When I was in elementary school I was fascinated with WWII genre novels. I especially liked the novels in which someone took a stand against the Nazis to save a Jewish neighbor. As I read the books, I would always think, “That would be me. I would risk my life.” One day I mentioned this to my mom and she looked at me for a moment with pride but then became very serious and said, “Theresa, we never know what we would do in those situations until we are in them.”
I thought of this life lesson as I read The Hunger Games recently. The book is a wildly popular young adult novel for which a movie adaptation was recently released. It is the tale of a young girl named Katniss Everdeen who takes her younger sister’s place in a yearly game in which 24 young kids fight to the death in an arena as everyone else watches – some with disgust, others with enthusiasm and voracious curiosity.
The book is a young adult version of dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Dystopias are the opposite of utopias, worlds in which injustice, oppression and poverty reign. Dystopian novels point out, through the use of extreme situations, some of the current dangers in modern society. Rather than making us think, “Wow, thank God our world is not like that!” books like The Hunger Games should push us to ask, “How is our society similar?”
It does not take long to think of many ways in which people are killed, literally and figuratively, in our world without much notice. Abortion and starvation are some of our world’s hidden Hunger Games. Horrors easily become accepted and even run of the mill. But our society’s Hunger Games can also be something as seemingly benign as reality TV shows. Like the Capitol, the privileged minority in the book that eats up the bloody spectacle of the Hunger Games, we become enthralled by the disastrous choices of celebrities and reality TV stars, caring more for entertainment than for the people themselves.However, when exploring dystopian themes, it is also important to explore questions that are personal: “Who would I be under the worst of circumstances? What kind of person would I be in an arena of bloodthirsty kids gunning for my life?”
Most people tend to swagger when they imagine what they would do under dire circumstances, as I did when I was reading WWII novels. We all want to be one of the “good guys.” But it might be more spiritually fruitful to realize that we would probably not fall into line with the heroes and the saints when push came to shove.
We all have hidden Hunger Games. Issues we need to work on in ourselves because if we don’t we may end up turning into people who would slit throats at first chance when thrown into an arena. If we assume this to be true, we can move forward accordingly. We can live with focus, working to become the best person we can be under the best and worst circumstances. This requires spiritual focus, pain and sacrifice as well as time spent with our Creator so He can transform us more deeply than we could ever transform ourselves.
Popular culture is not mindless. If something is wildly popular it is likely it is because it touches on deep questions. So, if you go to watch The Hunger Games or read the book, take some time to ponder some of these deeper questions or come up with some of your own. If you ever find yourself in an arena of bloodthirsty adolescents you won’t regret it.