Allow me to deposit my two cents into the debates among the Christian community regarding a recently released movie rendition of a bestselling novel, The Hunger Games. Granted, I’m in hiding from the teenage fangirls and anyone who would dare spark a “Peeta vs. Gale” debate as if they were a vampire and a werewolf, and thus I have not seen the movie, but a few years back, before there were even rumors of a movie series, I did read the book series in its entirety.
Parents and educators who see a much younger generation than I ever envisioned flocking to this series are likely to immediately resist and become defensive due to the highly violent nature of the games. Children are plucked from their homes and thrown into an arena where they are instructed to fight to the death until, from the 24 who entered, there is only one winner left. It’s gory, it’s repulsive, and it’s enough to make conservatives moms and dads cover their eyes and the eyes of their children. And that’s exactly what Suzanne Collins, author of the trilogy, intended.
First, allow me to acknowledge the concerns of adults who see young people so excited about a series so graphic. To see someone “killed” on a big screen is not a natural thing for a child, and it can absolutely have an impact on them psychologically. In some cases, violence can desensitize young people, minimizing the grave effects of loss of life. I agree that this is a bad thing and can cause real-life consequences.
However, if you were to look at the list of movies playing alongside The Hunger Games in theaters this weekend, chances are you’d encounter other movies depicting the same images of death, violence, and destruction. These are also bad. So, what’s the difference?
The difference is simple: In modern-day violent movies, the killer and the hero are often the same character. These movies depict that murder, if perhaps done for a noble cause, is worthy of praise and the immediate rewards are money, attention, or love. The hero slays the villain and is often rewarded with squealing cheers of “my hero!” from the beautiful woman waiting for him on the sidelines. It can be enough to cause a young person who knows no better to steal a gun and bring it to school or fight too violently with a friend without realizing the repercussions, which can be found in news stories almost on a daily basis.
Suzanne Collins also had another on-screen depiction of violence in mind when she wrote the novels: news coverage. The images of war, destruction, and death transmitted to us from far away can seem just that: far away, and easy to forget when we change the channel, but that is real life for someone.
Not so, however, with The Hunger Games. In the arena, every act of murder is viewed as horrible and grotesque by the hero, whose viewpoint we are most likely to adopt. Katniss, our beloved hero, sees the entire ordeal of the games with grim distaste. She doesn’t run around shooting arrows at everyone and loving the attention. The viewer or reader is meant to see the residents of Panem as mentally sick individuals for enjoying the televised event – but then, before mocking those who live in the Districts too much for watching the Games 24/7, we are meant to see ourselves.
This is the part where questions are to be raised. Are we to see Panem as a utopia or a dystopia? Those who see the Games as a mark of a dystopian society are not as likely to go out and try to replicate it in the real world, which is what some are concerned about. Thought I cannot claim to have professional opinion, I think that a teenage boy who walks out of The Hunger Games is less likely to bring a gun to school than a teenage boy who walks out of another exciting, violent action movie. (I’d give you an example, but I can’t remember the last time I watched one of those.) The point is: If we see Panem as a dystopia, we ought to reflect on our own realities. Collins herself said she wanted to raise questions for the readers “about how elements of the book might be relevant in their own lives.” She continued,”What’s your relationship to reality TV versus your relationship to the news? What do you think about decisions your government, past and present, or other governments around the world, make? Was there anything in the book that disturbed you because it reflected aspects of your own life and, if there was, what can you do about it?” Bottom line: She wants us to think about what she wrote. We aren’t supposed to swallow it without chewing a little first.
Parents, I agree: For kids to numbly take in violence such as that depicted in this trilogy is destructive and has poor effects. However, then they would be acting just like the residents of Panem, and look where that got them. No, I think the books were created to make the reader think about why this is a dystopian society. This is a book which has themes that ought to be considered in our own lives as well. Are we Katniss, mourning over the death of a fellow human, or are we the districts of Panem, cheering each time another body is carried away by the futuristic flying robots?
I acknowledge and understand both sides of the debate. However, I think that to dismiss the movies as violent and therefore evil is to miss a huge aspect of the book, and thus we allow ourselves to consume without thinking hard and well.