‘Hunger Games’ themes mirror current political frustrations

By Kayla Overbey

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

‘Hunger Games’ Themes Mirror Current Political Frustrations

Then I remember Peeta’s words on the roof. “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games.” And for the first time, I understand what he means.

I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.

— “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Millions of fans around the world have participated in the craze of  “The Hunger Games.” In the U.S. alone, 23.5 million books have sold since publication in 2008. The movie adaptation broke box office records, taking in $155 million its first opening weekend in North America, according to the New York Times.

“The Hunger Games,” a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins set in a post-apocalyptic America, were written for young-adults. However, the plot, which focuses on character Katniss Everdeen and her struggle to survive a gladiator-esque fight to the death against an authoritarian government, gained widespread popularity with a broader audience. As the story went viral, readers noticed political elements, some of which are comparable to the U.S. government.

The plot is fueled by themes of extreme poverty, violence as entertainment, gaping disparity between classes and imminent revolution. The government, known as the Capitol, exerts power with ruthless force by annually hosting the Hunger Games, a competition in which two teenagers from each of the 12 Districts compete.

The reward? Food, which is desperately needed by the starving lower districts but almost always ends up in wealthier hands.

The realistic tone and setting of the books has some readers wondering if such a government could actually exist. Aaron Pope, a University of Kansas junior from Topeka, said the books give an example of a government that has “thrown in the towel” and given up on its citizens.

“I feel like ‘The Hunger Games’ takes a look at what our society is now and amplifies it to a more extreme measure in order to show what we could become,” Pope said.

As for class disparity and poverty, Pope said the Capitol “is a government that recognizes this problem and deals with the situation by trying to act like there is no real problem.”

Cause for rebellion

In the books, the gap between economic classes is cause for a rebellion. The situation seems eerily familiar to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which inspired a string of revolts in 2011 and 2012. In the “Hunger Games,” the districts’ rebellion against the Capitol and the wealthy oppressors was successful because of the story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. However, the Occupy movement quickly lost its momentum. It’s this trust in the individual that Pope thinks is lacking in American political movements and elections. The passion behind the cause is what made Katniss’ revolution stick, said Pope.

“She didn’t make the easy decisions that won over ‘voters.’ She made the tough decision to stand up for what she believed in, and that belief inspired a nation,” Pope said.

The theme of control through fear has also received reactions from readers. The competitors in “The Hunger Games” are chosen against their will to fight to the death, as only one tribute may appear victorious. None of the districts rise against the Capitol in objection. Laurissa Marcotte, University of Kansas freshman from Hays, Kan., compared this to past military drafts and other government actions.

“The Capitol uses food and other necessities so that [the people] will put up with the Hunger Games,” she said.

Marcotte said the PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Transportation Security Administration are similar examples of this overstretch of governmental power.

“Both of these violate privacy rights, but people were so fearful after 9/11 that they were willing to sacrifice that right for a sense of security,” Marcotte said.

The PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were both passed after 9/11, pushing the government toward greater measures of safety. The act and administration both allow government officials to monitor any private citizen’s activity and heighten travel security to prevent further terrorist attacks.

Entertaining the masses

The books have even raised questions about competitive reality television shows like “Survivor.” In the novel, the murder of teenagers for sport is celebrated and watched as nationwide entertainment with popularity levels rivaling those of the Olympics.

While some wonder whether U.S. entertainment could eventually accept violence casually, Janni Aragon, University of Victoria political scientist, believes that the comparison is more metaphorical than realistic.

“Do we see an interest in vapid reality TV and fewer people concerned with voting or real politics? In a sense, yes. Do we have people performing for the masses, losing any shred of decency while they try to gain popularity or fame? Yes,” Aragon said. “But are they competing to the death? No. Maybe the death of thoughtfulness, but that is a different conversation.”

While the comparisons may seem surprising, political themes are commonly found in dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels. Aragon explained that fiction acts as a safeguard for authors to express their political feelings without facing negativity.

“This is usually the point for the author to comment on politics in a way that is safer,” she said.

Some believe that the political themes of “The Hunger Games” will influence a youthful generation to feel negatively toward government, but that’s unlikely. Historically, novels like “1984,” “Brave New World,” “Battle Royale” and others have all had negative governmental undertones without strong repercussions.

Marcotte believes “The Hunger Games” will follow that trend.

“I’m not sure if I’d say the trilogy has really affected young adult perception of government,” said Marcotte. “I think dystopian fiction is popular because it’s exciting. They’re just a cool story for most young adults.”

Feature image illustration credit: Scholastic Inc./Flickr 

Donald Sutherland discusses his role as President Snow in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games and about how he hopes the story wakes up this generation of youth to their place in the political world.

Contact Kayla Overbey at kayla@politicalfiber.com.

(This story was published by Political Fiber on September 25, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work. You can read the original publication here.)


Political Poetry: Performances give KU student outlet for social commentary

By Kayla Overbey

Monday, September 24, 2012
Spoken word poetry, an alternative form of self-expression formed in the 1960s and popularized during the Civil Rights Movement, uses spoken performance to add emphasis to messages. Nadia Imafidon, a senior at the University of Kansas from Lawrence, Kan., was introduced to spoken word poetry at a black leadership symposium in high school. Imafidon started writing her own poetry in 2010 and has since performed at various poetry slams.

What is the atmosphere like during a spoken word poetry performance?

Usually in a situation where there’s a lot of heavy material, it’s silent. You can tell there are people in the audience crying. You can tell there are people in awe. There’s comical poetry as well, but even then it’s done to prove a point. There will be times when there’s shouting from the audience. It’s a really freeing atmosphere, I should say. It’s very open and no one really cares what they think of each other. That’s what I like about it. It’s a very judgment-free zone.

How does this poetry differ from other forms of self-expression like rap or creative writing?

I think the biggest difference is that it’s a situation where you have to be vulnerable in front of a lot of people. That’s a huge difference. A lot of people hate being vulnerable and hate sharing stories from their past and personal lives. That’s what spoken word poetry is about. It’s therapeutic in that way, but it’s also horrifying.

What attracts people to spoken word poetry?

I think the big factor is that spoken word poetry is a really good way of expressing yourself, but in a public manner. I think a lot of people are drawn to it because it’s kind of “hip.” A lot of people compare it to rap or hip-hop because it’s very similar. People might get involved in it because it’s fun to do and fun to listen to.

What should the audience interpret from a performance?

A lot of spoken word poetry is very direct and tells stories from the author’s point of view, but the audience shouldn’t think they know the poet’s life afterward. The slam environment is really about the interaction with the poet. So, if they say something that makes you want to cry, go ahead and cry. If they say something you agree with, or make some gesture to signify their beliefs, participate. It’s all interaction with the poet.

How can this form of expression affect today’s political situation?

I think spoken word poetry brings a lot of awareness. It’s just about delivering information to people. I think it can be effective in the collegiate level just because a lot of students respond to spoken word poetry. So a lot of poets will use political commentary to inform people and help make decisions. A lot of people want to vote, but they have no idea what the platforms are.  Spoken word poetry will get people interested in at least hearing something about the candidate and why they should vote.

Four Must-See Political Poetry Slams:

Wilkine Brutus:

Shane Koyczan:

Dan Halloway:

Team Hawai’i:

(This was posted on the Political Fiber website on September 24, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work as a journalist and student writer. Visit the original publication here.)

FHSU Alumni Association welcomes three new board members

By Kayla Overbey

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012

On June 8, the Executive Council of Fort Hays State University’s Alumni Association introduced three new board members at the summer meeting in Hays. Jon Armstrong, Hays; Dr. Diane Scott, Broomfield, Colo.; and Tracy Metzger, Hutchinson, were welcomed to the board.

Jon ArmstrongJon Armstrong received a Bachelor’s degree in Communication in 1996 and a Master of Liberal Studies in Organizational Leadership in 2008, both from FHSU. He is the assistant director of admissions and transfer coordinator in the FHSU office of admissions. He will serve a three-year faculty term on the board.





Diane ScottDr. Diane Scott, graduated from FHSU in 1988 with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and again in 1990 with a Master of Science degree in Counseling and Guidance. She obtained her Ph.D. in College Student Personnel Administration from the University of Northern Colorado in 1995. Self-employed as a consultant and life coach, she will serve on the board for four years.





Tracy MetzgerTracy Metzger obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Computer Information Systems from FHSU in 1996. He is the vice president and chief technology officer at Lowen Corporation in Hutchinson. He was appointed to a two-year term to fill a vacancy.

Dr. Marcella “Marcy” Aycock
 now serves as president of the board. She is a 1984 FHSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Art Education, as well as a 1994 Newman University graduate with a baster’s degree in Elementary Education. She obtained her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Kansas State University in 2006. Aycock is the director of the Early College Health Science Academy at Butler County Community College.The Executive Council of 2012-2013 is composed of Dr. Marcella Aycock, Sedgwick; Brenda Herrman, Hays; Dr. Stephanie Bannister, Manhattan; Daron Jamison, Hays; Dan Sharp, Healy; Dr. Mary Martin, Hays; and Dennis Spratt, Lawrence.

Brenda Herrman serves the board as past president. She graduated from Midwestern State University with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences in Public Administration in 1997 before obtaining a Master of Liberal Studies degree in Organizational Leadership from FHSU in 2000. Prior to retirement, Herrman held the position of director of public works for the city of Hays.

Dr. Stephanie Bannister serves on the Awards and Recognition committee as chair. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communications from FHSU in 1992, followed by a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at the University of Kansas in 1995. Bannister obtained her Ph.D. in Education (Counseling and Student Personnel) from Kansas State University in 2009. She works as the associate director of housing at KSU.

Daron Jamison obtained a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership and Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management in 2003, both from FHSU. He works as the project coordinator of Nex-Tech Wireless, LLC, and will serve the board as Finance and Operations committee chair.

Dan Sharp is the Membership and Marketing committee chair. A 1984 FHSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, he is the president of Sharp Brothers Seed Co. in Healy and Greeley, Colo.

Dr. Mary Martin will serve as an at-large member of the board. Martin obtained a bachelor’s degree in Advertising from Kansas State University in 1988 and a Master of Business Administration in Management from FHSU in 1991. She graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1995 with a Ph.D. in Marketing. She is an associate professor of Marketing at FHSU.

Dennis Spratt graduated from FHSU in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education. He is the vice president of Wealth Management Group of KC, Inc., in Overland Park. Spratt will serve as an at-large member of the board.

Other members of the board include Molly Aspan ’00, Tulsa, Okla., attorney, Hall Estill;Cassie Augustine Jones ’96, Lakewood, Colo., vice president, O’Brien Advertising; Josh Biera ’92, Garden City, lieutenant, Kansas Highway Patrol; Monte Broeckelman ’92, Dodge City, chief financial officer, Pride Ag Resources; Brian DeWitt ’89, Hays, CPA, Adams Brown Beran & Ball Chtd.; Rich Dreiling ’69, Wichita, regional sales manager, Carlson Products; Diane Long ’72, Flower Mound, Texas, retired; Kevin Moeder ’82, LaCrosse, senior vice president/regional manager, Farmers Bank & Trust; Denise Riedel’86, Overland Park, owner, Riedel Communications/freelance consultant & writer; Chuck Sexson ’72, Topeka, director, Concealed Carry Licensing Unit, Office of Attorney General;Dave Voss ’80, ’82, Colby, network development manager, Centene Corp. Sunflower State Health Plan; Barry Yoxall ’81, ’82, Phillipsburg, vice president, First National Bank & Trust; and Gordon Zahradnik ’55, ‘58, Lyons, artist, Art of Z.

The association bids a fond farewell to three retiring board members:  Brad Haynes ’93, ’97, Hays; Stacy Kohlmeier ’84, Manhattan; and Half Century Club President Leo Lake ’57, ’61, Salina.

Established in 1916, the Fort Hays State University Alumni Association serves the population of FHSU graduates by identifying needs and providing solutions. More than 51,980 graduates live throughout the United States and approximately 73 foreign countries.  Twenty-four dedicated members comprise the Board of Directors and work to set the policy and direction of the association toward development of beneficial relationships between the university and alumni.

Board nominations are accepted as positions become available. To apply, please complete the application form, e-mail alumni@fhsu.edu or call 785-628-4430 or toll free 1-888-351-3591.

(This article was posted on the Fort Hays State University website in August of 2012 and am posting it here to archive my work. I was contacted by the FHSU Alumni Association to organize the information and write the article, and am listed as a guest writer in the original posting. Read the original publication here.)

The Conyacs — A Multi-Generational Tiger Family

By Kayla Overbey

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012

Alyssa ConyacAs fall approaches, Fort Hays State University welcomes back both new and current students. Alyssa Conyac, Stockton, will be a freshman following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who each graduated from FHSU. She will be the fourth generation in her immediate family to become an FHSU Tiger.

Linda S. (Barnett) Conyac, Alyssa’s mother, provides the third generational step to the Conyac family. She graduated from FHSU in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science in communication and a minor in political science. She also obtained a master’s degree in communications from FHSU in 1996.

Linda chose FHSU after hearing a recommendation from an instructor during a career shadowing class and receiving scholarships. During her time at FHSU, Linda recalls,  she participated in the FHSU Leaderand a public relations internship at The Mall. She fondly remembers the faculty and Linda & Phillip Conyacstaff.

Linda is now the senior branch manager of Heartland Lions Eye Bank in Hays. Her interest stemmed from an interest in organ donation and experience she gathered after working many medical jobs through college. She found that the position combines her degrees and experience well. She is also involved in her community through the school board, her children’s activities and her church.

Linda encourages students to maintain their drive for excellence and continuously be willing to learn.

“Never [lose] your sense of curiosity. Now with the Internet, it’s easier than ever to look things up,” she said.

The second generation Tiger in the Conyac family is Alyssa’s grandmother, Constance “Connie” M. (Pyle) Conyac. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business in 1965, and an M.B.A. in accounting in 1985. Connie admires FHSU’s location and position as a leader in western Kansas.

During her years at FHSU, Connie was involved in a number of activities, including Women’s Leadership Organization, Mortar Board and Lambda Iota Tau literary society. She was also a graduate assistant for the English Department and a graduate assistant in the accounting department.

Connie ConyacConnie is newly retired from a career in accounting. She is also a retired public school teacher, in addition to having taught at FHSU from 1985 to 1988. She dedicates a large portion of her time to her community through schools, her church, a home association, the Kansas City chapter of Women in the Arts, as well as enjoying her grandchildren. She is very active and considers her retirement a new chapter for potential in her life.

“I currently live where I fully take advantage of the many opportunities offered by a local community college for classes, lectures and performances,” said Connie. “I am considering what my next career will be.”

Alyssa’s great-grandmother, and the first member of the family to become a Tiger, the late Doris Bessie (Jones) Conyac enrolled at Kansas State Teachers College at Hays on Sep. 8, 1931, for $26.50. She graduated from high school in June of 1923 and taught school in Rooks County for three years before pursuing a teaching certificate.

Doris’ diaries describe college life similarly to what many would say college is like today. On June 1, 1932, she wrote, “Classes began. My subjects are swimming, tennis, clothing, Hygiene 33, and playground and community recreation.” She also wrote about pep rallies, bonfires and football games, as well as her recreational activities, like tennis, and her study habits. She wrote that wheat grew not far from the classroom windows.

As the Depression set in, Doris ended her schooling and gave her financial savings to a sibling before returning to teach at small schools. Eventually, she decided to pursue a career in cosmetology and ran a business in Stockton for 33 years. Family records show that she earned more than $3,000 per year in the early 1940s post-Depression era. Doris married Lawrence Conyac in 1940.Doris Bessie (Jones) Conyac, 1931-32

Doris motivated and instilled determination in both Linda and Connie during their academic years. Connie said of her mother-in-law, “Doris Conyac was an inspiration to me, encouraging me to complete my college education after I was married.”

Besides the direct line of Conyac women dating back to the 1930s who attended FHSU, Alyssa has many other family ties to the university. Alyssa’s father, Phillip, took classes for a year before graduating from Kansas State University. Cousin Austin M. Pyle graduated in 2005 and was preceded by a number of great aunts and uncles:  Nancy (David) ’98 and A. Lawrence “Larry” Conyac ’83, Stockon; Rebecca (Arpin) ’71 and John W. Pyle ’71, Hays. Additionally, Alyssa’s grandfather, Carrol J. Conyac, attended FHSU in 1960.

Alyssa was awarded many scholarships for her academic and community achievements and will take advantage of the opportunities FHSU provides. She received a scholarship based on her ACT score, as well as two from the FHSU Department of Business, which will assist in her resident hall and tuition costs. Alyssa also received a Vietnam Veteran’s Association Scholarship and a St. Thomas Church Scholarship.Doris Conyac holding baby Alyssa

Alyssa will live on campus and is most excited to experience dorm life and gain lifelong friends. She will major in marketing and minor in Spanish. She was drawn to FHSU by both her scholarships and the comfortable size of the university. FHSU wishes Alyssa, as well as all incoming students, the best as they officially join the Tiger family this fall. FHSU is also excited to welcome back all faculty, staff and returning students for another productive school year.

As a member of a Tiger generational family, Alyssa, like many other Tiger descendants, is eligible to apply for the Tiger Generational Scholarship. This award was recently established by the FHSU Alumni Association. Funds are generated through a number of venues, including the Tiger T-Shirt Project. To be eligible, a student must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student with a 3.0 grade point average minimum, with preference given to children or grandchildren of FHSU graduates, including stepchildren and adopted children. For more information regarding the scholarship, please visit https://secure.fhsu.edu/scholarship/default.asp.

(This article was posted on the Fort Hays State University website in September of 2012. I was contacted by the FHSU Alumni Association for this project and am listed as a guest writer in the original publication.  I’m posting it here to archive my work. Read the original here.)