2:05 pm EST, November 25, 2014

‘If we burn, you burn with us’: When symbols move from the screen to the streets

From the emblazoned mockingjay to white roses, a major theme of Mockingjay, Part 1 was the importance of symbols.

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Katniss takes on the role of the “Mockingjay,” a powerful force against the tyranny of the Capitol and President Snow. Donald Sutherland’s character even mentions the need to destroy symbols, as they give meaning and power to the thing they represent.

We see the adoption of symbols from pop culture in tumultuous times today. On November 24, after the grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson, who shot unarmed black man Michael Brown in Ferguson on August 9, a familiar phrase appeared. Someone painted “If we burn, you burn with us” on a St. Louis arch.


The slogan was screamed by Katniss to President Snow and viewers in the Capitol in the third movie, as a threat and assertion of power. Ferguson protesters (for the sake of this article, we will assume it was a protester that tagged the wall) want everyone to know, the media and police alike, that the community is hurting and that there is fire there. Depending on interpretation, it can be read as a threat, one that means violence will be met with violence (which the Brown family have asked protestors not to engage in), or a forging of community. “We burn” clearly indicating that the protests and pain is not just that of Michael Brown, but an entire collective.

Tumblr users have taken to the site to conflate the franchise with the protests in Ferguson — some equating the situation in Ferguson to Panem. Looking at pictures from Ferguson the similarities between them and the riot imagery from the various districts in the movie are hard to ignore.

Comparison photos courtesy of The Harry Potter Alliance and OddsInOurFavor.org:





The Hunger Games symbols have made their way to other political movements. Thailand is currently under a hostile military government and anti-junta forces, specifically the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy, and have adopted Katniss’s three finger salute as a symbol for the movement. The junta takes the threat of the symbol so seriously that they arrested up to eight students who flashed the salute and had pushed back screenings of Mockingjay, Part 1.

Symbols from movies and books are a somewhat recent phenomenon. In 2008, the hacker group Anonymous adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as their cover, popularized by the comic book series turned movie V for Vendetta. But the appropriation of symbols and language as a whole is not a new wave. Prior to this, Bible stories and mythologies were adopted to communicate and unify coalitions — think David and Goliath.

The common saying “life imitates art imitates life” comes to mind. The eerily timed release of Mockingjay, Part 1 provides a unique opportunity to reflect. Pop culture symbols give people a common language to express themselves and are easily adapted to suit their cause. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum or on the above issues, symbols matter.

Sources: Tumblr, The Daily Mail, Tumblr, Business Week.

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