Late to the Feast

It's probably no secret to many people who are readers of my column, my blog, or my books that I've made a very particular decision in my life: knowing about ancient cultures, their gods, and their religions in-depth requires one to invest lots of time and energy into those studies, and thus knowledge of current cultures, events, and trends often suffers as a result. Sure, I refer to Lady GaGa on my blog and in one of my books (and, if one was at PantheaCon in 2011, in my ritual!), but I was a late convert to The Eleventh Muse's repertoire. While pop cultural matters are not unknown as material on my blog, they're also not the main focus, and I usually only refer to them when there is some perceived connection by myself (however tenuous!) to any of the variety of things that I discuss regularly.

So, it's also probably no surprise that I don't often see films when they come out in the cinema; and, if there's a popular book or set of books people are reading, I've probably not read them, and most likely don't have plans to do so in the future. Such is life.

What I do often enjoy, though—contrary to what most fans of literature might assume—is seeing a film that is based on a book. Certainly, I know that film and literature are different media, and thus have different rules and different ways of portraying things, to the extent that no film, no matter how faithful to its literary source, will ever quite capture all of it. But, I'm an extremely slow reader (which is one of the reasons why I am so choosy about what I do devote the time and energy to read). So, if I can watch a two-hour film rather than sit down with a book that might take me six hours to read (if it is 250 pages . . . and what novel is that short these days?), I'm happy to do that to be "caught up" to some degree on whatever the story happens to be. I know Alan Moore would choke on his own beard if he read this, but alas, that's the way of things for me.

Thus, I found myself recently watching the DVD of The Hunger Games, after having seen all the hype around it earlier this year, and being told by many friends and family that I have to read it.

Yes, I'm very late to this particular dinner party, and that metaphor seems somehow apt in discussing that book/film phenomenon. Nonetheless, here we are.

While there are a thousand themes one could pick up on in discussing this film, within or outside of a religious context—including commodification of human life, the ridiculousness of reality shows, fascist elements in government, or the desensitization to violence and the easy resort to violence amongst youths—I came away from my 146-minute viewing experience thinking of one major theme.

Human sacrifice.

That might seem surprising to some readers, but even though it's not stated outright in the film, it is hinted at pretty strongly during various scenes. When the President addresses the Tributes as they ride in on chariots for the first time, he salutes them for their courage and their "sacrifice." The grand procession on chariots, and the implied gesture of "Those who are about to die salute you" certainly evokes images of gladiators and the "good ole' days" of polytheist Rome. I was also reminded, since the entire phenomenon of the Hunger Games in the film (and books) came about as a kind of punishment and reminder of the rebellion of the various districts, that something somewhat similar occurred in ancient Rome after the sacking of the city by the Gauls in the early 4th century B.C.E. The Romans were pretty averse to human sacrifice, except where the Gauls were concerned, and the sacrifice of a Gaul in a particular manner to alleviate their fears of another uprising of the Gauls did take place in Rome from time to time—but, since the Gauls didn't exactly count as "human" for Republican-period Romans, it wasn't really human sacrifice.

That's often the insidious thing about human sacrifice: it still goes on to the present day, it's just not called "human sacrifice" nor is it recognized as such. And no, I don't mean the specter of "ritual murders" (which usually have no basis in fact whatsoever) that remains to this very day amongst some deluded monotheists, nor do I mean strange customs of obscure tribes in third-world countries and secluded tropical islands.

No, we don't send twelve-to-eighteen-year-old children to a central capital city to fight for their lives after a lottery. But, we do send eighteen-year-olds into combat in other countries, and they are often people who have enlisted in the armed forces not because they wanted to go and fight wars or even serve their country, but because they are dirt poor, or come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and the only viable option for them is to trade their life and health and bodily integrity to their government for a paycheck, and the possibility of education and future employment (the latter two things of which often don't come about, for various reasons).