Monday, January 30, 2012

The Super Bowl, The Hunger Games, and Me

(Originally Posted at The League for Extraordinary Writers)

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.