It struck me today that the two current movies I saw this weekend, one a dark drama based on a true story and another a complete sci-fi thriller based on a trilogy novel, at first glance may seem completely unrelated, but truly resonated the exact same message for me.
First, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a movie that focuses on a reality show that puts 24 contestants in an arena to participate in a sick, do-or-die competition where only one winner comes out alive. The problem within this second installment of The Hunger Games is that it’s the 75th anniversary of the games and the government has decided that it has the authority to change the rules in order to ask 24 former winners to compete against each other, even after winners of The Hunger Games are promised a life of privilege and fame, removed from the daily violence and problems that plague regular people. The government stops at nothing to control the people in this fictitious land and can back out of promises at a moment’s notice.
Next, Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that chronicles the true story of the early HIV/AIDS movement where the infected were experiencing serious side effects from the clinical trial of a once brand new drug, AZT. This was the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration at the time to be used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, even despite the successes that doctors in countries from Mexico to Japan have had with other drugs and natural remedies akin to herbs and other non-toxic substances. The government stopped at nothing to prevent people from accessing these effective drugs.
Both movies in fact suggest a rather troubling reality. Our government has its hands in far too many arenas, controlling the lives of people in a very personal and often unethical way, and often breaking promises made. So many Americans trust that our government has our best interests in mind; that organizations like the Food and Drug administration have the safety and longevity of humankind as their utmost priority. In Dallas Buyers Club, we see that the Food and Drug Administration was clearly aligned with the big pharmaceutical companies that were producing what was, at the time, the most expensive drug ever marketed. The drug, AZT, was the only treatment on the market approved to address HIV/AIDS symptoms several years after the initial onset of the disease in the early 80’s. Our government was slow to respond and slow to study the disease. The FDA permitted the AZT drug maker to sell toxic doses that would essentially result in deadly side effects. Meanwhile, they were extremely aggressive about banning homeopathic and other natural substances from Mexico, Japan, etc. either because they weren’t tested in the US or were improperly labeled for US standards. Why would it be the role of our government to tell a terminally ill patient what he or she can or cannot put in his or her body, especially as these substances have indeed been tested and successfully administered in other first-world countries? Was it because the lobbyists are so wealthy and so powerful that the FDA promises to protect their drug(s) at all costs?
Meanwhile, in the land of make-believe Panem, we have a diverse group of people fighting for their lives in a big reality TV show arena where natural disasters and predators of all kind are controlled by a giant government “switch board” from up above. In the second Hunger Games, the government decides on a whim to renege on its promise to the people by requiring past Hunger Games winners to compete again. Doesn’t this remind you of all the false promises of real-life government that we have witnessed as of late? Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons used for the unlawful torture of prisoners were supposed to be closed by now and instead these individuals are held without trial. War criminals from the Iraqi and Afghanistani wars were supposed to be held accountable for raping, torturing and wrongfully imprisoning people and instead they go unaddressed. Immigration reform was supposed to be comprehensively addressed and solidified and instead immigrants live in a climate of fear and sometimes succumb to homelessness and abuse. A cap on carbon emissions was supposed to be established to reduce global warming but instead large corporations including factory farms continue to destroy the ecosystem. The endless list of American infrastructure projects was supposed to be addressed but instead seems to continue to grow while our bridges and roads and railways continue to collapse. Pharmaceutical companies still have the right in many cases to block individuals from accessing generic and less expensive versions of their products while those who cannot afford treatment suffer and die. Genetically modified foods can still legally be marketed without proper labeling rendering the consumer helpless and unable to advocate for ourselves. Factory farms can continue to torture animals for their entire existence with little consequence while being protected by an “ag-gag” law that makes undercover filming or photography on farms and at slaughterhouses illegal. Where is the governmental leadership on these issues that were the platform of many politicians campaigns? Promises reneged. Government controls!
In The Hunger Games, the government in the capital of Panem controls the wealth and thereby controls the fate of its people. Among the purposes of this government is to keep people divided and thereby unable to unite and ultimately become a powerful force. This reminds me in a way of our government’s attempts to restrict voting rights. If we can make the poor and disenfranchised less able to be heard, they will be less of a force to reckon with. In Dallas Buyers Club, the terminally ill were dependent on their government to decide the appropriate course of action for their healthcare. The bigger a population we can keep dependent on the government, the more control government can have in our lives. This may be a driving force in our current governmental healthcare reform. The more the government can control our money supply, our food supply, our water supply, our energy supply, our medicine and healthcare, our environment, our infrastructure for mobility, maybe even our minds, the more you and I are dependent on big brother for the answers.