A cultural tug of war is brewing between conservatives and liberals over the message of "The Hunger Games."
Are the popular teen novels and films a leftist call for the downtrodden to rise up against the rich? Or an Orwellian take on the dangers of Big Government?
On one side of the argument is the Harry Potter Alliance, a group that aims to push a progressive agenda by politicizing popular young-adult novels and their fans.
For the New York-based nonprofit, "The Hunger Games" trilogy is more than the gripping tale of a brave teenage girl fighting for her life in a dystopian society — it's a call for progressive social change.
The alliance launched its "Odds in Our Favor" campaign Nov. 21, the day before the release of the second "Hunger Games" movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. The drive is aimed at pushing what the organization calls the movie's central theme: income inequality.
That interpretation may come as a shock to fans focused on the love triangle involving Katniss, Peeta and Gale. It certainly comes as a surprise to conservative fans of the books and films, who say the Harry Potter Alliance is willfully ignoring the real antagonist of "The Hunger Games" series, namely the fictional world's totalitarian government.
"To look at the 'Hunger Games' and not see that the people running the government are the evil ones is deliberate blindness," said Dan Gainor, vice president for business and culture at the conservative Media Research Center.
Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, isn't buying the Orwellian subtext, and he also has problems with the advertising blitz that announced the coming of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," calling it "a slick, glossy spectacle."
"'The Odds in Our Favor' campaign works to 'hack' the multimillion-dollar media campaign promoting the movie to make sure the central message of the story doesn't get lost: the economic inequality of the movie isn't a fiction for millions of Americans today," the alliance said in a press release.
The campaign urges supporters to launch volunteer projects that address "the 12 districts of economic inequality," which include "health-care access, homelessness, voting access, unemployment and food security."
"Like it or not, 'The Hunger Games' are real," says the narrator of a video accompanying the launch.
Mr. Gainor said he is not surprised by the Harry Potter Alliance's take on the novels, describing it as a typical progressive tactic.
"The left tries to structure every narrative as the one they want, and they get away with it because they have greater access to the media, and in some cases, they're involved with the creation of the media," Mr. Gainor said.
The Harry Potter Alliance sometimes sounds like "Occupy Hogwarts" in its quest for economic justice, citing figures such as "the top 1 percent control 40 percent of our nation's wealth" and "only 6 percent of workers have jobs protected by unions."
Supporters are asked to go online and post photos of themselves giving the revolution's three-finger salute. Hundreds of fans, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, have done so, according to the press release.
Mr. Gainor agrees that there are similarities between the U.S. and the decadent "Panem" of "The Hunger Games," but they aren't what the Harry Potter Alliance has in mind. For example, Panem's central technological achievement is its high-speed train, a form of mass transit popular with liberal government planners.
In the book, heroine Katniss has to sneak through a hole in the fence to hunt in the forest, which has been blocked off by the government — bringing to mind the fights over land use in the West between federal property owners in Washington and local residents.
On top of that, she sells and trades some of her game at an illegal market set up by residents of District 12.
"You could clearly argue that Katniss is an entrepreneur," Mr. Gainor said. "How different is this from Ayn Rand? In both cases, you have a corrupt government stamping down people's entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, and saying, 'You can't do that.'"
The Harry Potter Alliance isn't just a basement startup. Founded in 2005, the group receives funding from Chase Community Giving of JPMorgan Chase & Co., as well as the Roddick Foundation and hipster outlets such as the Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck and the fan site LeakyCon, according to the website.
The alliance's previous campaigns include a book donation drive, support for fair-trade chocolate, and a phone bank for same-sex marriage in Rhode Island that cited Harry Potter's years of living in a cupboard under his aunt and uncle's stairs as a reminder that "no one should have to live inside of a closet for their identity," Mr. Slack said.
The sequel to "The Hunger Games" has been a blockbluster, grossing more than $573 million worldwide through Sunday.
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