Dystopic future? You're soaking in it!
1. Desperate Appalachian Poverty
Huge portions of the Hunger Games trilogy are set in District 12, where Katniss, Gale, and Peeta are from.
District 12 roughly maps to Appalachia, and guess what? Its portrayal in the book is only a half step away from the reality of life there today. As of 2006, a study found that Martin County in Kentucky has a per-capita income of only $10,650 (less than half the national average of $21,587) and 37% of its residents
live below the poverty line.
Suzanne Collins' father was in the Air Force, and grew up during the Depression. She has said that her father's stories about military life, sacrifice, poverty, and having to hunt to feed his family were strong influences in her creation of District 12.
The novel and subsequent movie "Winter's Bone" is a contemporary portrayal of rural impoverished Appalachia. And it's no coincidence that the star of "Winter's Bone," Jennifer Lawrence, was chosen to play Katniss in the movie adaptation of "The Hunger Games."
2. Rich Kids Don't Sacrifice Their Lives As Often As Poor Kids
In the Hunger Games trilogy, the children of wealthy families are much less likely to be chosen to participate in the Games. The tessera system means that you can earn an extra ration of food and cooking oil by putting your name in for the reaping draw an extra time - up to once for each member of your family.
Iraq War Protest: 3,000 dead. Courtesy Flickr/allen.goldblatt
Katniss, for example, has taken out tesserae for herself, her mother, and her sister. This means that her name is three times as likely to be drawn as that of a privileged child whose family can afford to buy food and cooking oil.
In contemporary America, the children of wealthy families are more likely to attend college. This protects them from the draft when it is applicable (like during the Vietnam War). It also means they are less likely to enter military service voluntarily.
As a result, the young men and women who have died in military service in America are much more likely to be from poor and rural families. The military is one of the few options you have to get out, if you can't afford college. But unfortunately, it's not a choice without risks.
3. "Reality Television" Isn't Real
The Hunger Games themselves aren't necessarily scripted, although the players are certainly coached on their behavior and appearance. But the games are manipulated and engineered in order to achieve specific results. For example, the initial cornucopia is designed to start each Hunger Game off with a big splash. And dramatic tension is often artificially created based on which items are dropped in to which players.
The same is true of today's so-called "reality television." Whether it's the Real Housewives or on the Jersey Shore, the producers are constantly nudging the participants to amp up the drama. And the footage is often edited in order to achieve a specific result.
Just like the millions of viewers in Panem, we're not watching to see real life. We want something a lot more interesting and lurid! We're watching to be entertained - and woe to the actor who isn't sufficiently entertaining!
4. TV Is Just A Distraction
Panem is named after the Latin phrase "Panem et Circenses," which means "Bread and Circuses."
When Rome was on the brink of collapse, some Roman leaders decided that the best course of action was to give the Roman people as much free entertainment as possible, to distract them from the political problems and inequalities of the time. This led to the rise of the Roman coliseums, where various blood sports (from gladiatorial battles to bull-fighting and battling lions) kept the populace distracted and entertained. At the same time, the government handed out free wheat so that everyone at least had enough bread to eat (if little else).
In the Hunger Games trilogy, the Hunger Games themselves are the circuses, and the tesserae system is the bread. Between the two, President Snow's regime is able to keep the population fed and distracted enough to prevent an uprising. (For a while, anyway…)
Many people feel the same is true with today's glut of cable television, much of which is produced with some form of government subsidy (particularly in the form of tax breaks). Meanwhile, the SNAP program ensures that every American has a minimum level of food to eat (if little else).
Store brand bread in the pantry and cable TV in the living room… what more could a good citizen want?