Guest Post: The Hunger Games And The Moral Imagination

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by James E Miller of The Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada,

This past weekend I caught The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at my local theater. The movie is based on the second part of a dystopian trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. In Collins’s fictional world known as Panem, a despotic government rules over all with a violent iron fist. There is a strict separation between the political class and the rest of the populace, with the latter working in slave-like conditions to support the former. The story focuses on protagonist Katniss Everdeen and her struggle to protect her loved ones while surviving the tyranny of her brutal overlords.

Throughout Catching Fire, the subject of revolution is paramount. Since the first instalment of the series when Katniss bested her oppressive dictators in the highly-publicized, annual fight-to-the-death tournament, she has become a symbol of agitation to the people. They look to her as a chink in the government’s armor – a sign that tyranny is not immortal but can be damaged. The plebs and their desire for freedom results in riots in the streets with vicious crackdowns from Orwellian-named “peacekeepers” who maintain tranquility with the bloodied end of truncheons. At one point during Katniss’s victory tour, an older gentleman raises his hand in defiance of the regime and whistles the popularized tune of revolution. He is summarily executed on the spot while the crowd that attempts to protect him is beaten handily.

The act of violence drew a startled and winced response from the movie audience. It was a demonstration of the horribly destructive nature of tyranny. There was no question as to the evilness of Panem’s dictatorial government. The line between enemy and hero was straight and untainted.

Stories such as the Hunger Games are wonderful things because they spark what conservative statesman Edmund Burke called the “moral imagination.” In his famed Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke chided the Jacobin revolutionaries for endeavoring to paint “the decent drapery of life” and the “moral imagination” as “ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated.” Russell Kirk expanded on this phrase and defined it as the “power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events.”

Whether viewers know it or not, the basic plot of the Hunger Games series is an appeal to the moral imagination that men should be free from working as servants to others. It’s not exactly a new theme when compared to other modern movies. There are a multitude of storylines where a strong-willed protagonist finds the courage within themselves to fight off an authoritarian power, not alone, but with the help of others. The narrative follows a familiar pattern: while outgunned and outmanned, good ultimately triumphs over evil not so much because of one person but rather the hope for a better life embodied within a symbol.

The engrossing message of liberty over tyranny in the Hunger Games is thought to be why the franchise is so popular. In some ways, that is correct. People tend to have the urge of rooting for the underdog. When the abuser receives his just deserts, it’s seen as a representation of justice fulfilled.

But as great as the moral imagination is, it ultimately means nothing if it does not translate into real-life behavior modification. It’s one thing to cheer on a character on screen who is risking their life for a freer world. It’s another to embody that risk yourself in a reality that is slipping towards despotism.

Anyone who claims the post-apocalyptic setting in Hunger Games bears an uncanny resemblance to state control in our time is liable to be marked as a black helicopter-type. The ridicule is the same that was aimed, and still is aimed, at Friedrich Hayek after his great work The Road to Serfdom was released. “No,” the critics say, “the existence of the large welfare-warfare state has not translated itself to one world authoritarianism.” That is certainly true for now. Still, the general public finds it fun to mock the government as an over-bearing and inefficient behemoth while relying on the beast for a bi-weekly allotment of tax subsidies.

We may not be living hand-to-mouth while being forced to labor for thuggish overlords but the modern trend is clear: the political class is consuming more and more wealth-generating capital for themselves. It can be seen in highly-unionized European countries and within the bubble of richness known as the District of Columbia. The police state is ratcheting up its already untamed authority. Economic regulation is becoming more varied and intrusive. In the West, the state as an institution has been growing by leaps and bounds for over a century. Only an imbecile would deny this mass centralization in government power.

Yet most viewers of the Hunger Games will not let that message sink into their consciousness. They will not make the connection between a story and their own lives. It’s far too discomforting. At the same time, they will revere characters in a tale who come off as heroes. These fictional thought constructs are viewed as perfectly noble persons who sacrifice for the greater good. One would think the same reverence would be shown to those individuals who engage in the same art of defiance against what is generally deemed an unjust situation. If characters in fiction can be seen as courageous, why not real-life persons who display the same type of behavior?

Edward Snowden, the now-infamous whistleblower of the National Security Agency, is still seen as a dirty, rotten traitor by much of the public. It’s a strange cognitive dissonance that while a majority are irate over their government’s spying, they see the man who clued them in as some type of mendacious plotter who hates Uncle Sam. It’s equally as strange that the same folks who hardly bat an eye when calling Snowden a scumbag will just as quickly latch on to the fighter of injustice in a movie.

Stories provide valuable insight into the limits of mankind and what constitutes good. But they are not reality in the end. There is little risk in admiring a character in fiction who stands up for the right thing. Doing so in real-life is apt to bring ridicule, and thus has a social stigma attached to it.

It takes no spine to be a warrior on paper. It also requires little brain power to bend your will with that of an author’s. The science of critical thinking demands a logical and coherent approach to viewing issues. Criticizing someone for doing the very same action that you praise in make-believe land is inconsistent and a sign of poor judgment. The borderline between the real and the imagination does not render ethics and morality capricious. A proper way to live is to be transcendent of observable examination alone.

Hunger Games contains a pertinent message to those living under big government. The heroes and villains of the story should not be unfamiliar to current events. Edward Snowden is a real life Katniss Everdeen. He defied the powers-that-be in order to do what he believed was right. But instead of receiving praise, he got condemnation from voices normally wary of statism. The irony remains that the same men and women who call Snowden a traitor should be cheering for the tyrannical government of Panem to squash the rebellion and restore its oppressive hold on society. Of course, that suggestion sounds crazy, but then so does the person who pays lip-service to freedom while cheering for the death of someone who risks their life for greater liberty. Their moral imagination is in great need of fine-tuning.

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HedgeAccordingly's picture

You cannot eat gold. at least in large quantities.

Raymond K Hessel's picture

Gold cuisine was not in the article.


I agree with the article.  When I think about SWAT teams a rushing raw milk dairy and the increasing militarization of local police, I see this in the way peacekeepers are used in the movie.  


I'm just as enraged about the way people watch this movie and can't see the connection to their own situation as Americans.  

Anusocracy's picture

"can't see the connection to their own situation as Americans."

It is because individuals weight the importance of moral spheres differently.

Research indicates that libertarians rate liberty above all the others: harm, fairness, community, authority, and purity.

If they ranked community and authority above liberty, like the majority, they would view Hunger Games with the same blind eyes.

rum_runner's picture

So true but how to explain that when liberty is lost everything else starts to crumple into a nightmare?  I'm a long-haired hippy and I get this.

Fire Angel's picture

Nice comment! Thanks. 

Fire Angel

Colonel Klink's picture

Which is why they want a DISARMED population!!!

CheapBastard's picture

Is the Edmund Burke Show on after Duck Dynasty? I can't remember seeing it.

Colonel Klink's picture

I have no idea what either of those are.

Zadig's picture

Unfortunately they probably saw it as an allegory about how plucky little America stood up to Saddam and stopped him from taking over the world with his nonexistent WMD. 

V for Vendetta was also popular with the masses and most of the mouth breathers didn't see anything personally relevant in it either.

grunk's picture

And if you eat silver you turn blue.

Colonel Klink's picture

Haven't turned blue yet.  Coincidently I haven't had a sinus infection for 5 years now since I started using CS as a nasal spray.  Odd because I use to get them every 6 weeks or so before I used it.

mbarido's picture

+1000!!!!  I have not had a sinus infection for 2 years since I started using colloidal silver (CS)!   60 days of antibiotics could not get rid of the last one.  CS did!!  End of story!

l.kimbot's picture

Saw an Amish guy several years ago who must have been dosing heavily with CS.  It was at an Ag convention and it was startling.  Dark blue.  Hope he beat whatever he was treating.  

We use CS, as well.  Great stuff.

Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

It's not that far of a leap anymore, from where we are today, to the world in the Hunger Games.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

Don't worry, voting will save us and fix everything. I done seen it on the TeeVee.

carlin401's picture

Never 'fear' the gubmint taking your 'bitcoin', cuz it was all virtual in the first place.

But well hidden gold is your friend forever.

[ Learn the fine art of 'caching', probably the most important knowledge to have in these times. ]


A stupid fucking movie, and just like 'placement', somehow the god's of ZH, have decided to 'place' a story, that just seems' to be more like 'go to the theatre and see this movie',

Stupid fucking idea, the gubmint doesn't need to have folks kill each other, that is what the cop-shop is for, and its been all good in the USA since 1880's when the USA first invented 'modern policing'.

erg's picture

We're all gonna get to play the ultimate first person shooter. I'm agile and have a compound bow.

I think I'll be an archer...with a touch of alchemy. Gotta nibble the local shrooms and edibles ala Radagast.

Peter Pan's picture

For a number of years I ran my own accountancy practice and never referred to anyone as working for me. My expression was "so and so works WITh me."

We ultimately all work for each other as no man is an island. About 13 years after I retired I went and helped one of the accountants that worked with me and it was as if nothing had changed. It was as if only a weekend had passed from the time that we worked alongside each other. We were never bonded by an employer/employee relationship but by the relationship that forms between human beings based on trust and respect.

Perhaps we could also learn from some aspects of the "slavery" system as it existed in Ancient Athens where although the citizens had slaves they were nevertheless free to pursue private enterprise as well. In fact one of the richest if not richest bankers in Athens (Pasion) was actually a slave. One unusual practice was for the slave to marry his master's widow so as to keep the business within the family. The master of course would receive a percentage of the profits.

Other slaves ran manufacturing businesses and the like.

Let us not forget that Presidents serve the people but are never referred to as servants. We also refer to those in the bureaucracy as public servants.

Therefore what matters is not the terminology but the manner in which people are treated and rewarded.

Tall Tom's picture

No man is an island? At Death's Door we stand alone. That is, after all is said and done, the ultimate goal.


Spare me the sentiments as they are not true but wishful thinking. Rugged Individualism is what it takes. No...We are not a team and...I DID BUILD THAT!!!


What a bunch of Socialist Claptrap.

RichardP's picture


Where?  And with what? And how did you get to the spot where you built it?  And how did you get the raw material to the spot where you built it?  And from where did you get the raw material?  And so on.

Sure you did build that.  But on the backs of everyone else involved in the chain - from harvesting the raw material to the finished material being delivered to you.  You didn't, you couldn't, do all that by yourself.  Yet - without all that work by others being done first, you couldn't build anything.

The question is - how do you view the people involved in that chain, and how do you treat those people in the chain with whom you come into contact?

At Death's Door we stand alone.

But, while we live, no man is an island.  Did you build whatever machine you are using to post to this thread?  Did you create and harness the electricity that you use to post to this thread?  We could go on like this, but the point has been made.  Only the obtuse refuse to acknowledge the point.

All Risk No Reward's picture

>>Perhaps we could also learn from some aspects of the "slavery" system as it existed in Ancient Athens where although the citizens had slaves they were nevertheless free to pursue private enterprise as well. In fact one of the richest if not richest bankers in Athens (Pasion) was actually a slave. One unusual practice was for the slave to marry his master's widow so as to keep the business within the family. The master of course would receive a percentage of the profits.

Other slaves ran manufacturing businesses and the like.<<

You just described the system in which we live now - to a "T." 

It would appear that the dElites have learned the lesson you suggested.

Those that don't currently slave the land owned by the oligarchs slave for the debt based money owned by the oligarchs.

Oh, and you don't live in a democracy, let a lone a democratic republic, if you don't get to vote on the very nature of your money.

q99x2's picture

I'm watching that this weekend. I got to the point where OddBall was telling the Bulgarian gypsy girl she better behave herself because he's watching. (You can always tell Bulgarian gypsy girls by their philtrums and their boobies).

I'm also studying Astronomy, Mythology and Modernity this weekend. Of the four I'd say the solar magnetic shutdown is the greatest threat, next to central bankers, we are facing.

JohnG's picture



Watch this and let me know how you feel in regards to that large threat:

I'll be around.

CheapBastard's picture

"With six fewer shopping days this year than in 2012, retailers who reap nearly half of annual profits during the winter holiday season are nibbling away at the Thanksgiving holiday. But early visits to the stores by Reuters showed sparse crowds - a sign that not all U.S. shoppers are keen to open their wallets so quickly."


Where's that good 'ole 'Consumer Confidence' we always read about?

Hulk's picture

anybody else out there, drunker than shit, smoking a big stogie, simultaneously watching baltimore/pittsburg and a Charlie McGrath video on the dead republic ???

q99x2's picture

I've got a hunch that Pittsburgh is spelled with an "h" at the end of it.

Hulk's picture

cigar smoke got between me and the keyboard !!!

erg's picture

My first ZH comment got the shit kicked out of me and you came to my aid.

I believe you said, "We punch you because we love you."

Thanks Hulk.

Hulk's picture

I must of been drunk !!!


erg's picture

lol Gotta love a happy drunk.

Hulk's picture

Cigars and brandy , the happy combo, glad you are still here erg  !!!

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

I personally prefer scotch, sex and being an obstreperous, uncontainable SOB. That keeps me young.Cigars/cigs can really trash women to scary levels.


MeelionDollerBogus's picture

LOL. Scotch + women + uncontainable = awesome

CosmicDebris's picture

"Stories such as the Hunger Games are wonderful things because they spark what conservative statesman Edmund Burke called the “moral imagination.”

Or movies such as this ready our minds for the inevitable. Not to be questioned but to be accepted.  (And minus the good guy wins at the end scenario.) 

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Fun fact: Suzanne Collins lives in Sandy Hook, CT.

New_Meat's picture

Capitol District b in trouble and don't have the foggiest clue.

Some animals are more equal than others--that meme gettin' busted.

- Ned

holdbuysell's picture

I went to see the movie on opening night, complete with teeny boppers and twenty somethings packing the theater.

When Katniss's last arrow did its damage there was a burst of thunderous applause and cheering.

Time will tell if that translates to reality.

But the energy underlies.

prains's picture

i think the author asks too much from an unsophisticated audience, yes many will burn off as bullet stoppers, the hope is a few will remain and awaken to carry the fight to the fat fucking oligarchs...yes piece of shit Jamie"watchmelickmyownballs"Dimon

stiler's picture

Their's something worse than the 12 division [apparently] world govt portrayed in the movie. This is a window into the elite's view of how it will be: yes and no.I'd like to believe something better of mankind than what actually will happen. Something much better comes later when they beat their swords into plowshares. But before this it gets real bad; like waiting for that woman to give birth so we have something to eat bad.

YHC-FTSE's picture

Of course you don't have to sift through fiction to find examples of moral relativism, it's already well known as 'exceptionalism' to most folks.  (It's not theft/murder/assault when we, living vicariously through the government commit these crimes, only  when someone else does it). When our politicians openly support and fund terrorists,  it's not an act of terror, it's "supporting freedom". When our politicians plagiarise old speeches about "appeasement", and "fight against primitive doctrine that might is right", they don't seem to realise the irony.

That's the problem isn't it? Just like the fictional population of PanAm's capital,  we live under the cloak of propaganda that blurs, even celebrates criminal behaviour as long as it happens somewhere else to someone else out in the districts. We don't fucking care the NSA is invading everyone's privacy as long as they're foreign. It's only when it starts to affect us directly we start to notice and whine, but to everyone else on the planet who have witnessed the brutal face of the military industrial complex, the hypocrisy of the sociopaths who rule and their absurd supporters who justify wars and theft with patriotism and exceptionalism are all old news. Step outside the msm for a moment and you will see such examples of terror done in our name every day, you'd wish you were blind. The images of pieces of children being picked up after a drone strike, statistics of rape and murder victims in every theatre of war,  around every military base, even in peace time, each case is a personal tragedy for someone. There are millions of them who will never be the same because of us: Our government, the military industrial complex and its corporatist overlords.

Yet just like the city folks of PanAm, we don't give a shit as long as we stay rich, the wars are entertaining,  the worst gore is edited out on tv, and the children we sacrifice are properly lauded as heroes. And when the narrative focuses on spewing hatred at the whistleblowers, we dutifully call those people "traitors", homos and weirdos, even call for their imprisonment and deaths,  just because they tried to tell us the truth, and the truth happens to be critical of those who rule.  The old refrain, "We are not our government" is a sorry excuse by those who live under it, benefit from it, and never protest against it. 

If you need fiction to help make the connection to reality,  so be it. But this disgusting despotic farce has been going on for a very long time. (Just in case you're too fucking dumb to notice the spelling,  vernacular,  and the fact that I've mentioned it a few hundred times over the years, I am a Brit, the district that supplied you with our kids for every slaughter, whose leaders are are permanently connected to yours via the anal cavity).

Advoc8tr's picture

I thought we were making use of Uncle Sams anal cavity (Oz) ... come to think of it we are on our backs lying underneath both imperial masters licking their balls as directed.


Great summary.

Doubleth1nker's picture


Peaceful religion (Theism, belief in a moral code associated with peace, life, doing what is right and respect for a higher power than simply a group of men with guns) was once the cornerstone of our social fabric in defining the limits of what the citizenry would tolerate - the line that civil government dared not cross.

Somehow we have arrived in a time and place where that cornerstone has been lost.  We are a divided people, ethically.  And the state is exploiting that weakness to terrible effect.  Its been said many other ways, but a divided house will fall - that's where we're headed.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

no it wasn't - your religious rulers dictated life & death to you, even witch-burnings in America and as colonizers from England, more of the same there.
Religious tyranny is the old world, corporate tyranny is the new world. It's still tyranny.

Trampy's picture


Well. Not one person has replied. I don't bite and always try to be a good person. And I love cats and I don't lie. Yes, it's very difficult living in this world surrounded by zombies. All of these here highly-educated, high-income males who live alone, and not one of them has answered my plea. Have all the decent people of the world been killed or made too scared to email a decent stranger who is clearly in need?

It's really not that difficult to extract my email from the PGP key posted here. And it's OK if you don't want to use PGP. And I really don't care what your handle here is, if any of the tech stuff too intimidating. Try wait, maybe it's ME who is intimidating because I show off my knowledge. But that's the whole Fight Club meme, and it's not me, or at least not always.

Let's try this again, please. And I'm gonna keep at it until I get at least one genuine response. I'm not just repeating the exact same post over and over again. It will keep changing and will be reposted until I get a civil answer. Mahalo!

Inmate of open-air prison run by lunatics and populated almost entirely by zombies is desperately seeking a pen-pal ... because Aldous Huxley gave someone to Winston Smith.

For mutual support in these trying times, am seeking fellow non-zombie intelligent, open-minded, and well-informed inmate for discussing topics of mutual interest, such as:

  1. Both actual and notional nuclear accidents, and nuclear technology of all sorts. Is nuclear safety always an oxymoron? I'd love to find a fellow atomic scientist here, as in Bull. Atom. Sci.;

  2. Same as it ever was. “Kill the man, kill the problem,” Joe Stalin. Change is a process, not an event. Chicken Little has always been wrong, so why not now?;

  3. Same as it ever was. Bankers v. The People is nothing new. In 1833 Andrew Jackson took on and succeeded in killing the Second Bank of the United States. In 1963 JFK took on the Fed and was killed. The bankers will do “whatever it takes” to keep it going as long as possible;

  4. Same as it ever was. Historical Revisionism of WW1 and WW2 as a battle of valiant truth-telling historians versus the plush OSS/CIA myth-telling “historians” as waged notably by the largely, and very sadly, forgotten Harry Elmer Barnes, 1889–1968. Many brave souls such as he have seen history through the lens of The Truth is First Casualty of War and lived to tell the tale, or at least published before their death. Big Mahalo to the CIA for renaming the quaint (and hifalutin) pre-JFK historical revisionism into the much more catchy (and contempo) conspiracy theory;

  5. Same as it ever was. John Kenneth Galbraith 1975 Money: Whence it Came, Where it Went about the Capitalist Crisis as predicted by Karl Marx. Four decades later and still going?;

  6. Same as it ever was. George Orwell's intended title for his most famous book was “1948,” its year of completion, nuff said. 1984, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz as works of history – and Newspeak, shunning, straw man, murder, etc., as (largely) effective social controls;

  7. as an island of sanity, albeit very sadly wholly lacking in collegiality; and, most importantly,

  8. weaknesses in the open-air prison system which might allow its escape and/or subversion, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.


Colonel Klink's picture

Down voted you for dumping/spamming the same fucking thing all over the blog.

DrWhy's picture


Up voted you for dumping/spamming the same fucking thing all over the blog.

Not quite sure what you are trying to do but your post has an appealing weirdness/quirkiness to it as well as a few obscure references that are "comment worthy".

1) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (magazine) - I started reading this decades ago at the local public library while still in high school. Much later subscribed for several years. If the general population knows anything about it at all it is from their "Doomsday Clock" (currently 5 minutes to midnight). Besides nuclear issues they cover general foreign policy, climate, economics, politics, arms control, war (hot/cold/drugs/poverty), etc. Has a radical tone that would not be unfamiliar to ZH readers. Got me on a number of mailing lists (which worried me slightly at the time). Of course now virtually everyone on the damn planet is on a "list". Was particularly interesting during the breakup of the USSR and Iraq War I and aftermath. I credit my reading of the Bulletin for showing the total bogosity of the run-up to Iraq War II - especially Colin Powell’s ludicrous and childish display at the UN. It any of it had been true it would have looked very, very, different. How could it be that I, a lowly worker bee in the confines of my shabby hovel, with only a few books and magazines and a high speed Internet connection knew that a tragic sham was taking place and these highly placed generals and policy makers were flopping around like a bunch of clueless autistic zombies on crack. I stopped reading the Bulletin when they ended the print magazine and went online only.

2) Found a copy of Galbraith's "Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went" (1975) in a used bookstore. Haven't read it yet but was amused to see it mentioned. Since 2007 (in addition to reading ZH) I've accumulated almost 80 books and 20 DVDs on economics/finance/politics and have been making my way (very) slowly through them. Just finished Peter Schiff's "The Real Crash". Has excellent discussions of money/currency and of course gold, gold and more gold. Contains some actual prescriptions in addition to the usual gloom and doom. Highly recommended for the Shiffophiles out there. I heard his measured and intelligent voice in my head the whole time I was reading it. Damn youtube!

All this study can make one enlightened and smart but can also make you maladjusted and a bane to your friends and family. Wouldn't have it any other way of course.


GlobalCtzn's picture



"All this study can make one enlightened and smart but can also make you maladjusted and a bane to your friends and family. Wouldn't have it any other way of course."


I definitely resemble that comment...........................

Dr. Bonzo's picture

The problem with your idea is that you presume anyone at all really learns anything from the current version of story-telling, our modern American fiction. The problem with American fiction is that all nuance has been bled out of it. Maybe this is precisely why American crave Walt Disney-sized cartoonish evildoers and the fitting 3-act storylines that they seem to come with in real life. It's what our fabled storytellers deliver with great ease.

Look at our foreign policy. Every foreign policy "story" is deconstructed to its absolute Disneyish minimalist best, drawing out the strengths and weaknesses of the various actors until the Good versus Evil narrative is boiled down to its bare essentials, making it so simple that any simpleton could point out the two sides in the narrative and voila... Game On. Unfortunately, reality is far more complicated and messy, and hardly ever as simplistic as it is presented. The September 11 narrative is a case in point. It's a perfect fiction for a nation breast-fed on Walt Disney. A band of evildoers was spawned by dark muck and rose from the evil slime, unseen by the Forces of Good to strike out and in one dastardly move attacking the innocent virgin-like Shining Temple on the hill with brutish and merciless cunning. Shrubya was actually fucktarded enough to call them evildoers. LMFAO. Unfortunately, even a casual perusal of the facts around the Official narrative finds gaping holes in the story, and any familiarity with the actual history that led up to the events of that tragic day further draw the Official Story into question.

Sorry, but your premise jus doesn't fly. Hunger Games is cute. But it's not a metaphor for anything and teaches nothing.