The history of all heretofore existing Hunger Games is the history of class struggles. In the post-apocalyptic book and film series, an unfettered bourgeois ruling class known as The Capitol subjugates the larger proletariat population of The Districts, forming an oversimple but pertinent allegory for capitalism in the 21st Century. Through a keenly American system of control, based primarily on empty distraction and misinformed nationalism, The Capitol is able to pass off its exploitative conflation of political and financial power as a mutually beneficial economic superstructure. The apotheosis of this oppressive system is the titular Hunger Games, an annual gladiatorial contest that pits young representatives from each of the districts against one another in a battle to the death. Acting as a metaphor for every capitalistic competition from high school GPA battles to professional sporting events, the Hunger Games reifies the power of the plutocratic Capitol by providing the powerless a false, momentary sense of power, the thrill of empty victory, the swell of groundless pride. (Think of a Dallas Cowboys fan who patriotically shells out hundreds of dollars to watch football in a stadium his tax money helped build.) The first cracks in the dam of Panemic Capitalism appear alongside Katniss Everdeen, a bow-wielding dullard from District 12 whose opportune selflessness forces the Capitol’s hand. For the first time, the Hunger Games produces two winners, and Katniss’s unconscious act of defiance spurns talk of rebellion, coups, uprising in the Districts. In the series’ most recent film installment, Mockingjay: Part 1, all this stuff has Panem well on its way to Marxist revolution.
But does leading a Marxist revolution make our girl Katniss a good Marxist? Before addressing that complex question, a simpler question needs to be asked: what makes a good Marxist? The past and present iterations of “Communism”–from the Soviet Union to present-day China and Cuba–are little more than capitalistic societies masquerading as communist ones, so they provide no usable referent. Che Guevara wore two Rolexes. Mao was a fascist dictator. From our current historical vantage point, determining what it means to be “a good Marxist” is impossible, because the answer requires a true, functioning Marxist society as a prerequisite. One of those bad boys hasn’t existed yet, so Katniss is already working from a disadvantage. Her Marxist Efficiency Rating (or MER) depends on valuations that stem from conjectural analysis made by individuals who have only lived under the symbolic order of capitalism. From the outset, this prohibits her MER from ever fully aligning with her purely hypothetical True MER (or TMER), which would be her MER under Marxism. This limits this evaluation greatly, to questions of her character, leadership ability, and (in words and in action) her devotion to the cause of a classless society.
Unlike the Harry Potter series, which hid the pill of its sociopolitical analysis in the peanut butter of genius-level storytelling, the enduring strength of The Hunger Games is almost entirely allegorical. From a character standpoint, this leaves Katniss at a clear disadvantage. (Ron Weasley is not only a rounder character by design but a better-defined Marxist, since he’s a member of the Irish Republican Army.) As a consequence of the book’s louder political viewpoints, the characters at the center of The Hunger Games are relative blanks, canvases onto which the readers/viewers can more easily project themselves and ideas. For most of the series, Katniss functions as a type of wind-up toy that is cranked, then pushed, in the directions necessary to plot and argument, not her development. The boys she has crushes on are even bigger nothings. Peeta is as bland as the shitty bread he bakes. Gale has the conversational acumen of furniture. Strangely, the most vibrant characters in The Hunger Games are those furthest from the Marxist cause: the dress designer, Cinna; the saccharine attache, Effie; the drunk Haymatch and squeeing Casear Flickermann. That the members of the ruling class seem more like “real people” is either a happy accident or apposite, biting analysis (the take-away being that the ability to develop a self is but another perk of the rich), but whatever the case may be, Katniss’s character (as a person and a Marxist) continues to be obscure.
What’s clearer is her effectiveness as a leader, albeit an unwitting one. Following the rubric of most Young Adult franchises, The Hunger Games chronicles one teenager’s sudden thrust into circumstances beyond their understanding, his or her entrance into a threatening adult world at odds with the safe sphere of childhood. To her credit as a character, Katniss handles this transition better than she should (mainly, she doesn’t die), but it’s troubling that she seems to do so when it serves her best interests. Katniss probably wouldn’t have volunteered as Tribute had her own younger sister not been randomly selected. Though she supposedly loves Peeta, she aligns herself with him mainly to increase the odds of her own survival. Before she can believably produce a piece of anti-Capitol propaganda, Katniss must see the Capitol bomb a hospital with her own eyes. In the grand scheme, Katniss is certainly brave and self-sacrificing. What’s problematic is how she only seems to be those things when circumstance demands it and it serves her own self-interest. This ethos is objectively, scarily capitalistic. And yet, at the same time, it is this simplicity of thinking, this transparency of motivations, that makes Katniss the perfect vehicle for Marxism in Panem.
At her core, Katniss is a capitalist, a predictable, short-sighted creature unable to see beyond her own comfort, convenience, and self-interest. She will do the absolute bare minimum to ensure the betterment of herself and those close to her, nothing more, nothing less. This is what makes her such a powerful vehicle of information delivery, both for the capitalist author Suzanne Collins, and for the Marxist rebels of District 13. Katniss Everdeen isn’t so much a good Marxist as she is a great instrument for the dispersal of Marxist thought. For the unthinking masses, seeing a self-identifying Marxist embody the tenets of Marxism isn’t a call to arms; it’s a continuation of the ineffective radicalism that empowers the oppressive status quo. When Katniss unconsciously refutes the very system she typifies, she is speaking unthinking truth to the unthinking masses, creating a new, shared language, the language of Marxist revolution. This movie fucking sucked and was boring.
Final Marxist Verdict: This Movie Fucking Sucked and Was Boring