March 28, 2012

Hunger Games: Amusing Ourselves to Death

(with thanks/apologies to Neil and Andrew Postman)

This will not be a review or even an exhaustive discussion of The Hunger Games. This is a post that I wanted to write two weeks ago, before I even saw the movie, but just never got to. (For a fair-handed perspective on the movie, go here -- and, for the record, I don't make a habit of referring people to CT.) Earlier this week, a dear Christian friend asked me (knowing I had seen the movie), "what would you say to someone who says it's evil, humanistic, etc. etc. etc....don't let your kids see it...etc.?" This post is, in part, an attempt to answer that question.

Ten to twelve years ago, when this homeschool mom had only one reading child in the house, I made a point to read everything he was reading. Truth is, I seemed to have more time for it back then, as it was easy to work reading in with nursing my younger kids and taking afternoon pregnancy naps. Now, however, with two teen readers in the house and the explosion of Young Adult Literature (and I use that term loosely, only in the library category sense, but that's for another post), it's much harder to keep up. Many times, I find myself just saying no to my kids when they select a questionable book from the library (thank goodness for book jacket synopses).

I'm not sure how The Hunger Games came into my children's lives. I think a friend from church loaned my now-sixteen-year-old daughter the first book. She quickly devoured the entire series, then passed them on to her thirteen-year-old brother simply to stop his repeated requests. Well, he (of my three children, he wins least-likely-to-read-a-book-unless-it's-the-only-available-option) devoured the first book. At that point, I figured I'd better see what had drawn my children in. I was drawn in, as well.

The story of The Hunger Games is compelling: a dystopian society (and yes, I had to look that up) whose leadership is bent on preventing future rebellion through a system of segregation and fear-mongering. The fictional country of Panem is composed of a debauched Capitol and twelve separate districts, and never shall they all meet -- except when tribute is due, once each year.

The definition of tribute from the Capitol's perspective:
A gift, testimonial, compliment, or the like, given as due or in acknowledgement of gratitude or esteem
The definition of tribute from the Districts' perspective:
A stated sum or other valuable consideration paid by one sovereign or state to another in acknowledgement of subjugation or as the price of peace, security, protection, or the like
In this case, the tribute is a human life. Between the ages of 12-18. One boy and one girl from each district. And of the 24 tributes, only one is to survive. These children are taken from their homes and pitted against one another in a highly televised and manipulated winner-takes-all competition. To the victor (and his or her district) go the spoils. The almost insatiable Capitol finds its hunger for pageantry, partying, and gambling and its thirst for blood temporarily quenched.

Without providing spoilers, here's how I can answer friend and, hopefully, help other concerned parents out there.

The story line is about evil. And the society shown is humanistic. There is no God present, other than the gods that people have made of themselves, of one another, of their lifestyles, of past tribute victors, of the games themselves.

This is a secular story, and the characters have no hope beyond themselves (unlike us).

This is the world that many of our neighbors live within, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps each day to make a living, give their kids a better life than they had, winding down at the end of the day by watching a TV show about someone whose life is, in one way or another, worse than theirs. And getting up the next day to do it all again.

Do you or your teens need to see this movie in order to get that message? No. But the Hunger Games is really about where our society, left to itself, could be headed. And I thank my God that we are not left to ourselves.

Do I think you or your teens should see this movie? That's a call only you can make. I do not think that it is an evil movie, but it is a movie about evil, about what humankind is bent to become. I'm glad I saw it (but then, Life is Beautiful is one of my all-time favorite movies). Our family will evaluate viewing the sequels as they come out.

And this is not a story for the young. If I had it to do over again, I may not have let my son read the books until he was a year or two older. 

One other note of encouragement, though: if your children have read these books or have seen (or will see) the movie, you owe it to them to either read the books or watch the movie (preferably with them, even if they've already seen it once), and discuss it with them. And remind them of the gospel. Don't let this teachable moment pass you by.

Have you seen the movie? Will you? What are your thoughts?

Definitions quoted from

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