The release of this latest entry in Wiley-Blackwell's "Philosophy and Popular Culture" series is timed to slightly precede (by about a month) the theatrical release of the movie based on Suzanne Collins' trilogy "The Hunger Games". Per an alleged movie review on IMDB, the movie is spectacular and does justice to the trilogy. In likewise fashion, so does this collection of essays. Wiley-Blackwell stays true to its formula of covering a wide number of philosophical themes with well-written and readable essays. The book exhibits the typical attention to detail and structure that I have come to expect of entries in this series. In the "Notes" section at the end of each essay, the reader will typically be directed to other essays within the collection that develop specific issues in greater detail. Having never read the Hunger Games trilogy, I was somewhat apprehensive about whether I would be able to follow the discussions well enough to appreciate the attention given to the philosophical themes. Rest assured, the essays are so well-written that this is not an issue. In fact, readers coming to this collection of essays with no foreknowledge of the trilogy will come away feeling as though they had read it, even lived through it. Those who have read the trilogy, and even those who will only see the movie, will enjoy this book immensely.
This collection of nineteen essays is divided into seven sections, with the following topics: (1) art, music, and metaphor; (2) morality; (3) science; (4) the ethics of caring and gender; (5) authenticity and identity; (6) warfare; and (7) political philosophy. Overall, the essays were well-written, even interesting, and definitely enlightening. The best of these essays either demonstrated parallels in the development of philosophical ideas with the character development of the protagonists through the course of the trilogy, or found sharp contrasts between the behaviors of the protagonists and antagonists and developed philosophical themes accordingly.
A few essays, however, did miss the mark.
(1)Andrew Shaffer's "The Joy of Watching Others Suffer: Schadenfreude and the Hunger Games" felt more like social commentary and a simple re-hash of the storyline. It felt a bit "all over the place".
(2)Jason T. Eberl's "No Mutt Is Good - Really? Creating Interspecies Chimeras" takes a look at the ethics of creating hybrids and chimeras. Unfortunately, it was mere social commentary on the potential dangers of this science, and did not explore and develop any philosophical themes. Given the pervasive use of such creatures by the Capitol, it's unfortunate that this theme was not done justice.
(3)Louis Melancon's "Starting Fires Can Get You Burned: The Just-War Tradition and the Rebellion against the Capitol" looked at when a war could be considered a "just" war. An excellent essay, but it read like a textbook entry, and no philosophers. Hugo Grotius, Hugo Grotius! Paging Hugo Grotius!
(4)Andrew Zimmerman Jones' "The Tribute's Dilemma: The Hunger Games and Game Theory" was an excellent essay, but it too read more like a textbook entry. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy mentions Plato and Hobbes in their entry on "game theory" (hint hint). In addition, I feel that this essay should have been in Part (3) and not Part (6).
Don't get me wrong. The themes that these essays identified were relevant. It's just that I feel that more could have been done to do the chosen themes justice.
A few essays were very good.
(1)Brian McDonald's "The Final Word on Entertainment: Mimetic and Monstrous Art in the Hunger Games" looked at the use of art as an instrument of social and political control. Mr. McDonald invoked Aristotle's "Poetics" and Phillip Rieff's ideas on art as "de-creation", and contrasted the use of art by those in the Districts and those in the Capitol. It is an enlightening essay.
(2)Jill Olthouse's "I Will Be Your Mockingjay: The Power and Paradox of Metaphor in the Hunger Games Trilogy" applied hermeneutics (the study of the interpretation of texts) and demonstrated how the use of metaphor in the trilogy conveys paradox and complexity. A very interesting essay, albeit one that did not invoke a single philosopher. (And she got away with it!)
(3)Lindsey Issow Averill's "Sometimes the World Is Hungry for People Who Care: Katniss and the Feminist Care Ethic" was truly spectacular. Ms. Averill looked at the development of ethical thought from equating "moral reasoning with impartial or objective thinking" (Kantian impartiality) to feminist care ethics (Carol Gilligan).
(4)Joseph F. Foy's "Safe to Do What: Morality and the War of All Against All in the Arena" was another excellent essay. Mr. Foy looks at morality and war, and goes from Hobbes (survival at all costs) to Kant (morality imposes obligations on us). Again, what makes this an excellent essay is how the author parallels the development of philosophical ideas with how a protagonist (in this case Katniss) develops through the course of the trilogy. In her views on one's conduct in warfare, Katniss goes from a Hobbesian outlook to a Kantian outlook.
This is a fine collection of essays. Hunger satisfied. Five stars. John V. Karavitis