Hunger Games and Academia

The Hunger Games reminds me of academic work. Sure, we don’t kill one another for entertainment. And, academic life isn’t about life or death, but the stakes are high and at times people are quite petty. The Tributes, though, are the pre-tenure faculty who have to participate in the department’s arena. Some Tributes face an easier match than others, but ultimately the senior faculty and others watch and wait to see who wins. The odds are ever in your favor to: teach, write, and pay service to the department and university. But, most departments really expect you to write, keep your head down, and know your place.

Some of the departments are more favored and might even have a better market “value” and people from those departments (districts) are more privileged and have nicer offices, labs, and equipment. Some of the departments struggle for every little thing that they get and others are swimming in what looks like opulence. The favored districts also find that their students might have more opportunity and job prospects once they graduate. These students are thought of as lucky–they are most likely to have a better idea about what they will do after they graduate.

Meanwhile the Gamekeepers are really the book and journal publishers, who keep the Tributes on their toes trying to make sure that they publish enough to earn tenure. The Tributes do a cost-benefit analysis thinking about which journals are the highly ranked ones and have the fastest review and publication turn-around in order to meet the department requirements. There also is the possibility of sponsors, if you are lucky. You get the sponsors via courting the senior faculty members in the department. They might give you connections, publishing opportunities, and vote for you when your file is under review.

Admittedly I have taken some cheeky licenses here, but I am sure that some read this blog post and agreed. If not, hopefully readers merely enjoyed the post.

Katniss Rocks

Before Reality TV was reality tv, Stephen King wrote about it giving readers pause about a cold-hearted dystopic future where people would watch poor people fight until the death (Running Man). The contestants wanted to make money and were paired against professional athletes and killers. They didn’t exactly fight, as much as attempt to survive.

Move forward a few decades to the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and we have a dystopic society where the totalitarian government has an annual Hunger Games that requires 12 Districts to offer a pair of Tributes to participate in a fight to the death. The one major difference–these Tributes are 12-18 years old. Yes, you read that right. Youth are fighting against one another in hope of being the surviving Tribute so that they can have an easier life after the fact—if they win.

The competition takes place in a controlled environment where the Gamekeeper and his staff can change the light, the weather, start fires, and even add interesting predators to the game. What is interesting to see here is how the more wealthy districts view the games as a moment of entertainment and not a matter of life and death for the contestants. They are amused by the games and this amusement says so much to the reader or person sitting in the cinema.

The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers, after she is shocked to hear her 12 year old sister, Prim’s, name called. The movie stays relatively close to the book and is entertaining. I was lucky enough to sit in a sold out theater with an eager audience. Katniss clearly was at odds with how she had to play the game–to make herself desirable to the viewers. You see, the viewers can sponsor and give the Tributes gifts–medicine, food, or other necessities. The movie kept up the anxiety in all the crucial areas thanks to good direction and solid performances by the various actors. The movie was fabulous and I look forward to seeing it again. The movie offers commentary on politics, violence, class, gender, and what constitutes entertainment. Kissing my three middle fingers and raising them in the air for this first installment. I look forward to seeing Catching Fire and Mockingjay in the theater.

I noticed that the midnight line up included a handful of people dressed up as characters from the books. I did have a conversation after the movie regarding the pageantry of Reality TV. My friend said, “Well, I’m going to think more about watching American Idol.” Now, that show is not about the fight to the death, but the whole notion of the sponsorship and pageantry really does make you think. Let’s hope the odds are ever in your favor!

I want to thank Toshiba Canada for the tickets to the preview.