grinding, degrading poverty?
One last question … How do you think your answer might differ from the answer of someone living in abject poverty?
 Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire (New York: Scholastic Press, 2009), 78-79.