Patheos Peeps: Julie Clawson on the “Hunger Games,” Consumerism, and Justice

Patheos Peeps: Julie Clawson on the “Hunger Games,” Consumerism, and Justice March 23, 2012

Every Friday, I post a link to a blog post written by one of my fellow bloggers at Patheos, a web portal devoted to religion and spirituality. I encourage my blog readers to click through to read these posts, comment, and if you like what you read, follow these bloggers as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard there’s a movie opening this weekend? A little something called The Hunger Games?

I admit it. I’m caught up in the hype. My daughter Leah and I squeal like school girls (OK, she actually is a school girl, but whatever…) whenever the trailer appears on TV. We. Can’t. Wait!

I read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy just a few months ago. I had a temporary membership to Amazon Prime, which allowed me to borrow the first two books in the trilogy for free. I downloaded them, and that was the last anyone saw of me for a while. I was struggling with insomnia for a few days, so I read them in the middle of the night. And at home during the day when I was supposed to be working. And one Sunday, I sat down after church, thinking I would read for an hour or so before figuring out something to do with the kids, only to sit glued to my spot on the couch until Daniel called me into the kitchen because dinner was ready.

Here’s a very basic outline for those who haven’t read the books: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark live in a post-apocalyptic North America, in which citizens of the Capitol (a glittering city somewhere in what used to be the Western U.S.) live lavish, fashionable lives, supported by natural resources shipped in from the desperately poor “districts” that constitute most of the country of Panem.

Each year, two teenagers are selected via lottery from each district to participate in the Hunger Games—a televised fight to the death, in which all of the “tributes” (as those selected are called) must survive in a fabricated wilderness setting. The last tribute alive wins the games, returning to his or her district with the promise of plenty of money for the rest of his/her life. The Hunger Games are essentially “Survivor,” except contestants don’t vote the others out. They kill them. The book trilogy starts with Katniss and Peeta being chosen as tributes from their district, and moves on to revolution, as they become the reluctant symbols of a popular uprising against Panem’s oppressive government.

Clearly, the Hunger Games books, while captivating and entertaining, have a message that is relevant to modern American life. We live in relative luxury, thanks in part to our disproportionate use of resources produced by desperately poor people in the rest of the world. And that’s where this week’s Patheos Peep comes in.

Julie Clawson has written an e-book, published by Patheos, titled The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God. Clawson explores how “the series’ themes of resistance to oppression and hope for a better world, portrayed honestly as messy and difficult endeavors, echo the transformative way of life Jesus offered his followers.”

For a glimpse of the book’s message, read one of Clawson’s blog posts this week titled The World is Watching the Hunger Games. She points out the irony in all the hype with which the film’s young stars are being greeted, just as the fictional Hunger Games tributes are lauded before being sent off to almost certain death:

I appreciate the ironic gesture that the marketers of the film developed. They know that the United States is Panem, but that even as the viewing audiences cheer on the poor girl from District 12, they will consume her as if they were Capitol citizens.

But while we are certainly behaving like good Capitol consumers by throwing our dollars and our adoration at this film and its stars, we can’t help but also hear the whispers of justice and freedom in this first film, which will become a roar by the final installment of the trilogy, Mockingjay. Clawson writes:

The United States may be the Capitol of Panem, and some may be treating The Hunger Games as just another circus, but that message of subversive living is being heard even if just subconsciously. This is an important film because of that. Katniss Everdeen is more than just another beautiful celebrity – she is a voice calling for us to put an end to injustice and oppression. And the world is watching.


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