Revolutions are bloodthirsty.
Everybody knows that. They might start with a peaceful protest, a few thousand people marching up to their leader and asking for bread, but they end with a bloodbath. To overthrow the old order, sometimes all you can do is eradicate it and set up the new one on the bodies of the former government—and any bystanders who got in the way.
There have been thousands of them throughout history. I was taught at school about the Russian; I read about the French; and Sleepy Hollow is currently educating me about the American, something of which I have shamefully little knowledge. Whichever ones you know about, you’ll be aware that they involved deaths.
And yet they fascinate me.
I’m not sure whether it’s the idea of people being so impassioned about a cause that they would lay down their lives for it or the idea of taking things into one’s own hands, but the idea of overthrowing governments has always appealed to me. I know that it’s enshrined in the American constitution that should the government fail to work for its people, they should overthrow it and set up their own. I have no idea if my country has something similar, but I doubt that would stop us should the revolution come.
Quite often, we romanticise revolutions and paint the deceased as martyrs. Sometimes, we take fictional characters and their stories and assume they were representative of the truth, and of how people were affected. We look at Sydney Carton during the French Revolution or Enjolras during the Paris Uprising and we assume that they represent the reality.
It’s important to remember that revolutions are rarely flag-waving and singing. They’re blood. They’re death. They’re violence. And it’s because they have to be.
People rebel when they have no other way of changing their situation. They’ve spent so many years going along with it and now, suddenly, they’re fed up. Either they don’t have the right to vote peacefully, or it has no effect, but either way, there’s no way of being heard and no way of making demands a reality. There comes a point when the only way to change the system is to smash it onto the floor and start all over again.
I watched Catching Fire this afternoon, and I remembered what it was about those books that captured my attention. It’s nothing to do with the love story (why does everybody think about the love triangle? There’s no choice there. It’s about Katniss choosing her family, over and over again) or the sarky dialogue or the spectacular costume design.
It’s the revolution, the uprising, the slow beginnings of rebellion and defiance with the berries and the salutes, first from District 11 and then from more and more of them, the mockingjay wings and the slogans painted angrily on walls in red. It’s Katniss as a beacon of hope for people have lived in fear.
The most powerful thing about that film, that book, is that it’s about rising up and taking the power back when the people who have it want nothing else but to see you dead, and it speaks to me of this overwhelming desire to rebel that I think it within all of us.
The only point in the film where I properly cried was the scene in District 11 near the beginning. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but other parts of the film made me tear up. That one? There were tears streaming down my face. A row of thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boys sitting a little way in front of us raised their hands in a salute, the last people in the cinema we would have expected to do it.
Why do revolutions start? Because people get tired of being bossed around by people who’ll never understand what it’s like to live their life. People get tired of laws being made that affect them by people who will never be faced with those decisions. People get tired of being forced out of their jobs, of being patronised, of being tormented by the people who are richer than they are, and therefore ‘know better’.
Revolutions are bloody, but sometimes they’re the only way. Maybe it’s time we had another one.
At the end of the film, my friend turned to me and said, “The thing is, I don’t think it’s that unlikely for something like that to happen.” And she’s right. I can see our world, with its all-pervading media obsession, becoming that one. She added, “Being the cynic that I am.”
But expecting us to become like Panem isn’t cynical. Cynicism would be believing we didn’t have it in us to do what Katniss did and start a revolution. Cynicism would be believing we would stand back and let it happen.
As long as we believe in the power of the people to rebel, we’re not being cynical, because we’re saying that we trust in our ability to make decisions about how we live, and how we’re governed. It might take some time, but the important thing is reaching the decision to say NO. To say that enough is enough. To demand change.
This world needs change, I think. Maybe we’re not sending teenagers to kill each other on TV—yet. But there are places in this world where child soldiers are a reality, so how are we so different? We live in a society where the minority hold the power, the money and the resources, but the majority are the ones who suffer. We live in a society where we glorify a few and ignore how many struggles were required for any of us to get where we are.
The trouble is, with celebrity culture and our obsession with anybody ‘famous’, it’s hard to know who could possibly be the mockingjay we’re meant to follow.
After all, every revolution needs a leader.