American “Hunger Games”

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

Hunger_games“The Hunger Games” represents a wildly popular trilogy of science fictions books aimed at first toward the Teen and young adult market, but then becoming popular with the “adult” market as well. It has become a very popular movie trilogy; the second installment was released in November, with the final film next year.  A synopsis is a dystopian North America of the future and a country named “Panem”.  The narrator is a 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen, living in District 12. Panem consists of twelve districts, rigidly controlled by a central government located “The Capital”, a city of wealth and great technological advancement. Each of the other districts are dedicated to particular industry’s and the people of each are kept at a subsistence level of life. There is little hope for the future and brutal retribution for disobeying the “The Capital’s” edicts. We are told that there had been a revolution some 70 years before that was brutally repressed and ultimately failed. As a reminder of the futility of revolution, each year there is a lavish production made for TV of a gladiatorial conflict and called “The Hunger Games.” From each of the 12 districts two young people are chosen randomly to fight to the death. Each district sends a male and a female. The ultimate winner (survivor) is gives a life of wealth, luxury and status. The “Game” is set up in such a way that each of the contestants tries to compete for the affections of those privileged to be citizens of “The Capital”. These elite citizens can spend exorbitant sums of money to send aid to the contestants of their choice to try to ensure their survival. The “Game” is further rigged by the “Gamekeeper” in ways that tend to favor some contestants, so ultimately the contests are deadly shams. Their purpose is to show the 12 districts the punishment that will be meted out should they ever again disobey “The Capital”, the futility of resistance and also to supply hope that one could survive the games to attain the benefits of a privileged citizen.

I’ve read the entire trilogy and last month saw the second of the three films “Catching Fire”. While the books have a few logical flaws, their use of the viewpoint of Katniss as narrator makes it a brilliantly emotional read. The movies translation of the books is superb and I must admit that I’ve shed many tears while experiencing both. The book’s author “Suzanne Collins” has said:

“ that the inspiration for The Hunger Games came from channel surfing on television. On one channel she observed people competing on a reality show and on another she saw footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two “began to blur in this very unsettling way” and the idea for the book was formed.[2] The Greek myth of Theseus served as a major basis for the story, with Collins describing Katniss as a futuristic Theseus, and Roman gladiatorial games provided the framework. The sense of loss that Collins developed through her father’s service in the Vietnam War was also an influence on the story, with Katniss having lost her father at age 11, five years before the story begins.[3] Collins stated that the deaths of young characters and other “dark passages” were the most difficult parts of the book to write, but that she had accepted that passages such as these were necessary to the story.[4] She considered the moments where Katniss reflects on happier moments in her past to be more enjoyable.”

At the end of this guest blog I’ll provide links for those interested in further exploring the phenomenon of “The Hunger Games”, but now I want to delve into the metaphor that this series presents about our life today in America, because I see parallels to our current American crisis. Last night I watched the season conclusion of the popular TV contest/reality/singing show “The X Factor” and as I drifted off to sleep the idea for this piece began to form in my mind. While we are nowhere yet near the widespread poverty and misery of “Panem”, our America has been lately displaying the signs of a possible “Panem-like” future and I can see the signs in much of the “reality” programming that now pervade our televisions. Please let me explain.

The “X Factor” is your rather standard model of what has become the rage in television in the last decade. It is ostensibly a talent contest, before a panel of judges to determine which one of the tens of thousands of contestant will be judged to have the “X Factor” and win the prize of a musical career, fueled by a million dollar recording contract. With slight differences, it is of a similar nature to “American Idol”, “The Voice” and a variety of others that have sprung up trying to copy the initial success of “American Idol” the first of these shows to garner great national attention here and which are being produced in various countries worldwide. I’ll provide links for the history of this genre at the end of this piece as well. First though let me explain why an aged, intellectually pretentious “hipster” like me watches and loves these shows, while loathing much of their format and content.

I’m a sucker for the “underdog” and always have been. My favorite literature, sports teams and movies are those that portray the ultimate “triumph” of an “underdog.” Rooting for the underdog brings up powerful emotions within me that pervade my body with tears, warmth, excitement and triumphal satisfaction when my protagonist of choice succeeds and also allows me the surcease of tearful moments when they fail, as so often underdogs will fail. For those sports fans reading this all I have to say is that my favorite teams are the Mets, Jets, Knicks and Rangers and they will understand how my brief moments of exultation, have been outstripped by the frustration and tears of failure. Secondly, I love popular music and these shows are entertaining in that they are all about performances of popular music which allows me the fan to either enjoy, or trash based on my hearing. Finally though, I fancy myself as an observer of culture and the mythology that drives it and these shows are well crafted to fit into the mythology perpetrated in America, for indeed their winners are real life examples of the “American Dream.” Let’s look at the common themes and conventions that drive these shows and as we do so feel free to see how they compare to those presented in the “Hunger Games”, although without the violence……… far.

Were shows like “The X Factor” mere singing contests, one would think that they would be won by those with the best voices and greatest performing talent. This is not always the case. Sharing equal importance with each performer’s talent is their “back-story”. The three finalists on Thursday night’s “X Factor” final were Francisco Oliviero who represented the “Boys” category; Jeff Gutt, who represented the “Over 25” category; and finally Alex and Sierra, two Florida college students who were boyfriend and girlfriend, represented the “Groups” category.  Francisco, purportedly from the worst slums of Chicago, is now working as a Barista in L.A. pursuing an entertainment career. He is portrayed as a lad rising up from poverty to achieve his dream of singing stardom and to be motivated by wanting his success to provide financial comfort for his parents and family. The Narrator and Judges characterize him as “coming from nothing” and he himself said on one occasion that “I came from dirt”. I don’t know about other viewers, but since for many weeks his parents were constantly shown in the audience, I felt uncomfortable that their parenthood was talked about in that way. While it is true they may be poor people economically and their living conditions may at times have been sketchy, were they really “nothing” and “dirt”?

Jeff Gutt, is from Chicago and at age 37 he is a single father with a cute 6 year old boy, prominently displayed throughout the show. His back-story hints at “dark times”, possibly addiction, and earning a scant living trying to become a singing star. It emphasizes that he wants to win it all so he can support his child and last night he even went as far to say that his 6 year old son wants to go to Medical School to become a Doctor, so he needs to win the prize to make his boy’s dreams come true. As he has said and the MC parrots, at age 37 this is “his last chance” at fulfilling his dream to become a singing star, presumably the only way he can provide for all of his son’s needs.

Finally there is Alex and Sierra, an absolutely beautiful young couple, who by all appearances are completely in love with each-other. Their back-story is this love story and the fact that Alex, who has performed all of his life, talked Sierra into coming on stage with him and singing with him as he performed. Supposedly, as presented from their introduction onto the show, she lacked confidence in her talent and it was only Alex’s loving support that allowed her to bring out her own considerable talent and sing on TV before millions. The MC and Judges throughout the shows encouraged the duo to show their love for each-other in order to America to capture the public’s heart and their call-in votes. They are very good singers and musicians who stare lovingly at each other as they perform.

In the conceit of the of “The Hunger Games” a similar method was used to distinguish the competitors from each region, with each competitor having a team of stylists to present hairstyles and costuming as high fashion representatives of each of the 12 districts of “Panem”. Indeed, as the weeks of “X Factor” and all other such contests pass, the contestants are clad and styled into ever more perfect packages as a way to better sell their wares. Thus we see the progression of a transformation of contestants from ordinary mortals dressed in an ordinary fashion, into representations of superstars in anticipation of one’s soon to be elevated status.

Another conceit of these “reality contests” is that the contestants at each stage are constantly asked what winning the show would mean to them. The most repeated answer is that it would “mean everything to me” since “Stardom” is the only thing that would fulfill them in their lives. The repetition of this theme of the quest for stardom being all encompassing to the effect that anything less would be failure runs through ever contest reality show. It is ironic that many of those being asked this question are as young as fourteen years old. It seems they believe even at those tender ages that if they don’t become stars their lives won’t have meaning. This is the underlying message of these shows and it dovetails so well into the mythology of the American Dream. The idea is that no matter how humble one’s birth, any of us through “pluck” and talent can be rich, famous and gain entrée into the upper classes. “The Hunger Games” though certainly sends a far more dystopian message with the stakes of losing being death a far more disturbing exemplar of failure, than obscurity. As I see it America may well be in an era of transition towards what is portrayed as a dystopian future in “The Hunger Games” and these “singing contests” display the same conventions of propaganda that are used to distract, amuse and chasten the populace as those with power seek to increase it. If you strip away the surface patina, the methodology used is quite similar to that used by the Roman Caesars in their provision of “bread and circuses” via the gladiatorial contests. They provided distracting amusements for the masses, rewards for the small percentage of victors and the underlying message that the “State” is all powerful, so you best not run afoul of it.

In our “more enlightened times” the consequences of failure are not fatal, but the connotation may well be just as dismal. Victory, in the way our culture defines it, means leading a life of meaning and pleasure. Defeat is merely the common condition for most that lack the “talent” to succeed against the odds. The message to most of us is that “you’re simply not good enough and so you must accept your status, but a very few of you who try hard enough can be welcomed into the inner circle”. The reality of course in today’s America is that the “American Dream” is dying as a mythology to keep the populace in line. As the separation between the “haves” and the “have nots” becomes ever greater, it becomes more apparent to the people that the “game is rigged’ against them. The discontent is growing, though it is nowhere near its’ tipping point. Our government is preparing though for that day by building up massive records of each of us, our lives and those we are connected to. We have seen evidence on this blog that there is government planning for dealing with the possibility of massive rebellion and the treatment of “Occupy Wall Street” provides a case in point of the difficulty of dissent on even a rather minor and peaceful scale.

These reality shows meanwhile have become enormously popular and are in effect massive vehicles of corporatist propaganda. However, to add to the “Hunger Games” motif the ratings of NFL football are the highest on TV, surpassing by far even these contest/reality shows. Pro football gets us closer to the violence of the “Hunger Games”, by building up its heroes and its losers with similar motifs to that of reality contests and with rewards lifting our heroes into the wealthy classes. Despite the fact that almost every pro football player has been to college they are nevertheless all commonly portrayed and extolled as “blue collar”. As rich and as famous as any of them get, the NFL publicity machine is careful to make them the inferior to the Billionaire team owners. They owners have in fact pretty much destroyed the Player’s Union in recent labor “lockouts” and have dictated restrictive salary caps, with the general approval of the Football loving public. Though the players are well paid by any standard, their careers are short and we are discovering many suffer early humiliating deaths due to the injuries sustained playing the game.  It is a class system writ large and in the end no football player, no matter how heroic, is ever seen as the equal of the Billionaire who owns the team.

Perhaps I am of too dystopian a mindset as I ponder the future of my country and as I amuse and distract myself with fantasies of the underdog prevailing in sports, literature and the performing arts. So here am I waiting with bated breath for the return of “American Idol” in January, so I can immerse myself again in the fantasy, listen to the pretty music and yet have a sense of foreboding over what I’m watching.

Oh yes, Alex and Sierra won the “X Factor” and its’ million dollar recording contract. Thus, once again proving love conquers all in the hearts of the American Public. While Carlito and Jeff gamely promised that this loss won’t be the last we see of them, who knows whether or not they will fade into the obscurity of regular living. I hope not, but then again it is only hoping for a better future for all that keeps me going.

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

62 thoughts on “American “Hunger Games”

  1. The analogies are frightening. Today war is our chief export. We allowed the Dulles boys to scare us about communism. And Korea, Vietnam, and a Cold War that saw us positioning ourselves against many Arab nations resulted. We made the world safe for democracy, just not in Iran, Iraq or most other places. Where Henry Ford helped work to create a middle class worker society so that consumer products would have a market, now factory workers work for peanuts overseas and our middle class is dying on the vine. Let the Hunger Games begin!

  2. Gene,

    I saw that blot and it was logical, but then again who ever said totalitarian sociopaths acted logically. The premise of the games were to rein through brutality/fear allowing a soupcon of hope for the victor. No ruler who brutally depresses aqcts Ithaca logic because ultimately terrorist rule isn’t workable.

  3. Interesting story Mike. The Hunger Games remind a little of the short story the Lottery where a town chooses one person to be stoned each year. To think we are heading in the direction of the Hunger Games scenario is scary.

  4. Mike,

    Agreed. Mental illness has its own rules. Look at Caligula as a prime historical example. But I think the flaw McDonald points to illustrates why such a gladiatorial spectacle is doomed (eventually) from inception in reality. Note that the Roman gladiatorial tradition didn’t run afoul of Foucault. When criminals were used (as opposed to professionals who were treated like rock stars), the punishment was not random or capricious and it was linked to a specific crime all the while providing more spectacle along with the pros and the animals.

  5. MikeS,

    Excellent direction I believe you wish to head.

    You & I are so lucky to be alive at this crossroads in time that perhaps we all can have input to the blueprint of the type of society we wish to build as a society.

    A dystopia or utopia future for humanity?

    You, I & others wish to build on a foundation of Love and no doubt Evil wishes to build a future on Hate.

    Yes, we have to overcome some obstacles. We see Evil has prevailed at securing a large percentage of the wealth & control into the hand of some very smart evil people.

    Smart yes, but they are the laziest of all. One of their current strongest weapons their laziness relies on is algorithms.

    We write & talk & plan, they spy on us illegally, run it through algorithms thus they know more about us in most cases then we know about ourselves. Then they use propaganda, (note GeneH’s work), & brainwashing, note OS’s work), to guild us,society, where they wish us to go.

    All of Evil’s efforts can be countered by the masses I believe, if we wish too.

  6. Nice article Mike. The sad part about this is how willing much of the population is toward forstering this happening.

    Gene: Yes, that is very key about evil not being lazy. In fact it is often just the opposite. It tends to be more singular in purpose and focused upon goals almost to the point of obscession, which I think is often the spark of bad things to come.

  7. Gene,

    When they have lost their control we can refer back to this point as to what brought about their demise.

    (If we’re lucky enough to be around.)

  8. Oky,

    The Greeks had a word for it and it wasn’t “lazy” in Greek (tempéli̱s).

    It was “hubris”. Extreme pride and arrogance to the point they have lost touch with reality. Louis XVI wasn’t lazy. But he had a palace full of hubris.

    Until reality separated his head from his neck.

  9. Mike: My wife and I like The Voice, and recently, The Sing Off (although the judges in the latter seem pathetically incapable of helpful advice).

    Neither of us will watch reality shows in which the judges are angry, mean or insulting; there is such an imbalance of power there we find it cruel, and cruelty is not entertaining to us. Particularly on TV, there is absolutely no reason to air that except to intentionally make cruelty entertainment.

    On the “it would mean everything to me,” I forgive that answer. For most of these contestants winning would indeed change the course of their entire lives, even if it just solidified their having a career in music. So I consider that answer the equivalent of the more specific statement, “I think it would change the course of my life.”

    One of the things we like about The Voice is they bring back not just past winners, but basically all contestants that went on to recording contracts, or building a music career because of appearing on The Voice; some of whom finished like eighth. The coaches on The Voice have signed several of the “losers” to recording contracts.

    I would also like to note the financial motivation for such shows. Writers, scripts, rehearsals, professional actors and sets in a drama are wicked expensive, and reality shows (and, used to be, game shows) are relatively inexpensive. Part of what has made them that way is digital technology; since we don’t need literal tape or film anymore, we can record 24 hours of scenes from twenty POV and edit that down to an hour. Some reality shows report recording over 100 hours of “tape” for every hour of show; something that would have been financially impossible with actual tape, actual cameramen, and the bulky tech, lights, boom mikes and other support of the past. But it is relatively cheap and easy for a small group of (median wage) people to watch a few hundred hours of recordings to mine for a few hours of “good stuff” that goes on to be refined into 42 minutes of TV with a voice-over stitching it together.

    I’m not denigrating anything here; it is just interesting to me the role of technology in such a cultural shift. In fact I rather like the direct democracy of viewer votes determining the outcome on The Voice. The objective is to find somebody that sells records. What better way to figure that out?

    I also think it is ironic that as this new species of show has proliferated, their competition for viewers has caused the prizes to get bigger and the production values to climb nearly to the budgets of the scripted shows they were replacing. Have you noticed that the sets on The Voice are about ten times as expensive as their first season?

  10. Mike S,


    Gene H is the only one, as far as I can tell, who used “spectacle” in this conversation.

    It is an important consideration that was discussed in the book Empire of Illusion, “The end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle.”

    It is a comment on the evolution of the dynamics of the cultural amygdala, a powerful structure formed and molded within the brains of citizens by the power of the state.

  11. Our tributes are volunteers. The games take place in other lands. Some provide volunteers, some conscripts, and some refuse to play. The capital is decentralized — those with a vested interest in the game’s continuing.

  12. As a reminder of the futility of revolution, each year there is a lavish production made for TV of a gladiatorial conflict and called “The Hunger Games.” From each of the 12 districts two young people are chosen randomly to fight to the death. Each district sends a male and a female. The ultimate winner (survivor) is gives a life of wealth, luxury and status.” – Mike S

    The hunger games is in some degree a metaphor, IMO, for “education.”

    There is some historical support for such a notion:

    The importance of gladiatorial games should be obvious from the time and finances devoted to them. It is inadequate to attribute this solely to pleasing the crowd or for earning and the status of the sponsors, or to regard the games as ostentatious overtures to munificence and benefaction, even though they do play a role. Such explanations alone would not explain, for instance, the fact that the massive Colosseum, site of many such games, was initiated by Vespasian, the emperor who is reputed to have been the most economical of all. Such games must have served much more important purposes.

    One such purpose is the education of Roman values, notably strength/courage (fortitudo), training/discipline (disciplina), firmness (constantia), endurance (patientia), contempt of death (contemptus mortis), love of glory (amor laudis), and the desire to win (cupido victoriae). In other words, in the absence of common military pursuits, gladiatorial games became the means of teaching Romans virtus, since the gladiatorial fights effectively demonstrated soldierly values and illustrated military ideas by punishing cowardly gladiators and rewarding courageous ones. Indeed, it is through what is regarded in modern times as sadistic, i.e. witnessing the spectacle of men fighting to their deaths, that such values are conveyed.

    This is supported by a passage in Pliny’s panegyric to Trajan (Panegyric xxxi.1) in which he praised the emperor who first satisfied the practical needs of the citizens and the allies, and then gave them a public entertainment, nothing lax or dissolute to weaken and destroy the manly spirit of his subjects, but one to inspire them to face honourable wounds and look scornfully upon death, by demonstrating a love of glory and a desire for victory even in the persons of criminals and slaves.In other words, Pliny viewed the gladiatorial show as an educational experience of morality and virtue. The fact that the performers were outcasts strengthened this educational element by the implicit idea that if even such people could provide examples of bravery, determination to win glory and victory despite impending death, and even more so, contempt for death itself, then so could real men (viri).

    (Violence and the Romans: The Arena Spectacles, emphasis added). Those in the public who have an education in accord with the state’s values tend toward success, while those who do not have a state-approved education tend toward failure.

    That is the psychological force behind the spectacles now as it was then, because, if we think about it, “power” has not evolved, has not changed.

    What has evolved and changed is the way power is held, and that change is based on the dynamics of technology, not on wisdom or social maturity.

  13. I’ve always wondered why people aren’t allowed to look ‘normal’. Kelly Clarkson is a good example. She went from being a pretty, down-to-earth looking young woman to a cookie cutter Barbie Doll. No one is an individual by the time the make-overs are complete. It’s a one size fits all with makeup and hairstyles, and voices and style, all the same. And they better not weigh one extra ounce.

  14. The myth that has evolved in our culture is an all or nothing syndrome. You must be the best @ something and focus all your energy on that goal. This manifests itself in many ways, but I’ll use one of my assigned categories as an example. Over my lifetime there has been a paradigm shift in sports vis a vis kids. Growing up in the 50’s/60’s kids played all sports. And the vast amount of time playing sports was on their own, not organized by adults. I loved baseball and spent my entire day, every day, during the summer playing pickup games. I knew the morning kids, afternoon kids, and evening kids. I knocked on more doors than a Jehovah’s Witness getting kids to come down to the diamond to play. Little League, Babe Ruth League. etc. was maybe 2% of the time spent playing.

    This playing w/o adults transcends the sport. It requires kids to make rules according to how many players. Right field is a foul ball if you’re a right handed hitter. Vive versa if you’re a lefty. There were no umps. You had to agree on balls and strikes, out/safe, fair/foul/ etc. The kids who were righteous gained status and the cheaters became marginalized.

    Our local high school has a superb football program. A kid who went to school w/ my daughter, Gabe Carimi, was the first round daft pick of the Bears a few years back. His nickname is “The Bear Jew”[Tarantino reference]. The kid is of Italian/Jewish heritage. When he played in high school he only played OT. This kid is 6’7″ 320lbs. and quick as a cat. I was befuddled why he didn’t also play defense. Well, mom and dad didn’t want him maybe getting injured playing defense and ruin his career. Football is a TEAM GAME. Carimi would have been a huge asset on defense. Our high school[Monona Grove] just won the Wi. State Championship again. I went to watch their semifinal game and they have a kid in the mold of Carimi. His name is Jaden Gault. He’s 6’6” 300. We grow them big here, must be the cheese. This kid is going to be a starting OT @ UW next year, as was Carimi, and this kid didn’t play defense either. Selfish!! But, I can’t put it on the kid because almost certainly it’s the parents pushing the coach to play the kid one way only.

    I coached Legion Baseball for years. This is high school summer and a great nationwide program. I had a couple kids go on to play Division 1 college baseball. I never had a kid who played more than 2 sports, and the vast majority played only baseball. Some of them got D2 and D3 scholarships. But these kids were athletes, some were 3 sport athletes. I played football and baseball in high school. I tried out for basketball but got cut. It hurt, but it was righteous, I wasn’t good enough. So, I played CYO basketball. I and all kids of my generation didn’t feel the need to be “the best” in order to play. We just played because we loved the game and our parents had very little involvement. My old man worked different shifts in the factory and would lose sleep to come see me play. No yelling or griping, just watching. My mom never came. She felt it was being hovering for a mom to go. She would always ask me when I got home how it went and would cut out articles and box scores of my games.

    Parents have taken over kids sports. They have removed the pure, unabashed love of the game and replaced it w/ “being the best” , getting a scholarship, etc. This has serious consequences that transcends sports. You learn skills organizing games. You learn skills playing games where you don’t excel but have to struggle playing because you love playing. You learn humility, perseverance, teamwork, sacrifice. We’ve created a generation of myopic, arrogant, athletes and adults. There are consequences.

  15. Help please, I had a comment eaten. Probably due to it’s length. I’m on my 3rd cup of coffee. Thanks for your anticipated assistance.

  16. Seems to me the first paragraph part “The “Game” is set up in such a way that each of the contestants tries to compete for the affections of those privileged to be citizens of “The Capital”. These elite citizens can spend exorbitant sums of money to send aid to the contestants of their choice to try to ensure their survival. The “Game” is further rigged by the “Gamekeeper” in ways that tend to favor some contestants, so ultimately the contests are deadly shams. ” sounds like citizens united, Kochbrohers and others who fund political campaigns (and propaganda against ACA, etc) and how we run the political process in this country.

  17. “the Amazing Race” vs the “Great Race” -rafflaw

    It went right by me, rafflaw. (: (I don’t watch any of them, but thanks for your insights.)

  18. About some of our “games” abroad:

    Published on Friday, December 20, 2013 by

    ‘Bride & Boom’: We’re Number One… In Obliterating Wedding Parties
    Washington’s Wedding Album From Hell

    by Tom Engelhardt


    The headline — “Bride and Boom!” — was spectacular, if you think killing people in distant lands is a blast and a half. Of course, you have to imagine that smirk line in giant black letters with a monstrous exclamation point covering most of the bottom third of the front page of the Murdoch-owned New York Post. The reference was to a caravan of vehicles on its way to or from a wedding in Yemen that was eviscerated, evidently by a U.S. drone via one of those “surgical” strikes of which Washington is so proud. As one report put it, “Scorched vehicles and body parts were left scattered on the road.”

    It goes without saying that such a headline could only be applied to assumedly dangerous foreigners — “terror” or “al-Qaeda suspects” — in distant lands whose deaths carry a certain quotient of weirdness and even amusement with them. Try to imagine the equivalent for the Newtown massacre the day after Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began killing children and teachers. Since even the New York Post wouldn’t do such a thing, let’s posit that the Yemen Post did, that playing off the phrase “head of the class,” their headline was: “Dead of the Class!” (with that same giant exclamation point). It would be sacrilege. The media would descend. The tastelessness of Arabs would be denounced all the way up to the White House. You’d hear about the callousness of foreigners for days.

    And were a wedding party to be obliterated on a highway anywhere in America on the way to, say, a rehearsal dinner, whatever the cause, it would be a 24/7 tragedy. Our lives would be filled with news of it. Count on that.

    But a bunch of Arabs in a country few in the U.S. had ever heard of before we started sending in the drones? No such luck, so if you’re a Murdoch tabloid, it’s open season, no consequences guaranteed. As it happens, “Bride and Boom!” isn’t even an original. It turns out to be a stock Post headline. Google it and you’ll find that, since 9/11, the paper has used it at least twice before last week, and never for the good guys: once in 2005, for “the first bomb-making husband and wife,” two Palestinian newlyweds arrested by the Israelis; and once in 2007, for a story about a “bride,” decked out in a “princess-style wedding gown,” with her “groom.” Their car was stopped at a checkpoint in Iraq by our Iraqis, and both of them turned out to be male “terrorists” in a “nutty nuptial party.” Ba-boom!

    As it happened, the article by Andy Soltis accompanying the Post headline last week began quite inaccurately. “A U.S. drone strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Yemen,” went the first line, “took out an unlikely target on Thursday — a wedding party heading to the festivities.”

    Soltis can, however, be forgiven his ignorance. In this country, no one bothers to count up wedding parties wiped out by U.S. air power. If they did, Soltis would have known that the accurate line, given the history of U.S. war-making since December 2001 when the first party of Afghan wedding revelers was wiped out (only two women surviving), would have been: “A U.S. drone… took out a likely target.”

    After all, by the count of TomDispatch, this is at least the eighth wedding party reported wiped out, totally or in part, since the Afghan War began and it extends the extermination of wedding celebrants from the air to a third country — six destroyed in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and now the first in Yemen. And in all those years, reporters covering these “incidents” never seem to notice that similar events had occurred previously. Sometimes whole wedding parties were slaughtered, sometimes just the bride or groom’s parties were hit. Estimated total dead from the eight incidents: almost 300 Afghans, Iraqis, and Yemenis. And keep in mind that, in these years, weddings haven’t been the only rites hit. U.S. air power has struck gatherings ranging from funerals to a baby-naming ceremony.

    The only thing that made the Yemeni incident unique was the drone. The previous strikes were reportedly by piloted aircraft.

    End of excerpt

  19. I don’t watch reality shows and depend upon others, like Mike, to fill me in on the latest “stars” and their path to glory. Although I plowed my way through the Hunger Games trilogy, it was not my cup of tea either.

    However, I was intrigued by the metaphor Mike drew and the parallels to which he directed our attention and thus, after careful consideration, came to realize that those very parallels were the reasons I’m not a fan of either the Hunger Games or Reality Shows. It was a subconscious meets conscious moment that is best described as, “yeah, I knew that”.

    I then read all the comments and was particularly drawn to nick, carol, and Tony C’s observations. nick’s is too long to reprint but basically it was bemoaning the reality of kids’ sports meeting the reality of adults in kids’ sports. Tony C’s and carol’s remarks, if combined, deal with that same sort of reality:

    “I’m not denigrating anything here; it is just interesting to me the role of technology in such a cultural shift. In fact I rather like the direct democracy of viewer votes determining the outcome on The Voice. The objective is to find somebody that sells records. What better way to figure that out?” (Tony C)
    “I’ve always wondered why people aren’t allowed to look ‘normal’. Kelly Clarkson is a good example. She went from being a pretty, down-to-earth looking young woman to a cookie cutter Barbie Doll. No one is an individual by the time the make-overs are complete. It’s a one size fits all with makeup and hairstyles, and voices and style, all the same. And they better not weigh one extra ounce.” (carol)

    The reality of enjoying doing something, maybe even having the talent to do that something really well meets the reality of those who want to sell it and when that happens “people aren’t allowed to look (or be) ‘normal’” anymore. The reality of ‘sameness’ replaces the reality of being an individual. The ‘umps’ take over.

  20. Would someone please release a comment that should have posted to the “Ex-CIA Director Calls For Snowden To Be “Hanged By His Neck Until He Is Dead” thread? Thanks, in advance.

  21. carol, Great observation. On the subject of the Hunger Games I love Jennifer Lawrence. She is down to earth, talks about loving to eat cheesesteak on the red carpet, speaks eloquently about the unhealthy body image culture, etc. My wife and I just spoke the other day about Lawrence and said we hope the culture doesn’t change her.

  22. The games take place in other lands. -George

    We have our own “games” — games that are hidden in plain sight — games that are running beneath the radar of most Americans — games that are taking place on U.S. soil, conducted by those who don’t give a damn about the rule of law or the Constitution.

    At the end of the documentary “Dirty Wars”, Jeremy Scahill asks the question: “…what happens to us when we see what’s hidden in plain sight?”

    Indeed. It’s a question that all Americans should be asking.

  23. Mike Spindell:

    Interesting post. I thought the movie was, the first one [havent seen the second one], pretty poor. I also thought the plot wasnt very good either. I wouldnt waste my time on the books because I saw the movie. But then I think American idol and X factor are ridiculous as well.

    Although Simon Cowell had a brilliant idea to promote his music business and make money to boot. As I see it shows like American idol take a process of about 10-15 years and concentrate it into 6-12 months. The good singers would probably eventually become famous but how many of the American idol winners will be selling records in 50 years?

    Will the Hunger Games be considered a classic novel like 1984 or Animal Farm or Les Miserables? Highly doubtful.

    American Idol, X Factor, The Hungar Games, etc. are all based on the premise of the Lottery. There isnt much work involved, life is nothing but random chance. Which is a terrible message to be teaching people.

  24. Blouise, Thanks for the shout out. I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask you. We had dinner in a great restaurant in Rapallo named La Sosta. Our waiter was such a nice young man. Being Americans, we were seated @ 7:30p when restaurants just open, so he wasn’t busy. The guy was maybe 25 and wanted to be an opera singer. He told of where he trained but it meant nothing to me. He loved the USA and spoke about maybe trying to come to the US because opera is just so competitive in Italy. Here’s my question, I wanted to ask him to sing but felt embarrassed to ask. Would asking him to sing have been presumptive. After I left I asked my wife and she said I should have. What do you think? I know it’s tough not being there but if you were the singer/waitress, how would you have felt. I gave him a great tip but would have given more if he sang.

  25. Reality shows started serendipitously when there was a Writer’s Guild strike. I always told my kids, who knew and watched my surveillance tapes, that if the person knows the camera is there, it’s not reality. These competition shows are different, I’m speaking of the Real Housewives of Toledo, etc.

  26. nick,

    Never a bad move to ask a singer to sing unless you have invited him/her to dinner … then you should ask at the time you extend the invitation.

    Whether or not he would be allowed to do it would be up to the manager of the restaurant … which would be an easy way out if the singer did not feel like doing it (management says no). The tip would then reflect his willingness to perform 😉

    As to coming to America … I’ve known successful opera singers who have gone to Italy to get their start and then returned to America with that enhanced resume. So, originally training in Italy might work in his favor … it would all depend on where he got his training, who his coaches were, and where he had performed … the roles he had learned, etc.

    My daughter and I are in the initial stages of planning a trip to Italy. Who did you use for your travel plans and would you recommend a specific service?

  27. A timely posting Mike S but I submit that its always been the Hunger Games, in my lifetime anyway. It’s always been the white poor collaborating with their heartless Republican masters to screw themselves out of even basic human necessities because ‘lazy urban poor’ are fleecing the system. Its always been the ignorant poor, mostly white, deluded into voting against their own best interest because someday they might (by some magic) be rich and don’t want to be burdened by paying high taxes for welfare and other government programs. I actually heard an interviewee of a guy that was receiving government assistance, short on teeth and would consider a trailer to live in a world=class step up, say that: “But I might be”, “but you’re not”, “But I might be”…. Yeah, at 50 and dumb as a pile of rocks, always votes Republican.

    Once we get past the urban/rural, black/white, tribal propaganda there’s always the immigrant/citizen mechanism for obfuscating the community of interest. THEY are taking our jobs and get generous government stipends to come here illegally, drop an anchor baby or six and take our jobs.

    Somehow I couldn’t imagine Mr. not-rich-yet taking his best pair of shoes, four teeth and optimism and migrating to his state’s capitol city to work for minimum wage or less at part time jobs in the service industry, after all, he was on welfare because “I deserve it”. Why leave the opulence of a one room shack and SSI for such an uncertain future? By his own calculation he was doing just fine while he waited to become America’s next millionaire. If only those other shiftless peasants weren’t messing the country up with their laziness and need for government hand-holding.

    Never is there a discussion though of the government policies, kicked into overdrive with NAFTA, that make it profitable for business to outsource in all sectors. Nowhere is there a substantial discussion of an economy in such dire straights that a Boeing Corp can set up a bidding war among states to locate jobs therein.

    My state, Missouri is/was in that mix -nine Billion in direct and indirect subsidies promised so far including the land and all infrastructure improvements free, a purpose-built manufacturing plant free and all the latest, state of the art manufacturing machines and tech, also free plus limited and perpetual tax abatement’s. The deeper cause, a fight between Boeing and the Machinist’s Union over the pension plan of machinists (defined benefit v defined contribution) isn’t discussed at all.

    Except in Washington state, the logical place to build the planes at issue, the propaganda there is that ‘it’s the unions fault’. Another tribal point of leverage. The ‘have some of the pie folks’ pitted against the ‘have less of the pie folks’ even though it’s obviously a bid by the company to avoid capital improvement costs and avoid it’s pension liabilities.

    We now live in a world where corporations with jobs to let are rock stars or like sports franchises and twisting arms for their favor is standard operating procedure.

    There is always the old fall-back of women and their place in society, especially in the workforce. That never went away, just underground, but now it is being spoken again. Too many women who belong at home raising children and being submissive to their man, are out taking jobs from men that need them.

    Its always THEM and always has been, the enemy Du jour with which to play off one segment of society that is getting screwed against another.

    It’s been the Hunger Games at some level of urgency or another with the same cast of villains for my entire life. I thought as a country we’d be further along than we are by now, 50 years on.

    IMO Mike, “The Hunger Games” is an allegory for kids and maybe it will start some of them thinking. “District 9” is the closer-to the-bone allegory for adults. You wake up one day after a lifetime of playing by the rules (even if you have to hold your nose to do it and rely on ‘it’s my job’ to justify it) and something unexpected happens. You get laid off or fired in the current round of downsizing. You get sick or injured (or a loved one does) and your job evaporates followed by your savings and home. You end up living in the American metaphor for the outskirts of Soweto (where D9 was filmed) digging around in dumpsters for your next meal and there’s no way back in sight. And if you’re counting on that SNAP money of $1.50 or less per meal, well, tighten your belt and get a job you freeloader.

    No cites, no nutt’n. My opinion FWIW. A rant. It’s Mike’s fault.

  28. Blouise, I am an Expedia and Trip Advisor person. When I’m going to stay somewhere awhile we rent houses or condos and have always been satisfied w/ VRBO. The comment sections on all these venues are key. I have found Expedia to have the most reliable comments, followed by VRBO and then Trip Advisor. Expedia is diligent in making sure you actually stayed @ the place prior to accepting a comment. VRBO is policed by the website and the owner of the condo. Trip Advisor makes you jump through hoops and it’s more for their benefit[getting you on their email list]. I think the last time I tried to make a comment on Trip Advisor the only way I could have was if I was on Facebook, which I am not. For overseas restaurants I use yelp and Google. But, by far the best way is to just ask the front desk or a bartender. I stopped using travel agents for over 10 years. If you or your daughter aren’t comfortable w/ my process then use a travel agent but I would be happy to help. Say you’re going to Milan. Just search on Expedia, pick some hotels that look good to you, and I’ll look @ them and give you my opinion. In Milan, Florence, Rapallo, Pisa, Rome and Sorrento I can give personal reviews. I’ll get you my email if you like. Just email my wife’s website

    I’m kicking myself now w/ the singer. It was a laid back place and the owner or manager was easy going and I’m sure she would have let him sing. The singer mentioned his training but was lamenting he was only getting small parts. He recently was trying to find an agent in the US, but no luck yet. He mentioned his training was good, but his resume is slim.

  29. lotta,

    Thanks for your rant. Over at Mike’s “virtuous” rich post–we’ve had folks defending–and even extolling–the Kochs. You know the charming brothers who use their big bucks in hopes of doing away with social programs like Social Security and Medicare. Such charming siblings!

  30. Nick, you’re right, it was a writer’s strike that gave us this generation of reality shows. Damn union!:-)

    I’m with Blouise, I don’t watch them in general, I do watch Project Runway and Top Chef. Drama queens, mostly bad fashion and food are my weakness’. A couple of the designers have been artists of high merit but they are exceptions. I’m in it for the laughs.

    Anybody else here old enough to remember “Queen For A Day”. As a child I would watch it with my mom. Women with terrible stories of ongoing hardship would present their stories and compete for prizes. The audience would choose the winner. I hated that show. These were people burdened almost beyond belief by the vagaries that life throws at one (no safety net of any kind then) and they were hoping to win a washing machine because doing the laundry by hand with a bedridden father and a new baby that had polio or something was a full time job. Or hoped to win food and some new cloths for the kids because since the man of the house was injured and lost his job food was in short supply and the kids have all grown and they need cloths to go back to school.

    I. Hated. That. Show. All that pain, why couldn’t they all win? That just wasn’t right. I was like, four and knew there was something wrong with that format.

    Reality programing just doesn’t work for me. If I wanted to get involved with false, transitory alliances and plots to knock someone in the group out of a position I wanted for some temporary gain I could just go to work. Srsly. I just never got in step and considering that it was apparent in kindergarten I see now that much of the problem was watching those game shows with mom. I was a bleeding heart liberal (and couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it) by the time I was five. Curse you “Queen For A Day”!

  31. Elaine, When the trolling goes into overdrive and it becomes a race to scrape the bottom of the ‘bring on the pain’ barrel I consider a thread dead and move on. I don’t even want to be in the same room with a circle-jerk of mean spirited delusion. I’m sure I miss a lot of good comments in rebuttal but there isn’t enough brain sanitizer at Walgreens Drug store to keep my head clean after some of the comments and I’m trying to keep my personal attacks to a minimum.

  32. Wow….such a lot of great comments that I hardly know where to begin, but I think I’ll start with Blouise, because she nails where I’m coming from.

    “However, I was intrigued by the metaphor Mike drew and the parallels to which he directed our attention and thus, after careful consideration, came to realize that those very parallels were the reasons I’m not a fan of either the Hunger Games or Reality Shows.”

    My piece was done as a metaphor because frankly where I’m trying to go would take a very long book and I for one don’t have enough left in the tank anymore to attempt it. My concern isn’t about politics but it is with where we are going as a nation and where humanity is going as a species. My contention has long been that humanity has always been governed by an elite, in one society or another. The methods are constantly changing through the ages and our rulers shift between benign models and malignant models of governance.

    As Dredd alluded to it is all about education of the masses and another explanatory word for that is propaganda. In our country there has been the unifying concept of the “American Dream”, but the reality of that “Dream” has always been that its achievement is rare in the sense in which it is presented. The quintessential example of that is the series of novels by the author Horatio Alger. Alger was lionized in his time as being the author who most captured the public’s understanding of the “American Dream” and indeed in my youth he was still referred to in that way. Let me use the typical Alger plot to extend my metaphor. This plot is a paraphrase of one of his books.

    “A poor orphan shoeshine boy works diligently from dawn to dusk outside of a large bank. The rich bankers who patronize him hardly notice him except to remark on how industrious he is. He lives in a threadbare furnished room and barely earns enough from his hard work to keep himself fed and clothed. One day, as he is shining shoes, he spies the bank president walking and at the same time sees a safe falling that would kill the banker. He lunges and saves the banker’s life. In gratitude the banker gives him a job and buys him a suit.
    The industry that the lad applies to the job is such that he rises swiftly at the bank. After a while the banker’s daughter who has returned from school abroad comes to visit her father at the bank and notices the handsome young man. He sees her beauty and sparks fly. They fall in love and with the Banker’s approval because of the young man’s pluck and industry they marry.”

    In Alger’s world success wasn’t about becoming one of the elite per se, because that “elite” represented a class way beyond the aspirations of the common man. Alger presented the dream of attaining middle-class “respectability”, thus being deemed by the “Elite” as worthy. See further:

    In “The Hunger Games” the message is that the way of life in Panem is ordained and that those in the enslaved 12 Districts have no right to aspire to more than their lot in life. However, each year one person by fighting their way through the other contestants can rise to an elevated status. Not really as part of Panem’s ruling elite, that is made clear, but as a kind of pampered pet of those who run things.

    Now in truth while some in this society have attained great wealth and fame as entertainers, the reality is that no entertainer is ever accepted as part of the “upper classes”. In my youth Frank Sinatra was probably considered to be at the acme of the entertainment world and it is true that due to Peter Lawford he became part of the Kennedy Entourage, only to be unceremoniously dropped after the election because of his mob ties. The irony is that the “Kennedy’s” themselves had mob ties but were unimpeachable as part of the elite class and so suffered no consequence.
    some might say but what about Reagan and I would reply that Reagan was never of the elite, but he was certainly working for them. I threw in the part about pro sports because that formula is also true. Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning are very wealthy and very celebrated, but in the public’s mind they are not in the class of their team’s ownership.

    One of the conventions on the “X Factor” is that the contestants are constantly characterized as “fighting” for their victory. Carlito Oliviero was called a “fighter” and the fact that he was a boxer was discussed as showing his “fighting spirit”. The truth is that it is a singing competition, not a martial display, but the underlying mythology is presented that way and conveyed to the public subconsciously. My post is less about the movies, books and TV shows, than it is about how we are sold myths that help to continue an unequal power structure.

    Nick’s point about how children’s sports has morphed from our childhood to today’s adult organized competition is part and parcel of the commercialization of everything within our society. I remember with fondness the games of my youth with no adult around to “organize” it. For most children there is no dream of athletic glory on a big scale no mater how much they practice. I spent hours practicing by myself to become a good ballplayer, but I was no athlete and the only glory I ever obtained playing ball was on the unorganized ball-field’s of my youth where the competition was such that once in a while I could even be a hero.

    Carol’s comment was both a bulls-eye in the context of the “Hunger Games” and in the context of “Reality Competitions”. People in both instances are made-over to separate them from the masses and elevate their status. One of the things I find most ironic about the success of the “Hunger Games” movies is that various cosmetic companies have come out with makeup that plays off the fashion sense of “The Capitol”. Clearly the bizarre fashions of makeup shown in those “Capitol” denizens in the movies are to illustrate the decadence of this concentrated wealth. These companies are selling the decadence.

    Finally Bron, I wouldn’t call the books great literature, nor would I call the movies great films. All I will say is that they were able to move me emotionally in a positive way and that personally is all I ever seek from art.
    This is true at times in my viewing shows like the “X Factor” in that I have some emotional contact with the participants, even though intellectually I know that much of what I’m watching is propagandist manipulation. I’m just the kind of guy who likes a good cry and I take things that move me there as they come.

  33. lotta,

    I do love your rants … wish there were more but probably wouldn’t be as affective if more numerous.

    I. Hated. Queen-for-a-Day. also. My great aunt got hooked on the show when it was on radio and then on television … late afternoon on NBC I think … I was helping to prepare dinner. My mother used to whisper to me, “Pathetic women on that program.” She’d never say it out loud out of respect for my aunt. My great aunt also loved those fake wrestling matches. I loved her very much but she had some strange taste in television viewing. I suspect she would have been a fan of every reality show.

  34. Thanks Mike S for the comment on the comments.

    Good folk here, like a jewel with many facets, come at any subject matter like light from different sources, illuminating the subject in an expanded and helpful manner.

    Let me add one thing I have pondered of late, and which this post also somewhat surreptitiously alludes to.

    Cultural sadism (that is, a sadism sinking deeper and deeper into our culture).

    I may have captured somewhat of a handle for us to grasp it with, and it may explain some of our trolling events too:

    Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others — when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.

    Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost — a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.

    The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people’s view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals.

    Buckels and colleagues are continuing to investigate everyday sadism, including its role in online trolling behavior.

    “Trolling culture is unique in that it explicitly celebrates sadistic pleasure, or ‘lulz,'” says Buckels. “It is, perhaps, not surprising then that sadists gravitate toward those activities.”

    And they’re also exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports.

    The researchers believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.

    (How The Official Pleasure In Torture is Analyzed). The “education” we are receiving is that official sadism is a patriotic thing which “our betters” do to us for our own good.

    In other words, we are not headed in a good direction, thus, we must change the course of the ship of state.

    Playing the sadist’s game will not do.

  35. Blouise, Wrestling, oh my. My mothers side of the family was into wrestling, it was one of the few stations/programs they could receive (hills of Tennessee and an antenna that reached nearly to the clouds that you had to turn by hand to get your stations.) so it was a steady diet of wrestling and westerns. They took it seriously. This was back in the ‘Gorgeous George’ days when there was less theatrics and more actual wrestling. Not as many drugs either, being small and fleet of foot counted athletically. I enjoyed it too but I think sitting around as a kid with the entire family watching our hour or two of available TV a night was the big draw. Good times.:-)

  36. Dredd. When times get bad people get mean, you’re right. I’ve read some studies about stress reactions as they apply to society and you name the meanness and it goes up. I think the first study I ever read about it dealt with Indigenous Alaskans and sled dogs and that was a loooooong time ago. I have suspected that the last 10 years of blood/gore/WIJ films is a way to voyeuristically cater to the trend.

  37. lottakatz 1, December 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Dredd. When times get bad people get mean, you’re right. I’ve read some studies about stress reactions as they apply to society and you name the meanness and it goes up. I think the first study I ever read about it dealt with Indigenous Alaskans and sled dogs and that was a loooooong time ago. I have suspected that the last 10 years of blood/gore/WIJ films is a way to voyeuristically cater to the trend.
    Yeah … we’re radioactive …😉

  38. MikeS,

    Just had a big talk with my son a bit ago.

    I’m a would be tough guy, but I shed a tear when called for.

    I won’t leave this life & not have said my piece when I should have.

    You are an inspiring person to me along with many others on Professor Turley’s Blog.

    I pick up the good Karma & spread it Johnny Apple Seed style. :)

  39. MikeS,

    Some people have to get into it with their children over booze/girlfriends, etc.

    Last night I had to get onto that boy of mine 2 about 3am here.

    He’s been doing real well exercising, but I’m concerned he’s going to far.

    I find out he’s literally lifting what a small block chevy engine weighs.

    The reason I noticed was every time he puts the weights down in the garage the whole cement of the house shakes.

    I’m concerned as I know more then I’d like to about back/nerve damage & the lack of medical options for pain control.

    **How Much does a 350 Chevy Engine Weigh? – › Q&A › Automotive › Vehicle Brands‎
    A 350 chevy engine weighs from anywhere around three hundred and fifty pounds to four … Chevys website lists the Chevy smallblock (305, 350, etc) at 575 lb. **

  40. Well, I thought it over.

    If that boy is going to keep insisting on lifting to much weight the only logical solution I can come up is to have his 105 lbs Mom spot him.

    I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk my wore out ole back spotting him.:)

  41. “An earlier example of the genre is Richard Bachman’s (Stephen King’s) novella The Running Man.”

    New Iconoclast,

    I fear “The Running Man” may be the shape of things yet to come to our televisions.

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