“Hunger Games” summer camp is a travesty

While kids undergo pretend suffering in Florida, inmates in Guantanamo experience the real thing

Topics: Religion Dispatches, Hunger Games, summer camp, Florida, Guantanamo, ,

"Hunger Games" summer camp is a travestyScene still from "Hunger Games," which passes the so-called Bechdel test
This article originally appeared on Religion Dispatches.

Religion Dispatches It was bound to happen eventually. The Hunger Games have come to a summer camp near you, in the great state of Florida. Yes, in Florida, the land where the real death of an African-American child can be excused in a court of law, the fake “deaths” of predominantly white children are making quite a lot of headlines.

In the meantime, as these children were undergoing pretend suffering at summer camp, hunger striking inmates at Guantanamo Bay—off the coast of Florida—were experiencing very genuine suffering at the hands of the US government. Hunger striking inmates. Fasting inmates. Some sort of hybrid in between. These men lie in a strange, nebulous world where torture and religious practice intersect in haunting ways.

What can we say about this strange confluence of events?

What does it mean to face hunger in a culture of spectacle? What does it mean to play at hunger at a summer camp? Hunger can come in so many forms: as a dire circumstance of daily life; as religious discipline in many forms of fasting; as an act of political protest; as part of a disease.

In the dystopian Hunger Games nation of Panem, hunger remains oblique, obfuscated, hidden: the wealthy crowds reveling in the games never witness the hunger in the outer districts, the desperate straits of half-starved children forced to fight to the death in the Capitol, those poorer children whose districts rarely triumph.



Hunger at Gitmo draws our attention to human beings whose imprisonment and torture have also been hidden. We have not literally witnessed their suffering. We have witnessed a simulacra, a video capture of Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) voluntarily undergoing (part of) the forced feeding procedure in a disturbing YouTube short that went viral. This drew some public attention to the practice, though it continues.

Yet in Florida, children are frolicking in a green field, focusing on weapons, not hunger, and on choice: the freedom of play. One of the most oft-repeated, re-reported quotes from the campers reads: ”If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow … Don’t kill me with a sword. I’d rather be shot.” So much imagined agency! So different from the narrow straits nearby.

Our gut response might not be to think of summer camps as political spaces. But they are. Summer camps have and will continue to promote evangelical politics, progressive ideals, muscular Christianity, support for the nascent state of Israel, every political thing related to the scouting movements, and more. They are utopian terrariums setting forth ideals for each generation. It’s not just bug juice and mean girls.

Hunger Games camp depoliticizes the ethical point beneath Collins’ brilliant trilogy—that the game is not a game; it’s a trap and a means of control wielded by a dictatorial government. As in the 1980s film War Games, the only way to win is not to play. Hunger Games camp simultaneously makes a political move by normalizing our embodiment of violent roles, our rugged frontier mythos, our winner-takes-all individualism. This makes it easier to accept guns, stand one’s ground, and torture in our names. Maybe it’s all just a bad dream about summer camp.

And, of course, the campers are not hungry. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, they arrive at camp with lunchbags in hand. Their desperation is an act, and they show no fear. Their power comes from imagined weapons, not an imagined inner fortitude. In the original trilogy, our daring protagonist Katniss faces dehydration, as water is a vital, sought-after resource. In contrast, reporter Lisa Gartner describes young women who, during the final battle at camp, “paused in a safe zone, a green picnic bench under a tree, to get a drink in the shade.”

Over at the Revealer, Sajida Jalalzai writes that, “The strikers at Guantanamo are using what they have, namely, their bodies, to prevent themselves from disappearing from the American national agenda.” In the Hunger Games world, bodies are all that is given to the tributes facing off in the arena. Any weapons, sustenance, or protection they gain is hard fought. This is not so for the casual summer camp tribute.

One Florida psychology professor called the camp’s premise “unthinkable.” No. Kids who play violent games at summer camp are entirely thinkable. Just look at what most girls do to their Barbies. Unfortunately, what’s also thinkable, right now, is an American government that tortures inmates being held indefinitely without charges, a government rather like the imagined government in Collins’ dystopian future.

After camp counselors became concerned about the campers’ focus on the language of killing, they altered the goal of the game, which would now be “collecting lives.” I find this apt and terrifying. It’s not new. It mirrors common video game parlance. But more starkly, it makes me think of deities and demons collecting souls, of missionaries seeking souls to convert. It makes me think about how many lives we Americans have collected: in Guantanamo, in stateside domestic prisons, overseas in wars.

Yes, these are familiar criticisms in our ever post-post-9/11 nation. But what’s going on here is more than violence, and perhaps even worse than Orwell, or Kafka, or Collins. It’s a through-the-looking-glass world of a prison that promised to stop its force-feeding of inmates during the month of Ramadan, out of “respect” for the sunrise-to-sundown fast. We’re not only trapped in logic games and double speak. We are a bump on a vinyl record hopping over the same track as the scratch gets louder and louder, but we never hear it.

The children playing the Hunger Games at camp can rise again if they choose to do so, resurrected for another summer. The inmates at Guantanamo cannot yet rise from the world of their torture, even if they can, perhaps, spiritually rise above it.

See you next year.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...