Hunger Games: Sick or Meaningful?

Thank you to all who have made comments on my posts about The Hunger Games over the past few days (See Hunger Games? Parents Do Your Job! and Hunger Games – Disturbing?  Indeed…).  Your thoughts and questions as well as reading the thoughts of others (including my huz and a good friend) continue to push me to think more and more about the books (yes, I have read all three through one time and should probably read them again) and the movie.  I find this helpful, and I hope that you find it helpful as well.

While many put these movies and books into the same genre as the Twilight series and Harry Potter series, I would oppose that sweeping generalization.  The young adult literature (or teen fiction) genre has been flooded in recent years with books that are meant to draw in the teen readers. It is excellent, of course, that teens are reading given the state of reading abilities and test scores in our country.  However,  I would not say that Twilight has the same literary value as The Hunger Games.  In fact, seeing a trailer for the last Twilight movie was the worst part of the theater experience for me last Friday.  Those are 90 seconds that I will never get back…

And I digress…

If one does any Google searches to read up on The Hunger Games (which, by the way, I think is fine as long as there is caution not to critique until one has actually read them…sorry – pet peeve) and on the author Suzanne Collins, one will likely come across the reading list of Collins herself as a teenager.  When I saw that Lord of the Flies, Slaughter-House Five, and 1984 were on her favorite list, I realized that The Hunger Games are a culmination of what Collins has read as well as experienced.

1984, Brave New World, and Lord of the Flies met with similar opposition when they first published. Each of them describe what could be in the future. When 1984 published “way back” in 1949, the world could not conceive of the concepts that Orwell suggested. However, the work has remained relevant to this day and continues to warn even our society of the potential harm to society when government gets into our private matters.

Consider the November 2011 question before the US Supreme Court when the US government argued that it should be allowed to continue to use GPS tracking of peopl without first seeking a warrant. Justice Stephen Breyer stated: “If you win this case, then there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States. So if you win, you suddenly produce what sounds like 1984….

In the Scholastic interview with Collins, she cites her interest in Roman history as well as Greek and Roman myths as laying the foundation for the books, but it was not until one night as she watched television that the story started itself:

I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

If I imagine myself in the shoes of Collins, I have a rich literary background including mythology, history, and ground-breaking futuristic novels warning about what society could become that collides with an evening of shocking television (trust me – I can understand the way that reality tv and something about war could seem to be shocking).  What would I have done?  Well – if I had any writing talent, which Collins already had proven she had, I would have had to write the story that came to me.  I would have been compelled, as compelled as I have been to write my thoughts about the movie, to write that story to demonstrate what could happen in our society if we do not pay attention to the path we are on with entertainment.

This is not Twilight with vampires or Harry Potter with wizards (both stories, by the way, do have “human” characters, but we tolerate them better because they are not “real”) because, in The Hunger Games, we face ourselves – there is no mistake that these children could be our children or us.  Instead, these books and this movie fall into a category that is typically saved for historical tellings of past tragedy. 

As I went to bed on Tuesday night, I read the following comment from a reader (whom, by the way, I thank for commenting at length!):

Throughout the movie, I felt myself being pulled into the story and then I would stop and remember that these were children with parents watching and probably hoping that their child survived. Even as good as the movie appeared to be, it wasn’t good enough to negate the disturbing idea behind it. … Would that have sucked me in even more? To accept the idea of children having to live in fear in this type of society? I don’t see how all the people sitting in the movie theaters watching The Hunger Games is any different from the spectators in the movie who were watching on and enjoying this and calling it entertainment.

As I read the comment, the memory of another movie popped into my thoughts – Schindler’s List. I was a freshman in college when the film version of the book Schindler’s Ark (published 1982) came out in theaters. The film received seven Academy Awards, and high schools around the country took students to see the movie. I saw it twice in the theaters – once with my parents and younger brother and once with my grandmother. The first time I saw it (with my grandmother), we sat in silence at the end of the film…glued to our seats in shock and despair at what humanity is capable of doing to its own. Tears spilled out of our eyes throughout the entire film. My grandfather and my grandmother’s brothers had been in the military during World War II; there was much for us both to process.

IMG-20120328-00361In our collection of movies in our basement are two movies that I consider to be ones that are not for entertainment purposes but rather for remembrance or warning purposes.  They are not movies that we watch over and over again; in fact, I have not yet seen The Passion by Mel Gibson although I will likely need to do so before my children ask to see it.  They are nearing graduation from high school and will soon make their own choices about what to see and what not to see.  I want to maintain my influence in their lives, and the best way to do that is to be credible by knowing what I am talking about.

Schindler’s List is as horrific, if not moreso, that The Hunger Games.  With its R rating, the historic retelling in very graphic details of the Holocaust is sickening.  But it was also so meaningful.  I left the movie theatre sick with grief that this could happen and that it had happened in my grandmother’s lifetime…but I also left the movie theatre with hope – hope that we could change things, that my generation would not tolerate this, and that we would take the lessons from the past and make sure that this did not happen in the future.

That has not been the case as there are genocides and holocaust-like actions every day…but I still have hope that we will continue to learn and apply the lessons learned from history to make the future brighter.

One of the main themes in The Hunger Games is the tension between fear and hope.  In one of the scenes that only exist in the movie (because they are outside of Katniss’s first person limited narrator perspective), President Snow and Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane discuss the power of fear versus hope.  Click here to watch the scene.

“Seneca, why do you think we have a winner?,” Snow asks while cutting a white rose.

“What do you mean?,” Seneca asks.

“I mean, why do we have a winner?,” Snow repeats, before pausing. “Hope.”

“Hope?,” Seneca replies slightly bewildered.

“Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is
dangerous,” Snow declares.

Hope is stronger than fear.  In the arena, Katniss finds hope, and that is how she survives.  It is not by becoming driven by fear to the point that she actively kills off the other participants. Rather, she learns to protect because of hope.

This lesson is, in my opinion, the strength of the books and the strength of the movie.

In what do we find hope?  How does hope shape our outlook on the world today and in the future?  And – perhaps most importantly – what do we hope will change in our world?

Once we can identify that, we then need to act on that hope and make changes in our own lives, model change for others, and encourage change so that hope is possible for all.

The Hunger Games – sick or meaningful?  I vote “meaningful.”

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Filed under Education, faith, Parenting, Thoughts

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