The Super Bowl, The Hunger Games, and me.

On Friday, my wife and I walked from our house near downtown Indianapolis to the Super Bowl village. The game was more than a week away, but the whole area was already crowded. It appeared that every pavilion and tent within 500 miles was either already set up or currently being assembled in the streets and parking lots of downtown Indianapolis.

There are giant Super Bowl sculptures, at least three stages, dozens of outdoor bars, a zip line down the middle of Capitol Avenue, and half a dozen buildings wrapped in enormous Microsoft Kinect ads. Here’s a shot of Monument Circle:

 As I walked around this temporary amusement park, I got more and more depressed. Why? For every scene like this:

There’s also one like this:

Now, I know that only a minority of the people holding signs are actually homeless or hungry. And giving money to panhandlers only exacerbates the problem. But the dichotomy between the glittering temporary bars and stages for Super Bowl XLVI and the panhandlers points up a real problem in our society—one that calls The Hunger Games to my mind.

Are the fashionable spectacles of the Super Bowl Village really that different from the glitz and glamor of the Capitol District? And while we don’t have any place labeled District 12, you could easily form one among the population of Indianapolis. Consider this:

167,000 residents of Indianapolis live below the federal poverty line
63,000 of them are children
34,000 residents will go hungry at some point this year.
3,000 will be homeless at some point this year.
About 50 homeless people in Indianapolis will die of exposure this winter.

And consider these stats:

Lucas Oil Stadium cost $750,000,000, of which $650,000,000 was public tax money.
The Super Bowl will cost at least $29,000,000 ($25,000,000 from private donors and $4,000,000 from the Capitol Improvement Board, which is publicly funded.)

No, we don’t kill 23 kids per year for our entertainment. Football only kills about four people each year, making it a relatively safe sport (gymnastics, cheerleading, and downhill skiing are far more dangerous.) But as I walked through the Super Bowl Village on Friday, I had the feeling that I was bearing witness to an inevitable slide—America becoming Panem.

What do you think? Please convince me I’m wrong in the comments. I’m getting depressed all over again.
post signature


Miranda Hardy said...

I used to work downtown Indy when I lived up there. The one thing I disliked was seeing the homeless on the corners. But, what I liked seeing was the volunteers going around with a wagon at lunchtime and passing out lunches. They did this daily and it was a wonderful feeling knowing people cared.

While we have divisions in our society, I'm not sure that will ever change. It's the choices we make that matters.

Anita Saxena said...

Wow. When you put it that's not difficult to see the similarity. I know that's not what you wanted to hear.

Kay said...

I can think of one huge difference--we can choose to make a difference if we want to. My church's youth group (along with thousands of others around the country) will focus attention on helping the the hungry next Sunday with the Souper Bowl of Caring. If fact, they are working on their own commercial that will show just how many lives could be saved for the cost of one Superbowl commercial. We'll follow that up with the 30-Hour Famine sponsored by World Vision--where we will experience hunger and raise more money to feed hungry people.

Unknown said...

Sure, we're Panem. And it's depressing. However, it does take certain individuals to break away from the hive to point out some important truths. Like you've just done.
I see good happening every day, and some of that is to do with how I choose to sustainably as possible. I choose awareness over ignorance. It doesn't depress me, but focuses me.

Rebecca Gomez said...

If we are trusting in society as a whole to fix this trend, then we are in big trouble. Real change comes from individuals doing what God created us to do--love people more than we love ourselves.

"kitt" McGuire said...

Someday read "I Will Bear Witness 1933-1941" a diary of the Nazi Years by Victor Klemperer. At one point he describes the emphasis surrounding the athletes of the Olympics and how so much money was spent on bringing the games to Germany in '36. It is frightening to see how the US is placing such an excessive value on sports and to compare the plight of the common people in Germany then and the condition of the poor in America now.

Unknown said...

@Miranda -- do you know who was doing the lunch cart downtown? I'd love to volunteer for them. It may have ended, I've never seen it and I walk downtown 3-4 times per week. I used to volunteer for the soup kitchen at Roberts, too, but that's closed down. And they no longer allow pop-up soup kitchens on the military mall.

Unknown said...

To everyone who commented about the power of individuals caring and charity: yes, I agree. But shouldn't we rely on individual caring and charity to build frivolous things, like sports stadiums, and ask government instead to guarantee those things it has promised to, namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? A hungry child is not able to pursue happiness. Nor is the promise of life worth much to a guy frozen to the street he slept on.

Stephsco said...

@Mike's last comment, I agree with you, but sadly, there are many in our nation who rush to label that type of government intervention as socialism and fear a Communist society. I voted in 2008 for a president who would reform healthcare; I shouldn't have been surprised at the backlash but it was disheartening. I wish our government would work together to make the healthcare bill stornger and more viable rather than each party tearing each other apart. It makes me sick that some (not all) republicans want it to fail because it's Obama-initiated.

There are a lot of people in our nation who really, really, really don't like to be told where their tax money should go. Even if it's to help feed hungry children. They don't want their lives being taxed and they want to control where the money goes. I wish it was different, but my only solace is there ARE people doing the good work of serving others regardless of our squabbling government.

Lily Cate said...

Well, my husband is a social worker, so this is pretty much the daily topic of conversation at our house. It can be almost unbearable to think of the situations of some in this country.
Expand this thought process onto a global scale, and it gets a bit numbing.

But I still don't think America is becoming Panem. The world is not becoming Panem. We might have a long way to go, but there are people out there working very hard to help. There are solutions, even to the biggest problems. And there's a reason we have so many apt metaphors for tackling huge problems one step at a time - because we are capable, and we don't give up.