Panem et circenses : law, law and power in The Hunger Games

Thomas, Mark N. (2013) Panem et circenses : law, law and power in The Hunger Games. In Richards, Kelly & Tauri, Juan Marcellus (Eds.) Crime, Justice and Social Democracy : Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, pp. 211-219.

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Like many cautionary tales, The Hunger Games takes as its major premise an observation about contemporary society, measuring its ballistic arc in order to present graphically its logical conclusions. The Hunger Games gazes back to the panem et circenses of Ancient Rome, staring equally cynically forward, following the trajectory of reality television to its unbearably barbaric end point – a sadistic voyeurism for an effete elite of consumers. At each end of the historical spectrum (and in the present), the prevailing social form is Arendt’s animal laborans. Consumer or consumed, Panem’s population is (with the exception of the inner circle) either deprived of the possibility of, or distracted from, political action.

Within the confines of the Games themselves, Law is abandoned or de‐realised: Law – an elided Other in the pseudo‐Hobbesian nightmare that is the Arena. The Games are played out, as were gladiatorial combats and other diversions of the Roman Empire, against a background resonant of Juvenal’s concern for his contemporaries’ attachment to short term gratification at the expense the civic virtues of justice and caring which are (or would be) constitutive of a contemporary form of Arendt’s homo politicus.

While the Games are, on their face, ‘reality’ they are (like the realities presented in contemporary reality television) a simulated reality, de‐realised in a Foucauldian set design constructed as a distraction for Capitol, and for the residents of the Districts, a constant reminder of their subservience to Capitol. Yet contemporary Western culture, for which manipulative reality TV is but a symptom of an underlying malaise, is inscribed at least as an incipient Panem, Its public/political space is diminished by the effective slavery of the poor, the pre‐occupation with and distractions of materiality and modern media, and the increasing concentration of power/wealth into a smaller proportion of the population.

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ID Code: 68151
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: law and order, justice, power
ISBN: 9780987467843
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > CRIMINOLOGY (160200)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Crime & Justice Research Centre
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Justice
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 Crime and Justice Research Centre QUT
Deposited On: 10 Mar 2014 00:51
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2014 00:25

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