Hunger, poverty is no game for many Americans

The popular “Hunger Games” series incorporates elements from earlier myths, stories, and films that are what folklorist Joseph Campbell called “archetypes” … Author Suzanne Collins has stated that her original idea came from the Greek myth of Theseus – a “tribute” youth from the defeated kingdom of Athens who is sent to Crete and forced to enter the labyrinth of King Minos to defeat or die at the hands of the bull-headed “Minotaur”. Film versions of similar deadly contests include the 1932 thriller, “The Most Dangerous Game” (adapted from a 1926 story by Richard Connell called “The Hounds of Zaroff”) wherein a sadistic big-game hunter, Count Zaroff, forces “guests” to participate in a deadly game in which they are the hunted prey (the film was nicely reworked in 1956 as “Run for the Sun” with Richard Widmark and Trevor Howard). Later sci-fi films along the same lines include “Logan’s Run”, George Lucas’ “THX-1138, “Soylent Green”, “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”, and “Total Recall” …

Like many of the best works of so-called “dystopian” fiction, “The Hunger Games” combines past mythological elements with pointed warnings about disturbing trends in our own present-day society … “The Hunger Games” depicts a (hopefully imaginary) future North American nation called “Panem”, divided into twelve industrial/economic districts by a destructive civil war. The heroine, “Katniss Everdean” (Jennifer Lawrence) and her teammate, “Peeta Mellark”, represent the starving “District Twelve” that engages in coal-production (present-day Appalachia). They are enlisted by the well-heeled (and badly-dressed) elite overlords who rule “Panem” and forced to participate in a much-hyped, universally-televised, combat-to-the-death that will determine the amount of government food that their district receives yearly … “The Hunger Games” plotline mixes the previously-mentioned “Most Dangerous Game” elements with aspects of so-called “reality” television shows like “American Idol” and “The Biggest Loser” …

The 2008 book and 2012 film also anticipated sentiments expressed by Mitt Romney in his notorious “47%” speech during the 2012 presidential campaign, and has eerily predicted what has happened since. The “President Snow” character played by Donald Sutherland resembles either of the Koch Brothers, and the “Effie Trinket” character might be found on any Republican steering committee … In the present situation, however, it is the elitist 1% losers of the 2012 contest who are now demanding “tribute” from the most vulnerable in our society. The latest Congressional version of “The Hunger Games” involves a proposal by Republican ideologues in the House for an additional $39 billion to be cut from the SNAP (Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program). This adds to the $9 billion that was cut last month by the right-wing engineered “sequester” and certain “poison-pill” provisions included in what would otherwise have been a routine “Farm Bill”. Other reductions are being proposed for programs like WIC, TANF, HEAP, Head-Start, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance … While the ideologues and their mouthpieces on FOX loudly proclaim that those affected by these cuts are mostly “lazy people” who “don’t want to find jobs”, the reality is much different …

According to GAO statistics, 49% of recipients of SNAP and WIC are children. 16% are disabled persons, many of them returning vets of Iraq or Afghanistan. 42% are White. 33% are African-American, 19% Hispanic. 40% of those receiving SNAP or TANF assistance are working persons – minimum-wage or part-time employees whose earnings are below the Federal Poverty Level of $23,000. per year. Only 67% of those eligible for these programs receive assistance because many are too proud to ask for help … As of October, 2013, 130,349 persons in Ohio were on some form of public-assistance. The FPL in Washington County is 19% (nearly one out of every five persons). About 7,929 persons receive assistance here … This Thanksgiving, a leading discount-chain (that made record profits of over $19 billion last year) asked its employees in Canton, Ohio to donate food to fellow-employees, but still refuses to pay its workers a living-wage!

As “Effie Trinket” says, “May the odds be ever in your favor!” Otherwise it might be a sad holiday season for members of the “working-poor” for whom hunger is no “game”!

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta.