The Marxian Ways of a Dystopian Society

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A philosophical view of dystopian movies such as The Hunger Games, and Divergent.

Submitted: October 02, 2014

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Submitted: October 02, 2014



Popular Culture goes along with trends. As soon as a topic hits the media and is a success, suddenly every movie, television show, and book is based upon the same topic. After the popular book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, wizards and magic became a fad. Next, with the surface of the film Twilight, vampires saw the light of day again. The new fad now is the prediction of our future. The dystopian genre does just that. With the rise of films such as The Hunger Games, others quickly followed the dystopian film trend. The dystopian film genre follows a Marxian philosophical view- point.
In a dystopian society, humans are only good for what they can produce. They become their identity; for human beings, work is life's purpose. Karl Marx makes this claim. Marx talks about "species –beings” or human identity. According to Marx, work becomes people’s only identity. This philosophy can be seen in the film The Hunger Games. Each district is responsible for a commodity in which it is specialized. For example district twelve is responsible for mining, and four is responsible for fishing. In the film Divergent, every faction is responsible for keeping up a certain part of the society. For example, the faction Abnegation is responsible for keeping the peace and upholding the rules, while Dauntless is the warrior faction. In a dystopian society the purpose of humanity s reduced to practical purposes such as labor, which according to Marx, lead to alienation. 

Dystopian Film Genre 

Dystopia depicts fictional societies in which human misery, poverty, tyranny, and terrorism lead to bad and imperfect living conditions. The dystopian genre consists of films about survival with a main focus on oppression and rebellion. Dystopia is a subgenre of science fiction. It depicts future societies, and uses many science fiction elements such as time travel, space flight, and advanced technologies. The environment plays an important role. The setting is normally in large cities devastated by pollution. In almost every dystopian story, there is a backstory of war, revolutions, overpopulation, and other disasters. They take place in the future. In a typical dystopia, there is no social group except the State. Creators of dystopian fiction explore worst possible scenarios, highlighting a sense of fear in order to show that a perfect society is not possible. The Dystopian genre has recently gained popularity through the medium of film. Examples include: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Upside Down, The Island, City of Ember, In Time, Ultraviolet, and upcoming movies such as The Maze Runner, and Mockingjay. 



Work as Identity 

Marx believed that for humans, work is our identity. Human beings produce their own means of subsistence. That is what distinguishes humans.  “Species-activity and the species-spirit whose real, conscious and authentic existence consists in social activity and social enjoyment. Since the essence of man is the true community of man, men, by activating their own essence, produce, create this human community, this social being which is no abstract, universal power standing over against the solitary individual, but is the essence of every individual, his own life, his own spirit, his own wealth.” Marx’s use of the word “essence” here is to mean human nature. Marx is claiming that human nature was the ability to produce and thrive within a community that serves the society and oneself in a reciprocally rewarding manner. When productive relations begin to take effect humans bond within the community. 
For Marx, human nature and production cannot be separated. “Humans have a drive to spontaneously and creatively produce products in a manner that is conducive to social and individual satisfaction.”   During production, man shows his uniqueness. From the distribution of the product he satisfies someone else, and through this gratification he satisfaction himself. The producer depends upon the same relationship of production and exchange from another individual. In fact, what is “unique” to man is really not unique, but applies to the community as well. 


Alienation is an idea developed by Marx in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Alienation is the transformation of people’s own labor into a power which rules them as if by a kind of natural law. We become alienated from our work and thus alienated from our true selves. Not only are we confined to one particular function, one job, within the production, but the product of our labor no longer belongs to us. It then belongs to the owner. That product is or should be the embodiment or reflection of who and what we are; however, we are alienated from it. 
Marx’s Theory of Alienation  claims that in production under certain condition workers will inevitably lose control of their lives by losing control over their work. Workers then stop being independent. Under ideal conditions for Marx a blacksmith would own his own shop, set his own hours, determine his own working conditions, form his own product, and have any say in how his product is sold. The owner controls all his interactions.  Under the modern factory conditions, the average worker is simply replaceable in the impersonal production. In the condition where people are working on 
monotonous, closely supervised tasks, workers lose control over the process of production. They lose control over not only the production, but the products they are producing, and the relationship they have with the producer. As a consequence they become alienated from their own human nature. Marx understood human nature to be free and productive. The most basic form of worker’s alienation is their estrangement from the process of their work. 

The Hunger Games 

In The Hunger Games , those within the community are driven by their production. Panem is a nation that was established during an unknown time period set in a post-apocalyptic world. Panem has a population of about 4.5 million people. It consists of the Capital and 12 districts. The setting is the western side of North America, and the Capital is located in the area formerly known as the Rocky Mountains. Panem is run by a single-party totalitarian dictatorship that is led by President Snow. The name Panem is derived rom the Latin pharse panem er cirenses which translates into “bread and circuses.” The government provides food and entertainment, snt the citizens give up their political rights. In Panem, the rules are harshly enforced. After a rebellion of the districts, known as the Dark Days, an annual sadistic event known as the Hunger Games was established.  
The districts of Panem are each responsible for producing, procuring, or refining goods in a particular industry as dictated by the Capital. The districts barely interact with each other since it is illegal. Each district has it own unique culture. Welfare levels vary upon the districts depending on the goods each produces. Districts such as 1, which produces luxury items for the Capital, and 2 which produces masonry, is wealthier than districts 11, which produces agriculture, and 12 which produces coal. Each district’s purpose and function is their production of their goods. The closer a district is to the capital, the wealthier it is. 
The identity of every individual in each district is dependant upon its production. This is demonstrated when the individuals who were chosen for the games are paraded to the capital. They are to present themselves and make a name for themselves in the eyes of the Capital, in order to gain sponsors for the games. The costumes of each are a representation of their district’s production. The two contestants from district four wore outfits to symbolize fishing, the commodity that four is responsible for. The two contestants from district twelve wore burning coal to symbolize mining, the commodity they are responsible for. Their identity is synonymous with their district’s production. 

Divergent , takes place in the future city of Chicago. The city is divided into five factions: Abnegation, which represents the selfless; Amity, which represents the peaceful; Candor, which represents the honest; Dauntless, which represents the brave; and Erudite, which represents the knowledgeable. Each year when children turn sixteen they take an aptitude test that tells them which faction they are best suited for. After receiving the results of the test, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction. 
The five factions are meant to keep the society stable. Abnegation values the virtue of selflessness. As a member of Abnegation, the focus of life will be in serving others instead of themselves; anything done for self-enjoyment is discouraged. City leaders are typically hand-picked from Abnegation because it is believed that the faction’s desire to put others before themselves is the key to true leadership makes a ruling government incorruptible. Candor values the principle of honesty and openness that would lead to a more peaceful and perfect society. The Candor faction provides the people with trustworthy and comprehensive leaders in law and politics. Erudite is dedicated to knowledge, intelligence, curiosity, and astuteness. They value the virtue of intelligence and wisdom. Erudite members are delegated to the pursuit of knowledge. The faction produces the city’s librarians, doctors, scientists, and teachers.  They are responsible for keeping the city and the factions. All technological achievements that the factions may benefit from come from Erudite. Amity is dedicated to peacefulness, kindness, forgiveness, trust, self-sufficiently, and neutrality. Amity provides all the food for the factions. Dauntless values the virtue of bravery. They train to fight and use weapons to prepare their bodies to respond to threats and challenges.  Dauntless jobs include fence guard, city’s security force, tattoo artist, weapon maker, fighting for entertainment, initiate trainer, or a Dauntless leader. The Dauntless are the only faction that have their members, upon reaching a certain age that hinders their ability to uphold their faction, become Factionless, or choose to die. Due to this the faction does not have elderly members. 
The factions work together to create a functioning a stable society. “The system removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will. Divergents threaten that system. It won’t be safe until they’re removed.” - Jeanine Matthews Any threat to the stability they have created has to be removed to keep the society functioning.  
To live for one’s work, and that work becomes one’s identity in this dystopia, leads to alienation. At the age of sixteen, every person takes an aptitude test. This test tells you whether you should stay in your faction, or choose another. When you choose another faction, you leave your family behind putting your work before everything. Therefore in Divergent, giving up everything for work causes alienation. The factions do not care will choose to join them.  In this society your work truly becomes your identity. One’s faction is all they are, and all they can become. Within their faction once they lose touch with this work, and become uninvolved within the faction they quickly become alienated. They cannot choice another faction, or go back to their original faction; unless they go factionless, which is essentially excommunicating oneself from the society. 

The dystopian film genre expresses the philosophical claims made by Karl Marx. The dystopian society is focused on survival. They try to accomplish this by being productive. Here, their work becomes their identity; as seen in Panem, from The Hunger Games. Through this new identity, the people become alienated from our work then from their true selves, as seen in Divergent.  




Works Cited
Byron, Chris. "Marx's Human Nature: Distinguishing Essence from Essentialism." Marxist - Humanist Initiative (2013).

Gasper, Phil . "Marx rejected bourgeois morality in favor of an ethics of human emancipation." . ISR – International Social Review, n.d. Web. . <>.

Marx, Karl. Estranged Labour. : Karl Marx Internet Archive, 2004. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology. New York: International Publishers, 19721970. Print.

The hunger games. Dir. Gary Ross. Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 2012. Film.

Divergent. Dir. Veronica Roth. Library, 2014. Film.



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