Life imitates The Hunger Games

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

In a dramatic case of life deliberately imitating art, a number of students in Thailand were recently arrested for using the famous Hunger Games salute to express opposition to the country's repressive government:

What would Katniss do?

The central figure in "The Hunger Games," the hit sci-fi series about an oppressed people's struggle against a totalitarian regime, is being evoked for real, now, in Thailand among university students expressing their opposition to that southeast Asian nation's military rulers.

Several students, from Bangkok to about 450 kilometers (280 miles) away to the northeast, have been detained in recent days after flashing the signature anti-establishment, three-fingered salute from"The Hunger Games."

By Thursday evening, all of those held had been released, according to lawyers. At that point, according to Human Rights Watch's Sunai Phasuk, about 100 police and military troops had congregated then at a busy cinema in the Thai capital where "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1" was set to debut.

The Hunger Games does indeed and condemn government oppression, though the meaning of its political message is open to a wide range of interpretations, for reasons I discussed here and here. In a 2012 Institute for Humane Studies podcast, I considered whether the popular book and movie series conveys a libertarian suspicion of government.

The ambiguity of the book series' treatment of political issues has continued in the first two films in the movie series starring Jennifer Lawrence. That may nor may not make it a better story. But it does enable adherents of a wide range of political movements to claim it for their own causes. These include libertarians, Tea Party conservatives, and left-wingers in the US. And, as the Thai case shows, the same is now true of at least some political activists in other countries, particularly those opposing repressive governments.