In Bangkok, Thailand, students are being arrested for raising their hands in the air to flash Katniss’ three–finger “freedom” salute.
That’s right, the Katniss who’s the fictional heroine of the popular dystopian sci–fi “Hunger Games” movie series. The world has changed over the last few decades in a very big way, but some are apparently unaware of it or undisturbed by the stunning ramifications.
Advanced surveillance technology is endangering not only personal privacy, but also any possibility of political organizing being kept secret from government power. So even the most democratic nations are now faced with Big Brother seeing, hearing, and knowing everything. Drones and other military tech advances have meant a reconceptualization of warfare making resistance by those who have taken stands against their governments or ruling forces a difficult undertaking. Potential political leaders can be snuffed by drone strikes before anyone knows their names. Governments snooping on text messages can stop demonstrations before they happen. Still, the need to protest remains, leading us to ask—what form is left to us?
We still have the movies.
Putting on a Guy Fawkes mask or raising the “Katniss salute” are now actual political statements.
What many see as the planet’s politically leaderless void is now being filled by our movie hero champions. Fictional movie characters are delivering those heartfelt speeches about freedom and love of humanity that move us and inspire us, while the words of our actual political leaders, for many, continue to evoke only vague hopes of a better tomorrow. There may be a breath of hope in this—but the sword of movie propaganda cuts both ways. Movies are entertainments produced by corporations for profit. “Politically correct” messages are usually imparted only accidentally. The politics of “Katniss” will be determined at the box office by what her fans are willing to hear. Let’s hope her fans demand the studio not attempt to “soften” of her character so she can remain the female “Spartacus”—a Roman slave who lead an infamous revolt and a very cool movie.
The words of movie heroes are now igniting real passion in the hearts of people in Thailand, moving them to take a symbolic action: raising three fingers into the air. If this goes against government wishes and leads to arrests being made then these protesters will go to jail for referencing a fictional story from a movie.
In China, the premiere of Mockingjay, Part 1 has been delayed. A movie about a rebellion to overthrow a fictional oppressive government is quashed by a government perhaps fearful of the example Katniss and her comrades might put into the heads of audiences in China. But in a familiar pattern of banning content, China potentially makes the movie (which millions will see anyway on illegal downloads) all that more powerful as a symbolic torch for freedom.
Popular culture seems to have created a worldwide narrative of “freedom,” though it’s still as vague and hazy as the fictional sources it’s being extracted from to find its final shape. At the end of the day Katniss is a fictional character living in a fabricated world conceived of by her creator Suzanne Collins.
She is not taking real action, not facing consequences for marching in the streets, she may be the spark that lights the kindling—but the kindling has to be there to light. The heart of revolution lies in the people. Fictional characters don’t create social change, people do.
Have you seen the Katniss three finger salute used by people at your work, at your school or in the streets? Do you have a clear sense of its meaning?
What fictional story, character or role has inspired you to political action in your own community?
As an artist, have you used symbolic images to substitute for grand ideas such as freedom or social equality on the one hand or repression and fundamentalism on the other?