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The Hunger Games: Whose Side Are You On?

In Books, Movies and Television, Christ and Culture on March 30, 2012 at 5:29 am

I saw The Hunger Games on opening day.  Those who waited in the line with me fell into two categories: enthusiastic youth (mostly girls) and the parent who drove the car.  Although the drivers were not overtly enthusiastic, I know they were.  Like me, they did not they did not drop the kids off at the theatre and head to Starbucks, as usual–they too wanted to see if the movie was as good as the book.  They were not disappointed.

I liked the book.   It had an engaging plot and interesting characters.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I read it rather quickly, and my final assessment of the novel was that it read like an entertaining movie.  It took the theatre experience for me to realize it has some pretty poignant themes as well.

The Games themselves are essentially Reality TV.  They are Survivor where the losers don’t just get voted off the island; they get butchered at the Cornucopia.  They are Top Chef, where the main ingredient might be the tribute from District 4.  They are Fashion Star where Cinna gets offers from all three buyers.  There’s even a brief nod to Extreme Makeover where the tomboy from District 12 is waxed and buffed, and this turns into the reveal in What Not to Wear when the Capital audience cheers at the transformation.  North American audiences are obsessed with Reality TV—there are literally hundreds of these shows.  In The Hunger Games, we get a picture of what it is like to take Reality TV too far.  But, when we turn to shows like Big Brother for entertainment, we must ask ourselves, “Haven’t we gone too far already?” If we will watch Toddlers & Tiaras, how far are we from watching twenty-four children kill each other in an arena with a camera in every knothole?

The film also interrogates the appropriateness of violence as a form of entertainment.  It wasn’t that long ago that boxing was the most violent sport on TV and nobody I knew actually watched it.  There were, of course, hockey fights and the choreographed violence of professional wrestling, but these are not nearly as violent as the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) which have a very large following today.  Is The Hunger Games a violent movie?  Yes it is.  But this isn’t the most important questions.  What does the movie say about violence?  Clearly, it doesn’t just censure the fights to the death; it is very critical of turning violence into a spectacle. 

A third theme has to do with the injustice in a system where a minority of the citizens live a life of frivolous indulgence and consume the materials produced by the sweat and blood of the poor.  The Games themselves are a simple reenactment of what is occurring systemically in the world of the movie—the vitality of the residents of the outlying districts is consumed for the entertainment of the privileged.  As ludicrous as we find the painted pets and sculptured facial hair in the Capital’s citizenry, how ridiculous is our indulgence in our pets and coifs to the world’s poor.  Let me put it this way; the money I spent on seeing The Hunger Games, would pay to feed a hungry child in East Africa for a year.

It is my fear that the multitude of young people viewing this film will experience Katniss Everdeen’s victory in this year’s Hunger Games as mere spectators.  Sadly, this would more closely associate them with the citizens of the Capital.  But, according President Snow, hope is more powerful than fear. Maybe I can hope that the young viewers will, rather, identify with the Girl on Fire.  Perhaps this film will help them to reflect a little of what this story might be suggesting about who we are and who we might be.