The Hunger Games and Political Agency

Posted: December 3, 2013 in The Hunger Games Op Eds
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By Kris Kaliher

Syria and The Hunger Games, more specifically the new movie Catching Fire, are hot topics as of late, one a news story and one a pop culture phenomenon. From looking at the title you may also be wondering what political agency has to do with these two, or even what political agency is in the first place. While these themes may seem unrelated, they have much more in common than one would think. More importantly, this young adult sensation, this worn torn nation and this political science term are shaping the world in a scarily rapid way.

Before we talk about the Hunger Games (let’s be honest it is the most enjoyable of the three) it is important to define political agency. Merriam Webster tells us that agency is “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” So if we add the ‘political’ part on we can infer that it is the ability to politically wield power, have influence and shape identity. The idea of political agency is the key component behind the motivations of the characters in the Hunger Games. In the new movie Catching Fire Katniss and Peeta against the oppressive Capitol in the arena once more. Everyone’s favorite tributes are fighting for more than their lives though; they are fighting for their freedom. Their ability to move up, succeed, and practice politics is prevented by President Snow and the Capitol. Their potential for political and social movement is at a stand still; their political agency is stalled.

So what do our tributes do? They fight back. Although the end of the series ends in a violent climax, the foundation of the revolution is based on solidarity and non-violent defiance. By reading these books young adults (and adults for that matter) are actively learning about politics in an engaging and fun matter. Readers of the series get to see the ways and means of political agency in Katniss’ world, and possibly start to wonder what makes her world different.

Now, I am not advocating for the installation of a violent revolutionary totalitarian regime, but rather for an in-depth look at how political agency plays out in today’s world. The Hunger Games is a fantastic model for a growing grassroots political movement that is decentralized and started by local participants. Unfortunately the most prevalent “grass roots” political movements in America today are more funded by corporate entities and super PACs than the average voter. Today, people learn that politics is partisanship, shutdown governments and pork barreling of bills. Modern politics is a machine, not a movement. Simply put, the political agency, engagement and change we see in the Hunger Games is stagnant in our world today. Or is it?

Largely written off in the news after President Obama decided to not intervene militarily, Syria is one of only many Middle Eastern nations suffering from violence, but from this violence comes a message from the people. These citizens are not marching against such simple measures such as tax hikes and unemployment, but rather successfully protesting against the use of chemical weapons and the subsequent destruction of them by the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. They seek not to change the process of politics but change the dynamic of power itself. This international exhibit of political agency is right up Suzanne Collin’s alley, showcasing the great influence of politics and those who practice it. Despite all the violence and struggle, the true nature of politics is not being practiced here at home but instead on the other side of the world and in a trilogy of young adult novels and subsequent movies. The suggestion here is not to start a revolution or political movement, but rather to highlight what politics is and what political agency can be. It’s the idea of actively working together for something better, something more, and something right.


  1. Anonymous says:

    This was very interesting. I like how you mentioned the ‘grassroots’ beginnings of the revolutions in the districts in The Hunger Games. Later on in the series, there is a more orchestrated revolution by a more traditional power structure, District 13. Without this organized revolutionary strategy, would the war have lasted longer? Would it have even started? This is a topic that I think correlates with present-day conflicts.

  2. Liv Euler says:

    I agree and I don’t believe that Collins purpose was to glorify violent revolution, but I wish she would have gone about it a bit differently. I feel as if she could have explored some other alternatives and highlighted the effects on life post-war. After studying the book I better grasp her aims, but I am afraid that those reading surface level simply perceive the violent revolution as necessary and positive.

  3. Jim W says:

    You made the connections pretty vividly, and the format was cohesive. Not sure how I feel about the cute parenthetical in the second paragraph; it kind of reduces the the interest in the other topics. All around solid, I appreciated the emphasis on the American governments involvement.

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