Hunger Games: Myth of Katniss?

Guest post by Brandon Terry

The world of The Hunger Games is tragic, at least for families in district 12. Their whole existence is one of destitution. They have little-to-no food, no luxuries, and are oppressed and despised by the so called “Peace-Keepers.” The situation is worse for Katniss who has become the sole provider for her family, having next to no support from her mother. Then, things progress further into turmoil for the teenage girl when she is forced to fight to the death in the “Hunger Games.” The defining word in this young girl’s life is hopelessness.

Despite this hopelessness, though, Katniss keeps going. She keeps hunting and trading to put food on the table. She raises her sister Prim and tries to laugh with Gale. She does everything in her power to live a normal life. Then, she does anything she can to survive through the hunger games. What fuels her to keep pushing along in a world that has lost all meaning and purpose? Is it even reasonable and moral to fight to keep her family going in this kind of world? And finally, can she find any value or meaning in her own existence?

The answers this movie presents, bear a striking resemblance to a “genre” of philosophy known as existentialism. Genre is the best term because existentialism is not necessarily an actual philosophy in itself, but is a category of philosophy that takes different shapes depending on the thinker. Alfred Camus’ existential ideas, in particular, share this resemblance with the movies answers.

In his work, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus gives his answer to how a man can have value in a meaningless world. The universe, as Camus described it, is Absurd. Man is thrown into the world, by whatever cause, devoid of purpose, but doomed to seek one; just like Sisyphus’ eternal punishment of pushing a boulder up a hill when it is just going to fall back down to the bottom again and again. Camus’ solution to the Absurdity was simple: revolt! Just as Sisyphus could receive pleasure by shaking his fist at the gods and pushing the boulder up the hill for the umpteenth time, so man simply had to shake his fist at the blind nothingness that was there and simply push on through life. By doing so, man is able to take control of his life because he chooses to live and give himself meaning.

This would seem to be all that is left for the strong-willed Katniss. She may be under complete oppression by the Capital and lives without anything really to look forward, but she can revolt. And she does by taking power away from the Capital. This can be seen most clearly in the final stage of the competition when she readily accepted suicide as her final solution. While many Existential philosophers, including Camus, typically discourage suicide, this situation was different. She was not simply giving up to the world, she was making a statement that she had the final say over her life. Through this, she had taken complete control. This became the final message in the movie, that man must take back the reigns of his existence. As a result, Katniss appears to be the existential hero of the “Hunger Games” universe.

There is one very important point, however, that jerks our heroin out of this existential role–– Katniss wins. Nowhere in existentialism does the concept of “winning” fit. In fact, all that existentialism really offers is a blind, empty hope in a hopeless reality. Man can give himself arbitrary meaning and arbitrary value, but nothing with actual substance. If this is the case, the President’s idea of using hope as a weapon makes perfect sense. When man is given blind hope but there is nothing behind it, he is left with despair. By giving Katniss the ability to win and return home, the movie empties out the existential push because they once again introduce hope.

But would it have been acceptable if she had died? Is there not something in man that is just not satisfied with the answer “life is hopeless, but keeps fighting for meaning anyway?” This system leaves man with despair and then tells him to enjoy it. This is the philosophy that relates to life, which is what the existentialists wished to give. It is not hope. It is irrational, destructive despair.

The following article will aim to provide a more suitable answer. By comparing the natures of the Capital and the God of the Bible, the article will argue that a Christian worldview better fits the reality in which man exists in order for them to live a proper and fulfilling life.

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3 responses to “Hunger Games: Myth of Katniss?

  1. This is interesting, but also includes a rather misinformed view of existentialist philosophy. The concept of “winning” (as you put it) most certainly does have existentialist parallels. Just as you wrote, according to existentialist philosophy, when one does actively grant meaning and value to one’s own life, one does, in fact, triumph in a very substantive, very realistic, and very *personal* manner. The *objective* meaninglessness of the universe, in at least Camus’ terms, is nothing but an impetus for the individual to make *subjective* (i.e., individual and particular) meaning out of one’s existence. For me, existentialist philosophy is ultimately optimistic, because it maintains that at each and every moment, an individual subject can *make* (rather than receive) meaning out of meaninglessness, despite any and all odds. That’s optimism if there ever were such a thing.

    As a side-note, one of the most famous existentialist philosophers (Soren Kirkegaard) was a Christian. He, and all other existentialists, more or less agree that granting meaning to one’s life is a subjective action, as well as a subjective victory.

    • Orpheus,
      Thank you for engaging my post. The chance to actually discuss this point is must appreciated and obviously necessary for me.

      First, I want to say that I think there was a misleading structure to my paper. I meant in no way to imply that the Existentialists themselves were pessimistic and saw no real meaning in life. Instead you should see my last three or four paragraphs more as my own personal disbelief in the claims of existentialism. I do respect the consistency presented in the existential position. They don’t claim “life has no purpose, but it still has meaning,” they say “life has no purpose, so you are free make your own meaning.” And if there is no God, or divinity of some sort, in life this freedom of creation is the greatest possible gift you can give a man looking for meaning.

      Second, I agree that the existential philosophers do offer their audiences a way to make a meaning out of this world no matter what the circumstances are which would in fact be an optimistic presentation of reality. However, I personally would take pause at calling the meaning they offer “real” meaning. They can offer meaning, but i would argue that is a meaning that has been stripped of value. The problem is that all the existentialist have to offer is the particulars of reality.
      In the earlier parts of the history of philosophy, man had two levels of reality: universals and particulars. It was the conformity of the particulars to the universals (such as Plato’s forms or the existence of a Deity) that gave them meaning. Without these universals, the philosophers believed that the particulars were meaningless, isolated events. However, the existentialist that we are discussing took the upper level of universals and emptied it out. In the existential model, the upper level is empty. With that act, they moved into a reality that had no meaning for the particulars.
      The problem with this world without universals is that is fails to meet the requirement for the “real” meaning that man is looking for–value. Value requires a standard. The reason that one thing is more valuable, is because it conforms to that standard more. To see this, let’s move from a superficial example and then work our way up to the meaning of life.
      1) Cost: one reason that object of costs more in the store than another (in which both products are in competition), such as an iPhone costing more than a average flip-phone, is that is conforms to the consumer standards. People want something new and cutting edge, efficient, and attractive. The iPhone lives up to this standard more than the average flip-phone and is therefore more valuable.
      2) Accomplishments: Do you ever respect the guy who goes into a pawn shop and buys himself the trophy for some event he never won? Typically not, and the reason is that he not actually done the action in which that trophy stands for, he has not met the standard of accomplishment. He can all himself the world’s greatest golfer all he wants, but until someone with the authority to give that title (the standard creator) actually gives it to him, it has no value at all.
      3) Value of life: In order to actually say that a person’s life had value, was worth something, it has to conform to some sort of a standard. While it may be unfair, there is just something not right in thinking that Albert Einstein’s life would have been of the same value if he had wasted his potential and simply lived in his mother’s basement, playing video games, until he died. Or that Hitler’s life would have not have been of more value if he had simply led Germany to a golden age instead of starting WWII and the holocaust. And this where the ultimate problem with Existentialism lies, in what Kierkegaard would call the “Dread.” Left with an infinite number of un-judgable options man, has no more value doing one thing than another. He has an infinite number of options and no way to sort through them, no meaning to make out of any particular one. He can choose to be a Ganhdi or a Hitler, an Einstein or a nobody, it all means the same thing in the end: nothing. Meaning requires value and value requires a standard, therefore since the existential view has no upper level, no standard by which anything can be judged, it can not give a “realistic meaning.”
      In conclusion, please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say about Existentialism. I am not claiming that this is a group of people who have given up on life. They very much are a group that wants to live life to the fullest, they want to give people meaning to their everyday life. But if “The Myth of Sisyphus” is the answer to life, simply trying to make my own value out of it, my conclusion is this: I’m not buying it.

      Sincerely,
      BT

      P.S. As a final point I want to admit this: my article and this argument in no way proves the existence of God. If in fact man is only left with an accidental existence in a meaningless universe, existentialism is the best way to see life. It is mercificul and optomisitc. But the point of my amateurish article is to awake something inside of my readers that may open up the way for discussions like this. I simply wanted to tug on that small part inside each and everyone of us that cries out for more. The part of us that wants real meaning. The part of the human that drives the existentialist fight for more in this life.

  2. I might add, from an atheistic point of view, everyone who grants meaning to his/her life in the above manner triumphs, and certainly no one is damned to an eternity in hell. That also is tremendously optimistic.

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