Katniss Shrugged

Opinion   /   April 18, 2012  / 


A conservative cultural phenomenon is sweeping the nation, breaking box-office records, and capturing the collective imagination of our youth; the tale of a dystopian future where an activist court has upheld Obamacare, creating an all-powerful federal government and destroying America: The Hunger Games.

The film stars Katniss Everdeen, an entrepreneurial heroine in the mold of Dagny Taggart. After Katniss’s father dies, her mother is incapacitated by the liberal myth that she and her starving children are entitled to a government handout, but Katniss embraces the dignity of work. She rejects the government regulation of electric fences to make her hunting business a success. We see her participating in a thriving market, where she is incentivized to continue creating value as the products of her labor are distributed to the most efficient users, increasing everyone’s welfare.

Katniss and the free market of District 12 don’t escape government overreach for long, however. The federal government—now called the Capitol—interferes in District 12 to select tributes for the Hunger Games by lot. This sequence serves as a metaphor for the arbitrariness and inferiority of government decisions to the free hand of the market; Katniss’s weaker little sister, Prim, is selected, even though Katniss is clearly the superior candidate. Katniss heroically corrects this oversight by volunteering. She concludes a heartfelt goodbye to her sister by warning Prim not to take the Capitol’s food payments because they will make her lazy and dependent on the government.

Katniss and her fellow tribute, Peeta, board the train to the Capitol and are disgusted by the wasted tax dollars spent on luxurious accommodations. Their government-employed trainer, Haymitch, is similarly a worthless drunk. The tributes arrive at the Capitol, a terrible place devoid of small-district values where everyone is clearly gay-married. After a tax-and-spend parade, President Snowbama informs all the tributes that they will be made to compete under artificial, government-mandated conditions. Katniss and Peeta bide their time; they brave the preening for the lamestream media interviews and the mandated training. Katniss shows the Game’s Ratings Board her ability and her disdain for “information provisions” by shooting an arrow through government pork. The night before the Games, Peeta reaches for some sort of philosophy to guide him, but Katniss explains sagely that her only course is to do whatever is in her rational self-interest.

The film really improves on the book during the Games by taking us into the belly of the regulatory beast—the Control Room. When the bureaucrats decide Katniss has been too successful and is “anti-competitive,” they destroy her market position by setting that part of the market on fire. Haymitch—inspired to quit drinking by Katniss’s exceptionalism—forms a synergistic partnership with a corporate sponsor to mutually benefit Katniss, with burn medicine, and the corporation, with advertising. Here, private market action literally cures the injuries to children caused by government interference in the market. This is why we need private schools sponsored by PepsiCo, sheeple.

The film’s message really shines through in the climax. Cato, a villain complicit in the Capitol’s regulatory regime up until this point, finally has a revelation: government interference in the market is harmful even to him, the favored participant. He gives an impassioned speech about the wrongfulness of the government picking winners just before he is devoured by government dogs. Katniss and Peeta think they are safe, but the Capitol moves the goalposts one more time, one time too many for the tributes from District 12. When the rules are changed so Katniss and Peeta can no longer both win, they reject the government’s attempt to manufacture “beneficial” competition. They threaten to kill themselves and destroy the entertainment value they created rather than subject it to further regulation. The Capitol blinks, and Katniss and Peeta are free to enjoy the promised incentive for the value of their labor.

Or are they?

Just when Katniss is supposed to receive her reward, the President implies there will be repercussions for her “anti-competitive” behavior. We see how far he will take this ideology when he murders the one official who dared to loosen the Games’ restrictions.

What will happen next? Will Katniss restore the federalist balance in Panem? Or form a separate, secret district of value-creators and leave Panem to fend for itself without them? Why is Rue black in the movie? We can only hope part two of this story is made so we can find out.

Cultural Literacy and the Law is a humor column written by an anonymous Harvard Law student. 

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.

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4 Responses to Katniss Shrugged

  1. Interesting take. However, I think you’re missing the Wallerstien -based world systems model within the book’s set up of the Districts. I think the point is that in the periphery, like District 12, people are going to do whatever they can to survive. It seems like the government handouts are not enough, while the Capital lives in luxury.

  2. While interesting, I think it’s just false to say Katniss is created in the imagine of any Randian heroine. Katniss is a strong woman, but her choice to help raise her sister is a generous act never seen in Ayn Rand’s works. Indeed, the fact that in the end she ends up choosing love and affection over a life filled with constant (yet principled) hate towards the Capital shows Katniss to be, I’d say, a much more realistic and healthy heroine than ever seen in Rand. Whether those choices were in her rational self interest is beyond the point – she chose them for other virtuous reasons.

    Also, I don’t know why you’re underlining “Why is Rue black in the movie?” First off, it’s outside the scope of your original message and second, and more importantly, what are you suggesting by the question? I’d take a look at this New Yorker article and others before going further down that rabbit hole: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/03/hunger-games-and-trayvon-martin.html.

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