7 April 2012
How Despicable We Must Seem
Before the opening ceremonies, Katniss meets with her stylist, Cinna, to prepare. As
both of them Cinna presses a button and a fancy meal appears that consists of “Chicken and
chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas
and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey” (Page 65).
Katniss thinks about how difficult it would be to get a meal like this in District 12 compared to
What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at
the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the
woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day,
these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for
a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?
I look up and find Cinna’s eyes trained on mine. ‘How despicable we
must seem to you,’ he says. (65)
Katniss doesn’t respond to Cinna’s statement, but she agrees in her head. “He’s right, though.
The whole rotten lot of them is despicable” (65).
Although our world does not really consist of a Capitol and many districts, there are still
some people who live more comfortably than others. For people like me who live a privileged
life, life is easy. Food is readily available if I want to eat. Outside of school I don’t really have
many responsibilities. I don’t have to worry about how I will survive the next day. My family
has told me on many occasions to think about how lucky I am to live the way I do. In other
countries, life is hard. In Africa, children starve to death as a result of famine and poverty.
People my age in some countries are working more than my parents do. Katniss’s disgust for the
extravagant Capitol is similar to the disgust I felt for myself when I listened to an account of one
man’s visit to factories in China.
The classroom was noisy as the MUN students filed in. An assignment was due that day,
but no one had done it. Everyone was hoping that the teacher, Mr. Mustard, wouldn’t collect the
homework. The bell rang, Mr. Mustard walked up to the front of the class, and we all quieted
down. “Today,” he began, “I want you guys to listen to something I heard on the radio. It’s an
excerpt from a program called ‘This American Life’ on NPR.” There was a collective sigh of
relief as Mr. Mustard went to his computer to start the program. No one wanted to work, so
everyone was happy that we only had to listen to the radio. Mr. Mustard began in the middle of
the program, and the room quieted down as we strained to hear the narrator’s voice:
I look up at the buildings, these immense buildings They are so enormous. And
along the edges of each enormous building are the nets. Because right at the time
that I am making this visit, there has been an epidemic of suicides at the Foxconn
plant. Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to
the tops of these enormous buildings, and then throwing themselves off, killing
themselves in a brutal and public manner, not thinking very much about just how
bad this makes Foxconn look. Foxconn's response to month after month of
suicides has been to put up these nets. (Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory)
At this point Mr. Mustard stopped the program temporarily to explain a little about the
suicides and the nets. The room was dead silent. Every person was in the unfamiliar world of
Chinese factories. He clicked the program back on. The narrator talked about his conversations
with the workers at the factories where hundreds of thousands of people are crammed into these
buildings to manufacture the iPods and laptops that we use every day: “And I say to her, ‘You
seem kind of young. How old are you?’ And she says, ‘I’m 13.’ And I say, ’13? That’s young.
Is it hard to get work at Foxconn when you’re-‘She says, ‘Oh, no.’ And her friends all agree.
They don’t really check ages” (Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory).
I sat at my desk, trying to imagine what it would be like to work at age 13, to sit in a
factory, building iPhones, instead of sitting at a desk, learning. Child labor wasn’t news to me,
especially since I was in MUN. Topics like this were given at conferences and we were exposed
to world problems all the time, but knowing that a problem exists and hearing someone talk
about the problem are completely different. I turned to look at my classmates and saw a sea of
shocked expressions and open mouths. We listened, horrified, but couldn’t stop listening:
Do you really think Apple doesn't know? In a company obsessed with the details--
with the aluminum being milled just so, with the glass being fitted perfectly into
the case-- do you really think it's credible that they don't know? Or are they just
doing what we're all doing? Do they just see what they want to see? (Mr. Daisey
and the Apple Factory)
“He’s right,” I thought. Even though there were problems like child labor happening in
factories in China, Apple didn’t seem to care. The people buying Apple’s products didn’t seem
to care. I, as a consumer of these products, felt just as at fault as the companies committing these
crimes. The worst part was that in a couple hours or so, when I had forgotten about what I had
listened to, it wouldn’t matter to me anymore. I would just go on with my privileged life, eating
and playing as much as I wanted, not caring about problems elsewhere. My mind was filled with
thoughts of “What would the workers there think of my life?”
The class continued to listen in silence as the narrator continued with his story. We saw
what he saw and heard what he heard: the crammed dormitories with 15 people jammed into a 12
by 12 foot room, the 1984-esque monitoring of the facilities, the stories of working with
neurotoxin since it was slightly more efficient than other materials, the people fired since their
ruined fingers could no longer keep up with the breakneck pace of the factory, and the people
who could no longer find work because they protested conditions. As the narrator’s Chinese
translator said, “It’s just that you hear stories, but you do not think it is going to be so much”
(Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory).
After 30 minutes of this program, Mr. Mustard stopped the podcast and walked to the
front of the room. In MUN, we learn to be better speakers. The air is usually filled with noise,
but at that moment, the room was dead silent. We stayed like this for another minute before Mr.
Mustard finally spoke: “That radio show, ‘This American Life,’ had another podcast that talked
about this guy who went to China.” He pressed a button on his computer and we could hear the
podcast’s usual host talking:
As best as we can tell, Mike’s monologue in reality is a mix of things that actually
happened when he visited China and things that he just heard about or researched,
which he then pretends that he witnessed first-hand. He pretends that he just
stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things somebody
might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads. (Retraction)
I heard some people around me breathe sighs of relief. The captivating story about
factories in China was no longer real to them. The mood was noticeably lighter as Mr. Mustard
finished the last few minutes of class talking about how presentation is important when talking.
However, I didn’t feel the same as some of my classmates. Their feelings vanished as soon as
they heard that the story wasn’t entirely true, but I felt that just because the parts were taken from
different sources didn’t mean the situation was different for those workers. I still felt that I was
to blame for their suffering.
Just as Katniss felt disgust for the Capitol, I felt disgust for myself. In The Hunger
Games, the districts suffer as the Capitol citizens enjoy their extravagant lives. In real life,
people in other countries suffer as a result of people like me who like fancy electronics. Once
again, I thought about how lucky I was to have a comfortable life. Hours and hours of SAT
classes or tutoring were nothing compared to what other people my age endured. I pictured
myself talking to factory workers just as Cinna talked to Katniss: “How despicable we must
seem to you.”
Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2008. Print.