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Apr 28, 2012

The Hunger Games

The movie reminds us how much of Rome is still with us. Not a great film by any means, the anti-utopia it shows is oddly plausible. Why? – Because we recognize all of those elements in our own society: clever technology that fails to feed all, the entertainment industry edging on gladiatorial games, the warehousing of the poor. Romans have shown how cultural sophistication can live along with barbarism and how the rule of law can exist alongside cruelty. The only thing that prevents us sliding into the world of the hunger games is the thin layer of ideas: liberalism, democracy, human dignity. There is nothing hard, or objective, or economic about them; all fragile, all living in our imagination only. This is how anti-utopias work: they show us where we do not want to go, and force us think how to avoid getting there.

As I watch the great American political theater playing its presidential show, I wonder why it does not include more conversation about the big ideas and ideals. After all, if a Hollywood blockbuster can make us think about the future, why not people running for the highest office? All arguments and counterarguments are fairly predictable, and none are terribly complex. The only element of drama is in unexpected twists of human behavior – a scandal, an error, a gaffe. It is a pity, for people involved in it certainly have original thoughts. I remember how Clinton was forced to dumb down his speeches in his first election. All of the presidents sound more intelligent once they leave the office, even George Bush, Jr. Obama and Romney both play it safe, sticking to proven rhetorical cliché’s, and taking shots at each other whenever the opponent deviates from the script. Thus the mutually enforced discipline of blandness rules. Aren’t we all afraid to say something stupid a little too much?

I wonder if we could have them watch a movie, for example the Hunger Games, and comment on it. Or should they have a debate on the Federalist Papers? How about a discussion on the constitutionality of the health care law? Basically, I want to know what they think about the future past November 2012.

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