Hunger Games Doesn't Fit TSA's Dystopian Vision

The coming American dystopia will probably look a lot less like The Hunger Games than it does like Idiocracy.


At the top of the box office for the third week in a row, The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, is the biggest hit Hollywood's had in some time. That's no accident: In troubled times, Americans go for dystopian diversions.

"Dystopian fiction is more popular than it has been in more than 50 years," explains a recent article on Goodreads.com, a popular book-discussion Web site. From WWII through the Cold War, "Fear of the State" was the dominant theme in books like 1984 and A Clockwork Orange.

That fear is still present, but now it comes with a chick-lit twist: "The new breed of dystopian novels combines classic dystopian themes of cruel governments and violent, restrictive worlds with a few new twists—badass heroines and romance."

If you like that sort of thing, then that's the sort of thing you'll like. I gave up on The Hunger Games 50 pages in. Good narrative drive, but I prefer dystopian visions that are more absurd and that have some connection to present-day trends. Which is why I look to the Transportation Security Administration as the leading indicator of the future of government stupidity.

The coming American dystopia will probably look a lot less like The Hunger Games than it does like Idiocracy, Mike Judge's hilarious, dumbed-down dystopia (2006). It's set 500 years in the future, when America is one giant, dilapidated mall populated by imbeciles, and the mall cops are in charge.

With the TSA, though, 500 years seems overly optimistic.

Last week on his blog, security expert Bruce Schneier recounted his recent Economist.com debate with a former TSA administrator: "He wants us to trust that a 400-ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100-ml bottles magically makes it safe …"; that "butter knives given to first-class passengers are nevertheless too dangerous to be taken through a security checkpoint"; and that "there's a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick)…and a plastic lightsaber that's really a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth)."

Still, they're sometimes chipper and cheerful about it. Some months ago, at the Milwaukee airport, I stumbled shoeless from the TSA line into a big sign: "Recombobulation Area." It's as if to say, "I've just had my hand in your crotch for no good reason, but have a nice day!"

In Gary Shteyngart's near-future comic dystopia Super Sad True Love Story (2010), America's ruling Bipartisan Party runs the "American Restoration Authority" (slogan: "Together We'll Surprise the World!"). As one character explains, "the ARA runs the infrastructure and the National Guard, and the National Guard runs you."

That hits a little close to home. As Schneier notes, "Airports are effectively rights-free zones….You have limited rights to refuse a search. Your possessions can be confiscated. You cannot make jokes, or wear clothing that airport security does not approve of." And still, after a decade of operation, the TSA cannot point to a single terrorist plot it has foiled.

What's worse, the TSA is increasingly taking this show on the road with roving VIPR, or Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, teams that conducted over 9,300 random searches in 2011—on cruise ships, at NASCAR races, on buses and at train stations.

In an era of friendly authoritarianism, with a caring fedgov bent on protecting the populace from salt, trans-fats and secondhand smoke, government-sponsored deathmatches smack more of fantasy than science fiction. It's not Panem-style brutality we need to worry about. Rather, it's an endless series of pointless indignities in the name of "homeland security."

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute, author of "The Cult of the Presidency," and a columnist for the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared.

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  1. When is The Walking Dead coming back?

    1. Right after Terra Nova.

  2. I think Gene forgot to add “And get off my lawn!”

  3. Look, Idiocracy has its moments, but it’s not “hilarious”. Like most Mike Judge efforts, it had a ton of potential but mostly failed in its execution.

    1. I did like the jail scene where he tells the guard he’s suppose to be getting out instead of going in and the guards like “Stupid idiot, you’re in the wrong line!” Maya Rudolf was pretty cute in that movie as well. If the moronic cRap music the 20 somethings play on the jukebox in my area is any indication than Idiocracy is a pretty good indicater of where we’re going. It would be less sad if they didn’t sing along to the really really retarded lyrics.

      1. If the moronic cRap music the 20 somethings play on the jukebox in my area…

        Are you 90 or something? The term “cRap music” stopped being funny around the time Eddie Murphy stopped wearing his red Member’s Only jacket.

        And “jukebox”…really? Is that “jukebox” located in your town’s automat or pharmacy? Does your “soda jerk” wear one of those white paper hats? Do you travel there by “velocipede”? Was your velocipede assembled by a “China-man”?

        Jus’ yankin’ your chain. 🙂

        1. I got a good laugh out of it:)

        2. Rap has been stuck in its Glam Metal phase for at least a decade. It’s a shame really, there’s no reason why rap should have been so bad for so long.

          Jukeboxes are everywhere nowadays. Sure, they’re all fancy and modern with internet connections and touchscreens and whatnot, but I’ve yet to hear them called anything but a jukebox.

          1. I think over all it has gotten better. There’s definately a lot more in the genre that I like. What I can’t get my head around is 20 something year old white (I mean really white)suburbanites trying to act like they’re gangbanging pimpin’ 4th grade drop outs singing along to really the most retarded lyrics ever. I see it all of the time but I don’t get it. I’m pretty sure the rappers would be laughing their ass off watching them as well. I suppose to HM’s point above you should all get off my lawn now:)

            1. I think over all it has gotten better.

              I don’t. Musically and lyrically it is significantly worse than it’s ever been and seems to get worse every year. And this isn’t me pining for the things I grew up with; I hated rap when I was younger. But contrasting the music I hear from older acts (most of it new to me) with the stuff that got put out over the last 5 years (also new to me) and they’re just not in the same league. I just find it curious that there’s not yet been a G&R / Nirvana to throw all of the Poisons and Ratts off the stage.

              1. I’ll take your word for that. Not surprisingly, I’m not an expert on the genre. For all I know the stuff I’ve heard that I like is older stuff that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Actually that kind of makes since because it’s usually “older” people playing those tunes. The young kids play the crap music so makes sense that’s the newer stuff.

          1. Fucking server squirrels. (The first time I tried posting the comment I got an error message.)

            1. Yeah. That happens to me all the time. Or it will freeze than double post.

    2. I’ll still take something that has potential but doesn’t quite pull it off, over most of the dreck out there right now that doesn’t even have the potential to begin with.

      Got into a big argument with a friend of mine when Jack and Jill came out. He said, “This is the first Adam Sandler movie that I don’t want to see.”

      I said, “Really? 50 First Dates, Little Nicky, and Zohan did it for you?”

      He replied, “Yes, those were all funny movies worth paying to see!”

      You can imagine how the conversation went from there, once I recovered from my faint.

      1. “Um…okay, how about this: Adam Sandler is, like, in love with some girl. But it turns out that the girl is actually a golden retreiever or something.”

        1. What sucks is, since I’m really into old, badly-made giallo films, and Godzilla, I don’t really have a leg to stand on in arguments like that.

          How can I castigate someone for liking shitty romantic comedies, when I like shitty (quality) horror movies that rarely even translate well?

          1. I hope you’ve seen Demoni, Jimbo. I really do.

            1. You think I’m some kinda retard? I have it on dvd, along with the first sequel (in grand European trash-horror fashion, a bunch of unrelated movies were re-titled and released as “sequels” that are actually totally unrelated, like with the Zombi franchise).

              1. Good. You’ve passed your first test. Next up: have you seen Cannibal Apocalypse? And The Beyond?

                1. 1) I have the Grindhouse multi-disk special edition of Cannibal, and all three of the Gates of Hell movies City of the Undead, Beyond, and House by the Cemetary.

                  But do you have Anthropophagus?

                  1. Touche, Jimbo. I do not. And I sold my copies of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and C.H.U.D. to Amazon recently in my latest “all my media must be in the cloud” purge.

                    1. Wow, you let Sleeping Corpses go? I love that movie.

                      I don’t trust you urban-dwelling, cloud-computing, hipster types. I have a wall-o-dvds, and proudly add to it every weekend with a trip to the wonderful used movie store.

                      I will say this; the guys at my local Movie Trading Co. really, really know their stuff. They don’t just work there; most of those dudes eat and breath film, and can carry on a conversation like this effortlessly. They helped me find the international, 5-hr version of Red Cliff this past weekend, when all I could find otherwise was the shitty cut-up US theatrical release (I don’t like ordering stuff online because I’m an instant-gratification type of hedonist).

                    2. I need to travel light, Jimbo. I never know when I’ll have to run from the authorities.

                    3. Or when they’ll subpoena your cloud.

                    4. …I’m an instant-gratification type of hedonist…

                      You mean there are other kinds? Who knew?

                  2. But do you have Anthropophagus?

                    That is one disturbing movie, Jim. And I like me some splatter flicks and zombie prOn.

                    But remember, Jim, Children shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.

                    It’s very sound advice.

                    1. Hey doc, What Have You Done to Solange?

                      I Kidnapped it.

            2. Speaking of Dario, I just watched Jenifer last night and man was it disappointing.

              1. If you watch any Dario after Two Evil Eyes you get what you deserve. As a side note, the documentary that is on one of the special editions of that was done by a friend of mine.

          2. I don’t think Sandler fans are in the same “It’s so bad it’s good” camp as Godzilla fans are.

            1. I’d agree with you, but I don’t want to appear conceited.

              1. You wouldn’t Jim; you have heard tell of the latest Adam Sandler abortion of a movie, Jack and Jill?

                I hear tell the reviews were worse than Epi’s reviews of Micheal Bay’s Explosion: The Movie and its seedy, direct-to-DVD, follow up Assplosion: The Sequel.

        2. The Red Letter Media guys reviewed Jack and Jill, and as usual their review is more entertaining than the movie.


      2. Adam Sandler movies are only about one or two steps removed from Oww! My Balls!, so proof that Idiocracy is closer than we think.

      3. I will freely admit to enjoying Little Nicky.

        1. Oh thank god I’m not the only one.

          1. Only for Harvey Keitel.

            I know this is heresy, but, I don’t care for Adam Sandler’s dreck, personally.

            He was annoying even in MTV’s Remote Control.

      4. Parts of Zohan made me laugh.

        But Little Nicky is one of those times where I can see why the SNL staff all thought Sandler was some kind of avant-garde genius. It’s a very out-there character that he’s daring you to find unfunny. And succeeding.

        1. I thought Zohan was a thoughtful take on middle-eastern relations. Which isn’t exactly a humorous topic.

          And everyone bashing Sandler’s movies needs to stop for a second and be thankful for the billy madison trivia game quote.

    3. You’re just a bitter loser because he tossed you on your ass when you pitched your live-action King of the Hill movie script. And you really shouldn’t have suggested Dane Cook as Hank and Sarah Palin as Peggy. Anyway, get over it already. Loser.

      1. But Dane Cook is perfect for the part! And Rob Schneider as Bobby is genius!

        1. But Chloe Sevigny as LuAnne? Really?

          1. After Gummo, it seemed obvious.

            1. I’m pretty show Juliette Lewis gets first dibs on all those type rolls.

              1. Juliette Lewis gets first dibs on all those type rolls.

                I have a type roll she can dib. Juliette has aged very well.

                1. So you, like Paul, go for the slutty trash. NTTAWWT.

                  1. So you, like Paul, go for the slutty trash. NTTAWWT.

                    “I learned it by watching you!!!!”

                    *runs away sobbing*

                  2. slutty trash is my favorite kind.

                2. Pix or it didn’t happen.

                3. Agreed, Groovus. She gives off that vibe that you can do anything to her, and not only will you not feel bad about yourself afterwards, but she’ll secretly enjoy it.

                  1. but she’ll secretly enjoy it.

                    No secret about it, Jimbo; she’s pretty upfront and in your face.

                    1. That’s what Fairuza Balk is for, no?

                    2. DON’T TALK SHIT ABOUT FAIRUZA

                    3. I have nothing but admiration for her trashiness.

                    4. Your VHS copy of The Craft is way overdue at MovieTown, isn’t t?

                    5. Yeah, she had that down in American History X.

        2. I’m sorry, but lil Jimmy Norton is the perfect Bobby

      2. I can actually see Palin as Peggy Hill.

          1. Shouldn’t that be “hoo-hah”?

            1. More likely “yah, sher”.

              Or “you betcha”.

            2. I think “Hoo-yeah” is the proper textification of Peggy’s signature exclamation.

              “Hooh-yeah” might also be acceptable.

    4. Parts of Idiocracy were funny. Most of it was too accurate and horrible for me to laugh at.

    5. Idiocracy is too clever to be “hilarious”, at least on first viewing.

  4. Are there any candidates in the race who propose to do away with the DHS if elected? Gary Johnson maybe?

    1. Write me in, I’ll do it.

      1. Right men, or white men?

        1. quit being redundant.

    2. If you think a president can “do away” with anything without the support of Congress, then you’re smoking some of that wacky weed.

      1. Fine, are there any presidential candidates who propose to ask congress to pretty please do away with the DHS for them (or at least zero out their funding in the budget)? I forgot for a second that I was in the land of the pedan-dicks.

        1. I wasn’t trying to be pedantic.

          Some people really believe that the president has the power to repeal laws or do away with entire departments.

          1. DHS is executive, isn’t it? Couldn’t he, at a minimum, install a secretary whose policy would be “we’re the bureaucrats who don’t do anything?”

      2. He may not be able to do away with them but as chief LEO of the country they are under his orders. Instead of harrasing the populace over the weekend, I would have had them hiding easter eggs.

        1. Temporary solutions are temporary.

          1. Being high is temporary but it’s fun while it last.

          2. Because getting rid of DHS would necessarily be permanent?

            1. Much more so than an executive order.

  5. Somewhere along the way, fear of the state in abstract became fear of a state as temporarily constituted. Or maybe it was always like that, and there is no time we weren’t in the wilderness.

    I don’t care who’s boot is on my neck and neither does my neck.

    1. Speaking of, my foot tells me you have goiter.

  6. I think Nineteen Eighty-Four is the future, except that it will (continue to) creep up on us slowly.

    1. Brave New World is probably closer to the mark than 1984, but Brazil is probably closer still. Idiocy and totalitarianism go together perfectly.

      1. See, now I don’t think BNW or Brazil properly accounts for the sadistic streak in people who are determined to rule over the rest of us.

        1. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence

          1. As Bill Whittle points out – “At some point it becomes immaterial whether the laws were due to incompetence or maliciousness. That point is when their implementation is indistinguishable from maliciousness. ”


        2. Brazil has a government that employs full time torturers. The torturers are respected and enjoy a higher position in the overall workings of society and government.

          For a dystopian future world, I’d say that’s pretty sadistic…

      2. I’d agree with that. BNW definitely gives a better picture of where “doing it for your own good” will end. Nanny statists are already trying to condition bad habits out of people, BNW just takes that to an extreme.

      3. Brave New World is a fucking paradise compared to where we’re going.

  7. In troubled times, Americans go for dystopian diversions.

    They always have to know it can be worse, without actually experiencing the worst.

    Otherwise, coverage of all of the goings on in all those war torn countries on Al Jazeera would be the highest rated stuff on teevee.

    Not to mention coverage of all that famine and starving that goes on in the world: Haiti alone could be a ratings and advertising bonanza.

    1. And also why they’d rather read scifi/fantasy versions of dystopia than The Gulag Archipelago.

  8. So why am I the only guy that liked The Postman?

  9. Eh, Brazil is the most likely depiction of our future. Someone just has to invent a magnifying glass to tape over your smartphone so you can use it as your primary computer.

  10. Idiocracy was very funny. The reason it was funny is because its true! It is very unfortunate that WWII rendered all forward thinking on the progress of the genetic future of mankind a mute and unspeakable topic in academia. Mention the word “eugenics” in any college class room and a professor will respond “I’m not gonna touch that”. America has become a nation of thought crime. The courts are de facto and not de jure. Some are de jure, but we like to pretend thought crime does not exist. America is subsidizing the breeding of the worst types. In the past, if you were incompetent to take care of yourself you were self-restricted from having any -or too many children. Now with welfare, food-stamps, earned income tax credit hand-outs, etc, it does not matter how dumb you are, you can afford children! And what is happening is just as Idiocracy so comically acknowledged. Smart college educated people hold off having kids, or have fewer, and the lower IQ masses poop out babies like rabbits. One could argue that humans are unwittingly engineering a species wide devolution.

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