The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

I don’t pay a lot of attention to popular culture, but it’s been pretty hard to miss the commotion around this weekend’s premiere of The Hunger Games. It looked interesting and Cathy wanted to see it (although neither of us have read the book) so we went this afternoon. We weren’t the only ones – the theater we were in was packed for a mid-afternoon showing.

I’m not going to summarize the story – if you’re not familiar with it, 1) you live under a bigger rock than I do, and 2) there are plenty of places you can find a summary. I want to just list some of my impressions of the film, namely

  • What we will do to protect those we love.
  • What those in power will do to retain that power.
  • How easy it is to forget about others when you have more than enough.
  • What we will do when placed in a kill or be killed situation.
  • How easy it is to go along with an atrocity when those in authority demand it.
  • How people can maintain dignity in the worst of circumstances.
  • How people will search for – and find – bits of freedom where there is none.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the struggle we all have to maintain our humanity in a world that demands we do things we find morally offensive.

The Hunger Games is marketed as a Young Adult novel and it has a huge following among teens and tweens. I don’t have kids, but based on my own childhood I have little patience with those who try to shield children from the harsh realities of life… but this seems rather dark and violent for such a young audience. Then again, in a world where a 17-year-old kid can be shot and killed for no good reason and no charges have been filed almost a month later, perhaps it just reflects our dark and violent world.

In any case, The Hunger Games is a far better story with far better lessons than the saccharine Twilight series, and Katniss Everdeen is a million times better role model for young girls than Bella Swan.

Anne Johnson at the excellent blog The Gods Are Bored finds the premise of The Hunger Games implausible. And it is – if you take it literally. But as metaphor, look at the people who are volunteering to make fools of themselves for a chance at fame, to feed society’s demand for amusements. Hold a real Hunger Games and I imagine you’d have no trouble finding 24 out-of-hope young people who’d sign up.

More seriously, substitute “class” for “districts” and you’ve got our current armed forces, who are drawn disproportionately from the poor and lower middle classes. The metaphor isn’t perfect – they aren’t fighting for our amusement (not directly, anyway), and a competent military is an unfortunate necessity. There is honor in military service and in fighting for your country. But how much of our own blood have we spilled (much less that of other nations) simply to maintain the flow of oil to maintain our lavish lifestyles?

I can’t say I “enjoyed” The Hunger Games. I like dark entertainment but I prefer it to be more fantastical, a little less real. This hits too close to home.

Which probably explains why it’s so popular. I just hope some of these lessons sink in with the teens and tweens who are reading the books and packing the theaters.

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  • I'll be off to see this tomorrow morning – which will be weird, since I'm also in the middle of reading the book. I'd disagree with you on where our military is drawn from – considering its a volunteer force — but that's a small (and somewhat moot) point.

    The book isn't bad. Its written in the first person, which I find to be a little annoying. But the plot moves along quickly and provides you with just enough detail to draw your own conclusions on character depth (or lack thereof) to the point where I'm at. I will say this, the book has been a lot more enjoyable than most of the Potter series was. And I'm actually looking forward to reading the other two books in the series as well.

  • I just finished the first book this morning, actually, and the next two are on my shelf. I'd been reluctant to read it because of all of the fan attention but I checked the audiobook out of the library on a whim to listen to as I cleaned my house.

    While there are moments where the love story portion feels gratuitous, I really enjoyed the social commentary the book made on oppression in all of its forms. I hadn't expected to like the books, but the fact that they don't shy away from the death and starvation (and that Katniss DOES kill people when she has to) made it much more worth while. The only time it felt young adult was during the silly romance portion. (As a silly girl, some of these moments were cute. As a warrior, I got bored.) Overall, if it will inspire our young people, especially our young women, to be strong in their own right, be able to depend on themselves, and to think about how we are/can be/do oppress(ed), then I'm a happy camper. Though the names are still dumb, no matter which way you slice it. (I'll be doing a full review on my blog when I see the movie to compare it with the book.)

  • Tommy, you were there. How many of the volunteer military were there because they wanted to be soldiers (or airmen, if I'm remembering your service correctly) and how many were there because they didn't have any better options?

    In theory there are no moral issues with this – we all make the best choices we can with the options we have, and while some have more opportunities than others, even the very rich don't have unlimited options. But in practice, it is predominately the poor and lower middle classes who die in contemporary American wars.

    CW, at least the "silly girl" love story elements were secondary to the larger issues, unlike that other series with the sparkly vampires…

  • Actually John – you're right. It would be extremely presumptuous of me to know why other folks joined the military or what income bracket that they may or may not have come from. I can truly only speak to the reasons why I joined and the time frame of when I was there (1986-1994). USAF has changed a lot since those days – and I can only make bad guesses as to the motivations of others.