In recent years, more and more children’s literature and cinema films with a political-philosophical theme have come onto the market. They are very popular among young people. This is remarkable, precisely because these books and films are aimed at the target group of older youth or young adults. Since when have they been interested in politics, philosophy, and/or political philosophy ?!
Now it is indeed unlikely that the average teenager at the beginning of the twenty-first century will suddenly be captivated by theoretical discussions about politics, political action, and just war. It is more likely that these books and films for ‘young adults’ contain many attractions in the form of action and romance. Yet their popularity cannot be explained solely by the appeal of small stories of adventure and puppy love. There is reason to suspect that these little stories are models for the big stories that young people struggle with today. The lifestyle of today’s adolescents may be ‘YOLO!’ (‘You Only Live Once’, ie do what you want), but should perhaps be understood as a counter-reaction out of unease about ‘Who has anything to say about me?’ or, more generally.
Happy Hunger games!
What are these films about and what philosophical points do they address? It is striking that all these stories are based on a similar setting: somewhere in the near future De Bom fell (or the society known to us disintegrated due to another catastrophe) and the survivors have to build a life under a different regime. The corresponding premise is a dystopian thought experiment: suppose we as a society had to start all over again, how would we organize it? What are the options? How do we organize control over the means of living? Do you get it or do you take it? Do you have the power or the right?
‘I believe in America!’
The main characters in The Hunger Games fight not only against domination but also for a better life. In this way, these films at least show young adults the struggle between two alternative ways of living together: a dictatorship or ‘each his own vegetable garden’. In a dictatorship, one person (or a small group) makes the decisions about the property and life of the others. They take all the power, usually quite physically, and usurp the monopoly on armed violence. In principle, the dictator may be a ‘good’ dictator, someone with the common good as the higher goal, such as peace and freedom. The Capitol even makes it “generosity and forgiveness” to strive for at the expense of individual good. More often, however, that power perverts out of personal lust into a malicious, totalitarian appropriation of property, of the body, and members of the non-rulers. “I don’t like underdogs,” said President Snow.
Liberal democracy as a third option
The thought experiment of the films mentioned is that after ‘the big blow’ everyone will go back to living in the countryside, as in the colonies of Locke’s time. This may be because the aforementioned films are American films, as they were ‘westerns’: the American states were built up by pioneers and separated from the European kings. Is that really what young adults should choose from today? Doesn’t it lose sight of the fact that we have been living in large urbanized areas for centuries? In a world that relies on trade and services, is not both a dictatorship and ‘everyone his own vegetable garden’ undesirable? We do not live autonomously on our own plantation or fishing waters. The mutual intercourse around property, labor, and life has become so much more intensive than another form of state government emerged, liberal democracy, a different relationship of power and law with government by the entire population itself. Not feudal, but guided. Not run by an elite, but by the residents. With certain safeguards such as a constitution, the separation of legislative, enforcement, and judicial powers, double parliamentary chambers, impeachment procedures, and the like. Our new generations have to relate to this.
‘Give them a good show’
What the films show again is that all forms of government have their vulnerabilities. Especially in The Hunger Games, we see a satire on the power of the media. Not only because the media themselves pack looks, air, and idleness in entertainment (and television producers become television stars). But mainly because, in addition to the trias politica (legislation, enforcement, and justice), the media has grown into a fourth power factor in today’s society. In the emptiness of entertainment (not to mention the propaganda of the talk shows and news broadcasts), manipulation of the population is never far away. This is a danger not only in a dictatorship or in a favorable state of nature, but also in a liberal democracy. In our country too, in our time, we see how decisive the media are for the reputation of administrators and management, for putting issues on the agenda, and thus can make or break politics by influencing public opinion. Today in our broadcast, tomorrow parliamentary questions! Why are films about political philosophies so attractive to young adults? Perhaps because they respond to the experience that the media are powerful, hopefully also to an unease that the media do not honestly address the coexistence and the question of who has what to say. It sometimes seems as if we live in a media dictatorship. Would young people experience it that way? WouldThe Hunger Games help them see-through?