The late Anthropologist “Cultural Evolutionist” Leslie A. White, is justly famous for his antecedent definition of “culture”, which may be loosely paraphrased as “man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment, dependent upon symboling.” The late “Conservative” British PM during WWII, Sir Winston Spencer Churchill (he had a great-grand niece named “Lady Diana Spencer”), is for his part justly famous for commenting something to the effect that men are the only creatures who periodically set out on campaigns of mass murder against their conspecifics for reasons only tangentially related to food and mating, the essential building blocks of evolution, if at all.
Preceding both White and Churchill was Sir James G. Frazer, the author of the 12 volume Golden Bough, “the mother of all” anthropology encyclopedias.
This week the beauteous Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire premiered in Los Angeles and happy I could be here to see it happen. Suzanne Collins second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy is but poorly abstracted in the movie. I’m not sure that anyone who had not read the book could really make sense of the plot. The first Hunger Games movie provided a much more coherent summary of the written text, but luckily or unluckily that’s just not the point at all. In some ways, spending two hours or so gazing at Jennifer Lawrence’s unique and unending deliciosity is quite enough but, after seeing the first movie some 17-20 times and reading and studying the trilogy intently for the entire summer thereafter, I have concluded and still believe that
The Hunger Games Trilogy is a brilliantly allegorical Revolutionary Text designed as a protest against the De Facto Reality of Modern American Statist (Degenerate Communist Realpolitik) “political reality.”
Suzanne Collins officially states that her original inspiration for the story of the Hunger Games Tributes was the story of the Minotaur in Ancient Crete’s Labyrinth. And this is quite on point and consistent with my own analysis. The Minotaur mythically and allegorically recounted the historical transition from rituals of human sacrifice to bull sacrifice to “game” among the ancient Hellenes. Earlier this evening I was discussing Francisco Goya’s Tauromaquia series, and how this related to the story of the Minotaur and the Hunger Games. (“Tauromaquia = tavromachia = “bull fighting”). I feel I grew up with bullfighting in the Opera Carmen, in my years in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Spain….although to be honest in all those years I never once attended a real live bull fight—call me a stuck up WASPY Prude, go ahead, I dare you…. but I think I understand that there is a strong emotional and psychological connection between games which involve ritualized murder and the risk of death…..the very story of the Golden Bough….
Or is it the story of humanity? Are lies and murder the essential elements of human culture? “Man’s uniquely extra-somatic adaptation to the environment dependent upon symboling… In that all symbols by necessity abstract reality in an arbitrary manner, are all symbolic expressions essentially lies? Does all linguistic expression inherently falsify the real world?
Or are some lies worse than others? The movie does not manage to portray the deviousness or the oppression of President Snow’s regime in Panem, or of the role the Hunger Games play in that reality. But every element of politics in Panem is false and deceitful. And the magic of Katniss Everdeen is that she possesses an emotional will to surmount the ritual combat, murder, and sacrifice for the sake of love…. So the Hunger Games seems to reduce life (by and with a marvelous array of symbols) to Freud’s abstractions of the forces of Eros and Thanatos—“Love and Death” (also the title of a marvelous movie by Woody Allen and Calvert Watkins’ selection of the primary elementary themes of all ancient myths and epics…)
Earlier this month I commented on Human Sacrifice in Africa—why indeed is Human Sacrifice—MURDER, so absolutely essential to human life and society? If it is not essential, then why is it everywhere, universally and diachronically omnipresent? In both Frazer’s original works and all spinoff commentaries, from Jessie Laidley Weston’s From Ritual to Romance to Gillian Feely-Harnik’s more recent commentaries, the question: WHY IS MURDER SO IMPORTANT TO HUMAN CULTURE? Remains unanswered, and yet clearly it is.
Hollywood may be disgusting and degenerate in a thousand commercially successful ways (ok, possibly several million, actually), but it seems to reflect something real and genuine about the (quite possibly disgusting and degenerate) essence of human nature. Hollywood could not make it through one week of television or cinema without killing off hundreds of people in more-or-less “true life crime” scenarios. Why is that? Why are all or nearly all religions, including everything from Christianity to Aztec Idolatry to the post-World War II “secular religion” based on the memory (or imagination) of the Nazi Holocaust, why are all human religions based on murder? How many (if any) great stories can you think of which do not either focus on or center around one or more murders, unjust killings, senseless wars? Can human culture exist without murder and deception? Can human language exist without lies?