I have not seen The Hunger Games movie. But I have read the first book of the trilogy. And it was enough.
Before the movie came out recently, I had never heard of the books. But now, everyone is talking about both, so out of curiosity (and because I wanted to do something with my new Kindle, and this book was at the top of the popularity list), I bit. I wanted to know why this is all the rage.
I wish I hadn’t.
I don’t want to be a crank. I cranked about Dick and Jane and Vampires, and I recently cranked a little about Stop Kony, and here I am, about to crank up again. Cranking won’t be a habit here, but not everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time, and sometimes the things I get passionate enough to write about are the things that bother me.
It’s my blog and I’ll crank if I want to, crank if I want to. Sometimes ferris wheels need cranking. Here we go.
If you haven’t heard, Suzanne Collins’ book is about a country called Panem (North America in the future) that is divided into 12 districts and ruled by a ruthless Capitol that keeps its citizens poor and hungry. A massive rebellion failed at some point in the past, and as punishment, the Capitol instituted the Hunger Games, a horrific annual event in which two teenagers from each district are selected at random to “compete” in an arena and are made to fight one another to their deaths. The Hunger Games are broadcast throughout Panem as a sick reality TV show. Schools cancel classes so everyone can watch the horror. The last one standing in the arena is the winner.
And I read this book…why? Because I found myself hoping that before the “games” began, there would be a revolt and everyone would be saved and go home happy. (SPOILER: It does not happen that way.) But by that time, I was fully invested and had to slog my way through to the end.
I remember reading The Lottery by Shirley Jackson in my 11th grade English class (full text here.) You don’t know the nature of the lottery until the last few lines of the short story, and then you realize the townspeople are about to stone the person that was selected at random as some kind of twisted harvest “offering.” But then it ends, and you are spared the gruesomeness of what happens next. No further detail needed, we get the point.
Lord of the Flies was another one with a similar theme that they made you read in school, and are probably still making kids read to this day, for reasons still yet to be determined. That one put some mental images in my head that I wish I could delete. As awful as that book is, the children in that story were put together by chance and by circumstance. Not by design.
The idea of characters dropping out, one by one, isn’t new either. Murder mysteries and horror movies use that device all the time. Hunger Games also borrows from the Greek myth of Theseus, in which 7 male youths and 7 female youths are selected every few years to go fight the ugly Minotaur. But in that story, the youths are united against a common foe, a villianous monster. Not each other.
None of those are as disturbing as the not-entirely-original plot of Hunger Games, which you’ll find in the young adult fiction section of your local bookstore, targeted specifically to the teenagers, who naturally want to read about teenagers, and who naturally want to read what all their friends are reading. It’s the latest bandwagon, on the heels of Harry Potter and Twilight. As one blogger pointed out, we all seem to be so anxious to head over the cliff like lemmings whenever there’s a new “phenomenon.” I am not pointing a finger - I went over the cliff myself. The difference is that this time, I regret it.
The popularity of a kids-killing-kids story where brutal violence is accepted and applauded and encouraged makes a statement about our culture, and that fact alone should make us extremely uncomfortable. There is a school in Seattle that is taking its 8th-grade students on a field trip to the movie theater to see the film. If everyone is so anxious to watch kids-killing-kids in the theaters for entertainment, isn’t that exactly what the book itself is about? Insidious voyeurism boiled down to its basest desires. Even the Roman government believed that the best way to keep the masses at bay was to throw people into an arena for the purpose of killing each other in the name of entertainment.
But it’s just a story, right? It’s not real. So that makes it okay. It’s not okay when we see it in living color on the evening news, far too often that we should. You can’t tell me that art only reflects life. Sometimes life reflects “art,” and that is what makes Hunger Games dangerous. At one point, Katniss the heroine, who is a skilled animal hunter in her district back home, reluctantly tries to find her motivation for killing by trying to forget that the others are people.
And that is why Hunger Games ends here for me. No books two and three, no big screen. I will never know if Katniss chooses Peeta or Gale. That’s fine.
I’m quite full.