It’s generally accepted that art imitates life. Not that art is a carbon copy of life, but rather it epitomizes life honestly. It doesn’t matter if a writer fabricates fantasy worlds or invents sci-fi tech that doesn’t exist in our current reality; what matters is that the story embodies the truth of the human experience. That is what connects with readers.
And when that truth connects, life may start to imitate art.
It’s happening in Thailand. Back in May of this year, the military seized power from the elected government. Soon activists were organizing anti-coup protests using the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games. A photo montage circulating online paired a picture from the movie with a graphic of three fingers labeled: 1. No Coup, 2. Liberty, and 3. Democracy. Social activist Sombat Boonngam-anong, who helped organize the protests, posted an explanation of the salute on his Facebook page: “Raising three fingers has become a symbol in calling for fundamental political rights.”
Dear #HungerGames. We’ve taken your sign as our own. Our struggle is non-fiction. Thanks. #ThaiCoup #Thailand pic.twitter.com/nGaYJIdj05
— Manik Sethisuwan (@ManikSethisuwan) June 1, 2014
In The Hunger Games the salute begins as a gesture of gratitude and farewell and evolves into a symbol of defiance against the totalitarian government of Panem. Just like the fictional leaders of Panem, Thailand’s military rulers were quick to ban the salute and crackdown on protesters, and the initial demonstrations died out. However, this week Mockingjay Part 1 opened in theatres and created a surge of new protests, most notably at a speech by the current head of the military government where five students were arrested, and at a movie theater in Bangkok where three students were arrested. Student activists had organized a contest called “Raise Three Fingers, Bring Popcorn and Go to the Theater” and promised to hand out 160 free tickets to the movie. But the authorities got word of it and more than 100 police officers and plainclothes security forces converged on the theater. In the cinema lobby, Nachacha Kongudom, 21, posed in front of the Mockingjay movie poster while saluting with three fingers. “The Mockingjay movie reflects what’s happening in our society,” she told The Associated Press before being arrested. The theater chain has since cancelled all showings of the film.
But now Thailand has their Mockingjay.
#ThaiCoup And so now we found our #ThaiMockingjay ! RT @LLTD_TU: 3 fingers salute pic.twitter.com/A8eaiHSQg6
— Free Mind (@FreeMindTH) November 20, 2014
And life imitates art.
I’m not suggesting that Suzanne Collins’ books sparked these protests. Demonstrations against the coup would have happened regardless. But I find it interesting that a fictional story’s symbol is being used to rally real protesters in a real country. The story of Katniss Everdeen clearly connects with and inspires these young activists. It’s no wonder books have historically been banned by dictatorships. But in the 21st century, with a record number of people on the planet being literate and connected, it’s no longer as simple as banning books or films. People will still find these stories and be inspired. And that, dear readers, gives me hope for the future.
CBC News – Hunger Games screenings cancelled in Thailand after protesters use 3-finger salute
The New York Times – Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute
The Washington Times – Thailand protests meet ‘Hunger Games’ as demonstrators arrested for three-finger salute
CBC News – Hunger Games salute sparks warning from Thailand’s junta