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Finding Ferguson And Other News Headlines In 'Mockingjay'


It's becoming a new Thanksgiving tradition. This year, like the year before, the newest installment of "The Hunger Games" movie franchise "Mockingjay Part 1" is an adaptation of the first half of Suzanne Collins third and final book in the series. And with the backdrop of what's been happening in the world, protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and shakeup at the Capitol - Capitol Hill that is. Audiences look for comparisons between the fictitious world of Panem and the real world. We're joined now by Stephen Carter, a professor of law at Yale, a novelist and columnist for Bloomberg View, where he writes regularly on popular culture. Stephen, thanks so much for being back with us.

STEPHEN CARTER: It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: I'm just guessing you don't watch "Hunger Games" the way a lot of other people do.

CARTER: You're right. I'm looking for tropes and ideas that are going to leap out of the film into public life. And one that's really striking about the "Hunger Games" franchise is how more than really anything else in recent years in popular culture, so many of the symbols - the nation of Panem itself with its deep wealth inequalities, the notion of the Capitol, this barricaded wealthy city and of course, Katniss Everdeen herself, the hero. All of these things have not only leapt into the public imagination, but they are regular features of political argument.

SIMON: Are people just seeing things when they see parallels between Panem and the real world, or do you think there's something there?

CARTER: I think partly people will attach to this whatever they want to attach to it. So for example, in doing my research about this I've found people who say if you look at Panem and you see something about the dangers of climate change, but you can also find people who will say no, no. What you see is the dangers of having a central planning economic response to climate change. People will certainly map onto Panem the stories that they themselves want to tell. So Katniss has been adopted as a hero by protesters on the left, by protesters on the right. One of the big Tea Parties - I think one in Texas ran a Katniss-theme party. And so you see all of these symbols being adopted by forces on different sides of various issues. And to me what's really interesting is that Suzanne Collins, the author of "The Hunger Games," has matched great symbols that are so attractive to people and so leap-out- of-their-context that people want to adopt them.

SIMON: We've seen the symbolism internationally too, haven't we?

CARTER: We have. And perhaps the best-known example - in a small town in Thailand last month we saw three students who were arrested after protesting last spring's military coup by flashing the three-fingered salute - that's a symbol of District 12, Katniss' district in "The Hunger Games." And you see things like that all over the world now. You see protesters in various parts of the world who not only wear T-shirts with "Hunger Games" slogans, but also have begun to use that three-finger salute as a symbol of protest not only in Thailand, but I'm told in Ukraine and other places as well.

SIMON: What are we to make of the fact - I've wondered about this Stephen, the dystopian theme seems so popular as opposed to ethereal ones these days.

CARTER: Dystopian novels always tend to feature a disaster followed by the good guys versus the bad guys in a very basic Manichaean sense. There's good and there's evil and there's no question about who the good and evil are. And we live in a political era of - where people on the left think everyone on the right is evil, everyone on the right thinks everyone on the left is evil. There's a tendency to paint our enemies as larger-than-life. And that fits perfectly with the general design of the dystopian story.

SIMON: Stephen Carter, professor of law at Yale and a columnist for Bloomberg View. Thanks so much for being with us.

CARTER: It's been my pleasure. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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