Catching Fire and the American Dream 2014

Cultural Pessimism and the Young

Sunday, January 26, 2014
Article Tools
Print friendly
E-mail story
Tip Us Off
iPod friendly
Share Article

I recently had a perceptive seventh-grade student refer to the rash of “dystopias” (her term) she sees everywhere. During this lively class discussion, many other social studies pupils agreed these negativity tales are omnipresent, screen-based, and often misleading in the stories they tell about our current era and the near future.

She and others pointed out several examples of dystopian narratives: movies like Ender’s Game and WALL-E, novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or psychological crime thrillers by Faye Kellerman, and all the visual media attention given to random killers and local gang violence. She also stressed the national howling over problems with so-called Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), the debate over our drone-assassination policies abroad, and failing-planet movies like Avatar.

There is also the continuous horrifying “news” about terrorist attacks abroad and about serial killers “going postal” in our own country.

It makes me think of modern philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s discussion of the unholy “posthistorical” alliance between Hollywood, screen dominance, and terrorists whether global or national:

“So-called global terrorism, especially, is a thoroughly posthistorical phenomenon. Its time starts when the rage of those who have been excluded connects to the infotainment industry of those who have been included, merging into a violent system-theater for ‘last men.’”

And, of course, there is Catching Fire, a film based on the second volume of Susan Collins’s dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games. The three books by Collins have been adolescent and adult favorites for a few years now, and I’ve discussed them in my seventh grade classes since 2008.

Collin’s genius in The Hunger Games — the movies and the books — consists in her nuanced depiction of our artfully camouflaged dystopian reality in the U.S.A. today. I believe the more perceptive early adolescent viewers sense this much more clearly than most adult viewers (or readers). They live this every day, in some ways. Just like in District 12, considerable hopelessness and brutal negativity hovers over the land today. Congress remains frozen in winter’s endless gridlock but cuts food stamps. My students see the increasing number of homeless and their desperation; the TV/Internet video news is usually bloody and reveals masses of suffering and crime victims. There’s little choice, like in Panem: Syrian war victims dying on camera, or drowned humans and destroyed villages in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, or endless reality TV shows.

As Sloterdijk has said, in our early 21st century, we need the infotainment news media to bombard us with the ferocious system-theater to keep “the last men” of posthistory secure in their rage. The Hunger Games (and the Sochi Olympic Games) certainly fit the bill. In the film, the extravagantly gaudy celebrations of the Capitol’s imperial one percent stand in terrifying contrast to the harsh lives led by everyone else, and they inhabit an NSA-like future in a place modeled familiarly on grim and ugly post-WWII East Germany after the Russians had conquered and despoiled it.

Some students think our own era gives us dark glimpses of worldwide suffering but that here in “the homeland” everything is much better, our gigantic armies and drones protect us, and they believe that there is still social and economic mobility. The controversial American Dream myth lives on for some, but it weakens for others. And this dream may be another illusion placed on our American children. British philosopher Paul Crichton, contemporary of Sloterdijk in Germany, writes:

“The American dream is bound to fail: it is based on a callous competitiveness which leaves very many people behind. The economy has now come to be seen as an instrument to generate private wealth … ”

Many young American students resist the negativity redolent in these violent narratives, and most are much more alert and balanced than many adults realize. The early 21st century’s debilitating atmosphere of fear and violence makes the American Dream, depressingly, a mirage for today’s students, but their awareness of it, conversely, makes them more resilient and creative.

Quotes are from P. Sloterdijk, Rage and Time (Columbia U. Press, 2010) (emphasis added); Paul Crichton, Self-Realization and Inner Necessity (Kiener Press, 2013).


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I agree, just today (01-27-14) reported that the Mid-Class is more apt to apply and receive Food Stamps, originally started to assist families living well-below the Poverty line but the present Administration tells us of the Financially prosperous last year and the even more wealth attaining new year despite another -300 point at opening bell of the Stock opening today. Such a conflict between what is and what will be or what is fantasy and what is reality. This breeds an "End of Days" mentality for the Nation (if they can pull themselves away from their P E D 's [Personal Entertainment Devices]). Movies like "Oblivion", and TV Shows, "The Walking Dead", show what may come in the future, death and reanimated dead are a shocking entertainment but we may be there already just in the sense of idea and lack of action by the populace to control their own destiny. I suspect worse before better will be the final outcome, the recent murders, killings at random show a movement towards action but I fear the wrong action is more prevalent than positive, read the Independent's past stories to validate this.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 9:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Philosopher Crichton writes “The American dream is bound to fail: it is based on a callous competitiveness which leaves very many people behind. The economy has now come to be seen as an instrument to generate private wealth … " That's pretty heavy...hmmm?

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 2:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

70% of USA billionaires are self-made and came from lower or middle class families.

These ideas above are excuses for lazy and/or anti-social behavior.
Instead: work hard consistently, be honest and don't abuse substances, especially drugs and alcohol.

90% of people who are poor have the following three things in common:
- High school dropout
- Baby out of wedlock
- Got married before they were 25

Unfortunately millions of people are unwilling to do or avoid the above - but VERY willing to smoke pot, play video games, accept welfare and march against the "inequality of incomes" and yell "no justice, no peace".

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 3:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

85 individuals- not familes, not companies- 85 individuals own 50% of the this country's wealth.

Reality your stats may have been legit in the 90s but today they are total BS and I'm not too impressed with your cultural and political bias either.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 3:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Protecting middle class jobs" is just progressive-speak for protecting union jobs and more wealth-redistribution.

Progressives sense bailing out the "poor" with more federal hand-outs is not selling their agenda any longer, so now they are taking their victimization campaign into the heart of the middle class to broaden their declining base.

Free things for everyone and let's hate the rich (aka successful) at the same time. The progressive rallying cry. Boo too.

Don't forget only the very few pays the vast majority of the taxes so if you "kill the rich" you yourselves get stuck with the massive federal debt and obligations at the same time because there is no one else to pay the lion's share of the federal debt obligations.

America is a the land of opportunity and some people do very, very well. Congratulate them; don't resent them.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 3:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tiger Mom author speculates about the cultural characteristics, not color or ethnicity, that allows some people to succeed and others fall behind.

Good read - this week's TIME magazine. Combination of a three factors: (1) superiority complex, (2) insecurity and (3) impulse control.

One can also speculate (1) sense of entitlement,(2) inflated self-esteem, and (3) short-term goals are the three pillars of failure.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tiger Mom is a child abuser and totalitarian crank.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And you're just fine with corporate welfare so you can guess where you can stuff your "let them eat cake attitude."

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

TIME magazine then should demand their money back from the author of the article featuring Tiger Mom (Amy Chua) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld's if she was a "child abuser". (aka: a strict goal centered disciplinarian)

For more on this couple's controversial findings: "The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America", by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.

They track the characteristics in common that explain the disproportionate success of Asians, Jews, Cubans, Indians, Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians and Lebanese -- in America.

They suggest ethnic identity is not the exclusive reason for this disproportionate success, but rather the predominance of three cultural characteristics within these favored groups: (1) superiority complex; (2) insecurity; (2) impulse control.

TIME Magazine: 2/3/14

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here is a list of the top 85 wealthy people in the world, and what are you going to do about it:

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

She's a narcissistic windbag who wants to help turn the US into China.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

85 individuals one half of AMERICAN wealth. The argument is about wealth, it's about greed and only the greedy can't see that, whereas many wealthy and poor people do.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This article should help dispel the Chua myth :

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Start today sticking it to the rich, so don't support any more of the following:

1. L'Oreal cosmetics
2. Walmart
3. Snickers and Mars bars
4. BMW
5. German supermarket - AldiSud
6. Discount retailer - Lidl
7. myToys
8. Fidelity Investments

….. 85.

…….all bad, bad, bad people.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That's an easy list, I already avoid them!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 4:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gosh, they got rich anyway without you. I feel your powerlessness, KV.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 5:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Get a life dud.* I sense your powerlessness in not having one.

* Not a typo.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 5:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

WalMart make their money off the poor - and they do not pay the wages that their employees should earn. They are blood-sucking, greedy monsters. Thankfully, I have had no need to buy their products - made by people who are earning cents per hour in other countries. It is called exploitation, just as slavery is exploitation.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 6:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

gotta correct you Ken, it's much much worse: it's 85 billionaires who own HALF THE WORLD'S WEALTH, not half of AMERICAN wealth. At Davos they are openly stating that global inequity is a huge threat to the world economy, and oh yes, the USA leads the industrialized nations in having most wealth lurch up to those sybarites foo loves to shill for, the upper 1/10th of the fabled 1%. As elements like foo press for further privatization of public education, our public education system is also suffering horribly, thus causing more inequities.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 6:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

your link about Chua is insightful and terrific, Ken, thank you. The author, an Asian-American, writes "Most frightening, Amy Chua’s narrative illustrates that the Chinese American community has internalized the 'model minority' stereotype." Certainly grit, impulse control, and even "superiority complex" matter a lot -- Kahnemann in FAST THINKING, SLOW THINKING might term this the "optimism bias", and it truly matters. However, despite the importance of these things, the playing field isn't at all level, especially in terms of money, neighborhood, and access to quality public or private schools.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 6:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The poor make money off Walmart, shopping at Walmart for their cut-rate prices instead of the poor paying what they "should" be paying.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 6:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How can public education get any worse than #46 for California, when we pay at the #3 rate in the nation. If we paid at the #1 rate, would this mean our public schools would drop even further?

Interesting take on H-B Jackson's newest CTA-backed public education crusade - in response to dropping birth rates and school enrollments, she is now pushing more pre-school, just so she can keep all those dues-paying CTA teachers and campaign supporters employed regardless of dropping birth rates.

If K-12 works so badly in this state, by all means let's add even one more year to seal the deal to make it Pre-K-12. Universal cribside lap tops next, H-B?

There are no studies showing pre-school gives kids any advantages worth the money. Just one more wasted teacher job-protection scam. Look no further than the billions going into Head Start and First Five and the needle on educational achievement has not even moved.

Just the opposite - even more money is required for remedial education after these kids graduate, increasing the costs of K-12 even more.

This is insane folks and it is happening right under your noses.

First step: dump all the pro-union school board members.

Second: dump all the CTA backed legislators (Jackson and Williams both up to their noses in CTA money).

Third: reform CSU teacher prep programs.

Fourth: Abolish tenure and re-write the Calif Education Code.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 27, 2014 at 7:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When you are FORCED to live in Lompoc because you can't afford the jacked-up prices of Santa Barbara (where I work) and you're spending endless $$$ on gas and inflated car insurance because you HAVE TO commute, then you have nothing left at the end of the pay period so you have to shop at Walmart. Add to that the business-unfriendly state of the state and the fact that businesses have to raise their prices in order to make any sort of a profit as they are paying extortion money to the government. It's easy to criticize those who shop at Walmart, but the reality is that some of us simply can't afford to spend money in other places on a regular basis.

If any wealthy idealists object to what I write, I would have no objection to you paying for my shopping bills, and in reality, I wouldn't mind being able to shop elsewhere.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 5:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

SB housing prices are not jacked up. Just the opposite, 20% are now mandated "low-income" and subsidized or price-fixed. SB housing prices are in fact jacked-down.

In consequence, SB demographics now heavily skews to be permanently low-income, which has undermined the city's long-term fiscal health.

Keep in mind also, when someone buys market rate Santa Barbara housing, it is de facto affordable because it was affordable to the person who purchased it.

If your skills package and resources do not qualify you to buy market-rate housing, then you have picked the wrong market. This is your choice, and your choice alone.

No one is that critical to the SB economy they can demand they be handed "affordable" housing, beyond the 20% that already exists.

Condemning 20% of all city housing units to the fixed-market, is the sorriest decision any city government has ever made. Santa Barbara shot itself in the foot.

If anything housing prices should go even higher if this city has any chance for long-term survival at all. It has to stop catering to more low-income, low-resource residents and get back into the free-market economic mainstream.

Lompoc and Buellton are a perfectly fine locales, and well within reasonable US commute distances and times and accessible price-wise. Your choice. And stop turning up your nose at the mobile home parks within this area because they sound perfect for your chosen income strata.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 9:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"90% of people who are poor have the following three things in common:
- High school dropout
- Baby out of wedlock
- Got married before they were 25"

This is an effect that one should investigate to determine the cause. (And BTW, it happens across all political persuasions.) Yes, LA cops can predict how much crime they should expect depending on school dropout rates. I think we can all learn from how the Nordic countries are able to educate their children.

In today's technology age, it also means that would-be employees have to have high skills to be able to earn adequate pay. There are many who have more than one degree but cannot find employment. I also believe that we have reached a point where there are too few jobs for the population, and it is more than just misfits and badly raised people that have problems.

(Really tired of the bland foolish ideology that is serving as a hammer to a nail for every problem. It would pay to think out of the box and look for places where successful strategies have been proven, not some theoretical-never-shown-to-work dogma. But, I guess that is what free speech is all about. I just skip the diatribes, now. )

tabatha (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 10:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I do have enormous sympathy for those who have to travel to work every day. And it is because there is no affordable housing in SB. The prices for homes today are 2 to 3 times as much as they were 30+ years ago, while salaries have stagnated. I could not afford to buy a home today, and neither could most of my neighbors and co-workers.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 10:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

cruel-hearted ultra-libertarian foo writes " This is your choice, and your choice alone." to BC and his housing issues, and foo even wants the market to drive prices here in SB even higher. What a fine fellow you are, foo, and a fervent believer in free market fundamentalism and an Ayn Randian screw the other fellow. Obviously, you have no friends,,,

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 10:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

30 years ago SB was a town of students, tourists and pensioners. There were zero to no opportunities for those in their middle career years, except for the defense industry contracts that spurred the Goleta tract developments. You killed off the military-industrial complex that artificially fueled the local economy.

You are painting a highly selective picture of Santa Barbara, tabatha. Why is that? All of California housing was under-market 30 years ago when compared to other urban areas. It is today, what it is.

And it is certainly not the highest priced real estate in this state by far. There remain multiple housing bargains, well within its larger metropolitan area. If you want a reality check, look at SF housing prices.

This formerly sleep area got discovered during the Reagan White House years, which changed its local character and amenities greatly. It also got undermined during the Clinton military base closure years.

And the local economy shot itself in the foot after too many years of economy-destroying progressive agendas by our elected local governments. Running up a billion dollars in unfunded liabilities for the county and a half billion dollars for the city of Santa Barbara on fumes and promises during those progressive go-go years is now a full fledged disaster for everyone.

Here is the deal, some old fashioned advice: go where the jobs are and quit complaining about jobs not coming to you. No, you and your friends probably can't buy houses here. Most likely with your skill set and attitudes, you could not have bought houses here 30 years ago either.

If you don't work in high-tech, government or education sectors in this town you will just have to scrap by as best you can. Or take your yoga instructor talents or Sunday Art Faire skills where there is greater demand and less competition.

No one owes you a living, tabatha.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 11:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

DD - Sorry to disappoint you, but the real estate market will continue to go higher. Ironically, this is not due to the free markets, it's due to policies that you support. QE has contributed more to income inequality recently than any other factor. The bubbles we are experiencing in the stock and real estate markets are directly due to that policy. If the Fed takes away the punchbowl, those markets will start to crumble. Since the wealthy have larger stakes in these markets, of course they have benefited more than the bottom 50%. But put the blame where blame is due, not some imaginary boogeyman that's causing this to happen.

Botany (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 11:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tabatha -

100% agree with you.
and the causes are...

1. Expanded government interference in the markets and lives of free individuals in a well-intentioned attempt to assist, but with a 90%+ failure rate in being effective as intended.

2. Extreme/Radical attempts by teachers' unions to block known, well tested improvements to instruction and learning in order to protect the teacher and union administration classes. 70% of LAUSD funds *never see the classroom* and are diverted to thousands of union bureaucrats that are supported by the politicians that they helped fund and get elected.

3. A deteriorating recognition that capitalism is the least imperfect and thus the best system for raising the most number of people out of poverty, misery and hopelessness. Where you have some form of healthy capitalism you have much higher standard of living, opportunity and health. The opposite holds true.

Communism failed completely.
Socialism is failing in Western Europe.
Anarchy thriving in Africa with expected horrific results
Theocracies are starting to fail in large numbers.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 12:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Eco-hustlers will also have a hard time finding a place to live in their enviro-paradise. Law of Unintended Consequences.

Excellent response, realitycheck88. The Independent is the best source of unadulterated progressive clap-trap. Therefore the defining issues of this global political debate come into sharper focus here, than most other local forums.

BTW: why hasn't hard luck BC found his way to the top of the city's subsidized housing list by now?

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 12:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If the Indy is so bad Foo, why do you grace us with your presence?

No source of unadulterated neoFascist clap trap for you to go to?

Wnd why don't you have the courage of your convictions to post under your real name, like BC?

People like BC are a much greater asset to the community than some windbag astroturfer spewing nonsense, such as yourself.

You are indeed a drag in and out of drag.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 1:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The Independent is great. it is the most reliable and accessible source of progressive clap-trap in this area. Far better than Mission & State, which drowns in its own self-righteousness. The Independent has more sass and snark, and the pickings are a lot easier. Yo Independent, my go-to foorum.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 1:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

if we let the country go the way of foo, we will all have wealthy landlords to look forward too. Who else can afford the property? Hoarders, grabbers, greed; the money disease. It is the epidemic of our time, afflicting even those who believe they are part of this class when reality is something different. When does the alarm clock sound?

spacey (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 2:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Somebody obviously sees Mission & State as a threat. Good.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 2:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan: Thank you for your kind words but when you refer to "your housing issues" the point should b e clarified that all I am is the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" pointing out that the reality of our economy is that the good jobs are in S.B. and affordable housing prices are in Lompoc so it's a catch-22 for all but the top tier economically.

One more thing: While I don't have the evidence to back up the numerical figures of Realitycheck's comments about the teacher's unions, he/she hits the nail on the head per the overall problem. Government interference has made it all but impossible to survive in this area. If you don't agree, try starting up a business if you are not already well-funded, then go to most other parts of the country and attempt the same. You may find the difference shocking.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hard call. Does M&S drown in its own self-righteousness or twaddle in its own irrelevancy? If KV is the only person jumping to its defense, case closed. It is therefore best known, by the company it keeps.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Teacher's unions have their issues, BC, certainly, but they are hardly the prime stumbling block in our inequitable public education nightmare and the grotesquely UNlevel playing field the young face.
Love it when foo-boy expectorates in all of our faces by noting he trolls the Indy threads because here "the pickings are a lot easier". Such a pleasant fellow. He relies on Time mag for his info, citing their watered-down interpretation of the Tiger Mom stuff: for the rest of us proletarians, the NYTimes Sunday edition (Jan. 26) had a very long and interesting piece BY CHUA and her husband, but it would be too hard for foo to comprehend.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 28, 2014 at 7:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sloterdijk writes in the article that "we need the infotainment news media to bombard us with the ferocious system-theater" -- comparing Sochi extravaganza with the gaudy crap in Panem's capitol. How many await news of the next terrorist deal in _______[fill in blank]____, or in Sochi as many hungrily predict.
Answer: leave the tube behind, abandon all screens ye who enter here!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
February 8, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

event calendar sponsored by: