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The Hunger Games: The Sound of Silence

I swear, one of these days I'll get Peeta and Katniss onto the train, and we'll meet Cinna and the Avox and all the other interesting things to talk about. But it seems I'm not quite through with those early chapters about the Reaping. They've always been among my favorite, but I didn't think I had more to say on them, and was just re-reading in order to get back in the swing of things.

But not quite yet, apparently. One of the things that the books make clear that the movies didn't is that the districts were expected to celebrate the Hunger Games. Here's Katniss's reaction to the speech introducing the Hunger Games:

Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion.

Whatever words they use, the real message is clear: "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen. To make it humiliating as well as torturous, the Capitol requires us to treat the Hunger Games as a festivity, a sporting event pitting every district against the others. The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food. All year, the Capitol will shower the winning district gifts of grain and oil and even delicacies like sugar while the rest of us battle starvation.

Later, Effie Trinkett tells the various people to give Katniss a round of applause as their newest tribute, as if this is some kind of honor for her.

To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.

Right now, there's a drive on FB and elsewhere to get people to vote. I shared the picture just like everyone else, because I do believe in voting. But there's something about this scene that gets across my discomfort with voting just because you're expected to vote for someoene.

The citizens of Twelve are asked to applause Katniss as tribute, because this is what you do, as part of the farce. If they had applauded, Katniss points out, this would have made them complacent. Instead, they offer "the boldest form of dissent they can manage": they refuse to be made part of the spectacle. And I've been thinking of this in light of the question that I've been facing again and again these days: to vote or not to vote?

At a national level, I don't like either Obama or Romney. I really don't like Romney, and some days I decide I will vote for Obama just as a counter-vote against Romney. I know a lot of people look at the national scene and decide to vote for third parties, like libetarians. There's a problem with this, though. By voting libertarian you're not just voting against the two dominant parties. You're voting for something else specific. For some people, this is something they actually believe in; for others, not so much.

I get that not everyone shares my politics. That isn't the point of this post. It's rather to point out that sometimes silence can be louder than words, and this scene at the Reaping makes that point palpably. There seems to be a world of difference between staying silent because you haven't bothered to think of something to say, and staying silent because anything you could have said would just commit you to something you couldn't in good conscience support.

What do you think? Not just about the election issue (that's really just one application of this dynamic among many!) but about the way standing silent can mean something? Do you buy that? How do you sort that out from apathy? Was this enough of a statement, from the citizens, to show they didn't agree with what they were being asked to go along with?


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 9th, 2012 12:27 am (UTC)
What do you think...about the way standing silent can mean something? Do you buy that? How do you sort that out from apathy? Was this enough of a statement, from the citizens, to show they didn't agree with what they were being asked to go along with?

You argue two divergent stances here, the silence of apathy and the silence of rebellion. There is a third silence, the silence of fear. This is the silence that operated in Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. This is the silence that all too often operates on the familial level in tribal Afghanistan. And often this is the silence that, when practiced long enough, leads to people practicing either the retreat of apathy or the activity of rebellion, often via violence.

People sat silently during kristallnacht, and because they did, there appeared to be support for the policies of the Nazi party. They sat silent while the ghettos were walled off, the freight trains were loaded and shipped off, and the work camps and killing camps operated - some very near metropolitan centers. Because of that history I vowed as a child that I would not sit back silently. I haven't and won't because it is just as dangerous to be silent as to be vocal. If I will be murdered, let it be for speaking out.

- Erulisse (one L)

Edited at 2012-10-09 12:28 am (UTC)
Oct. 9th, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
That's a really good point, Erulisse. I was writing this post quickly so I could get out the door to a doc's appointment, and I may have not been careful enough.

I think there are lots of bad reasons to be silent. Apathy is just one of them. And like you, I have stood by silently and watched outrageous things happen. I like to think I'd be brave enough to speak up even if there were much worse consequences than I'm every likely to face in America.

What impresses me so much about this scene is that the silence does say something, and it says something in a way that balances the need for survival (you know, to avoid heavy retribution) and the need to not make it look like you're acquiescing to an unjust situation. Sometimes that's not possible. And sometimes it's not enough. In those situations, silence becomes more fear than empowerment. I think it comes down to the situation whether this kind of silence is actually possible.

That's just my opinion. I appreciate you pointing out there are other options, because it's definitely a point worth remembering.
Oct. 9th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
I do think that standing silent, refusing to participate, can be a valid form of protest. It is most effective, I think, when there is no other form of protest to make. As you say, in the Districts there was absolutely no other way to protest.

As to not voting, I am ambivalent. I know there have been times when I have skipped certain races on the ballot because I liked neither choice, but I've always voted for President. I suppose if one truly felt that both men were so bad that you could not even vote for the lesser of two evils, then skipping that race would be a good form of protest.

Yet I don't feel that it's quite so dire this year. I think Romney would be a disaster, and Ryan would be even worse if he had to take over. President Obama has not always made the best decisions, but I feel like in general he's leading us in the right direction.

However, I'd say of all the reasons for not voting, yours would work for me. It's a decision you would be making after giving it a lot of thought and consideration. Most people who say they don't vote are not exercising their right out of apathy, and don't give any thought to the process at all. I've had many who've told me that politics are boring and voting is inconvenient.

My fears for this election year are that we'll see a repeat of 2000. I don't think I could stand it if that happens again.

Oct. 9th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
Believe it or not, my point wasn't to justify my own reluctance to vote, much less tell other people to vote. It's more that I've been seeing a lot of people saying we ought to vote, it's patriotic, and if you didn't vote you ahd no right to complain about the outcome.

All of that's true for people who just can't be bothered to vote. But I think there are different kinds of silence, just like there are different kind of undecideds. (Here it is October, and I'm one of those infamous undecideds who still aren't sure who they'll vote for.) So I was dealing with a bit of political frustration with myself and with the way people talked about not voting - and there were those people of District Twelve, standing their silent sentry. It struck me that there was a deeper point here, and those people illustrated it as well as anyone: that voting was patriotic, but it also meant buying into a certain system. And it got me thinking about the nature of protest and joining in. I guess it helped me organize my thoughts in a way I hadn't been able to up until now.

I did hesitate to go so thoroughly political, because to my mind the current election is just one way this plays out. How do you deal with an unfair system - do you use it to clean things up, or do you refuse to have anything to do with it? (Heck if I know, most days!)
Oct. 9th, 2012 04:12 am (UTC)
I know I used to feel the way you said, that it's one's duty to vote, but that's because everyone I knew who didn't vote was not voting out of apathy, and had made no consideration of the matter.

I kind of have changed my mind about that since I moved here.

I know that in this state, if one doesn't like the Republican or Democratic candidate--then not voting is the only choice.

OK only allows Dem, Rep, and Independent, and there are no Independents that qualified for the ballot. No write-ins allowed. So if a person truly supported the Libertarian or Green party, he/she would be out of luck here. They don't even give people the choice to register with any of the other parties: when you register those are the only three choices you get. I would love to see that challenged in court!

And I also know that with the electoral college set-up, my own vote will not count. This state is going to go overwhelmingly Republican, which is very discouraging. So in a way my own vote will also be a form of protest.

Your last question is a very good one. But heck if I know either. My own inclination is usually to work within the system, but that's because of my personality rather than a ringing endorsement of the system.
Oct. 9th, 2012 04:15 am (UTC)
My stance is usually that even if I don't endorse any party wholeheartedly, there's always something to vote against - of course in a true multi-party system it's much easier to do a protest vote.

I only not voted once, and that was not an election, but a referendum: for reasons of experimenting with improving participation and involvement, it was decided to hold a referendum for who would be mayor in our town (it's an appointed position here, so the referendum was non-binding). Since both candidates were from the same party (and unknowns to most people), and voters had had no say in (or even information about) the selection process, this of course failed spectacularly.

There were campaigns not to participate in this farce, and I'm quite proud that only about 10% of people voted.
Oct. 9th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
I think in some circumstances silence is an excellent protest, such as refusing to applaud.I fear with voting, though, as no one notes your protest it could merely aid a worse candidate to win than the one you reluctantly vote for.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )



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