The Hunger Games

At one point in the big-screen blockbuster Gladiator, Russel Crowe stares into the crowd and screams, “Are you not entertained?”

Gladiator is the story of a man forced to fight for his life. He does not enjoy it. In fact, he abhors it. But he has no choice: fight or die.

Last night, I was up until past midnight reading The Hunger Games. I’ve concluded that it’s really just Gladiator for kids… and I’m not certain that is a good thing. However we glorify a story of “them or us,” and survival, it is still entertainment built on the back of death, murder, and the worst human nature has to offer. Is the series a hard look at our society in which reality television has taken on a new brutality, or is it using our sick culture in order to become the most popular franchise on the planet? Is it popular because of people rebelling against the culture, or because we have become so desensitized to utter godlessness that we see death merely as “entertainment”?

Either way you choose to see it, The Hunger Games reveals something about our culture that is not entirely wonderful: we want entertainment in any form we can get it, no matter who is hurt along the way, and even though no one has had their head bashed in with a rock recently on Survivor, the nastiness of on-screen rivalries certainly cuts deeper than any knife. But what it reveals about us is that we are the culture who supports and embraces it, who revels in backstabbing and viciousness, who celebrates cruelty both in primetime and in big screen entertainment.

Consider one of the most anticipated movies of last year, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No matter how you present it, the story celebrates everything that a Christian culture should find abhorrent. But instead of being horrified by it, audiences loved it. They loved that moment when the heroine finally tracked down her former rapist and raped him back with the nearest object. I’ve even found “Christian” viewers defending the plot, and that worries me. But what does that say about our culture, except that we are not so different from Ancient Rome? Then, cruelty was in fashion. They paid for seats in the coliseum to watch people (usually Christians) torn apart by lions, or forced to fight to the death. The difference is that in their world, violence really happened, and in ours we are just reading or watching it, but if it doesn’t make us cringe, if it doesn’t make us feel sick, something is wrong. If you didn’t read The Hunger Games and feel sickened at some point by it, there is reason for concern.

And now, it is coming to the big screen as the most anticipated film of 2012. I do not find that reassuring.

Right now, the debate is whether or not The Hunger Games is a better recommendation than the other two “big” book series, Harry Potter and Twilight. Yes, there are some good points about The Hunger Games. Katniss is willing to die in her sister’s place, and has mercy on her fellow tributes. She would rather feign taking her own life than be forced to kill her friend. But that is the extent of its depth. The rest is simply shock entertainment. To be honest, I didn’t like it much. I can see why it is popular because it is about a girl whose circumstances are out of her control but she still manages to survive (in this economy, that must be comforting) and its anti-government stance resonates in a culture deeply resentful of the current administration. But is that enough to classify it as good entertainment? I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about this franchise and the public response to it. I also have to wonder, should we really be glorifying a series that is all about violence and death?

39 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

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  1. at the very least katniss is a strong heroine and i would prefer teenagers be introduced to someone intelligent and resourceful than bella who is, undoubtedly, a very bad precedent for teenage girls: she cannot live without a man ( as is evident when her life goes to pieces when edward leaves), she cannot see her life without edward’s inclusion, she has no thoughts beyond high school—no hopes and dreams— but giving herself to edward, becoming a vampire, consummating their marriage and most likely turning into some sort of vampire stay-at-home-mom, she always needs to be rescued, she toys with the attention of two guys knowingly ( at least this is a source of conflict for katniss and her real feelings develop naturally of the course of the book as is typical of a 17 year old teenager), and bella feels no self-worth outside of edward’s validation. she NEEDS edward, the perfect god of sparkly vampire gold to look at her, to need her, to make her feel worthy…. in turn, she allows herself to be possessed, stalked and watched by him in a possessively disturbingly creepy way that shows that she has no independence and is forever intertwined with edward: scary for a teenage girl. yes, she is enraptured by infatuation ( what teenie girl isn’t ); but meyers seems to value women who want to immediately become housewives, who scorn education in the face of the chance of staying at home, who don’t want … but NEED a man… this is sending us way back years and years and it certainly goes against the grain of the strong biblical women i admire: from deborah to esther to ruth. there’s a difference between wanting a marriage or a man and NEEDING one for self-preservation. bella needs edward. she can’t tie her shoelace without falling over. she is one of the worst examples of womanhood out there and millions of susceptible girls are liking this. i like meyers unabashed defense of abstinence; but must it be at the cost of one of the lamest, weakest, worthless heroines in literature?

      1. which is why i cannot endorse ANY part of this series. she, as our narrator, is the most important essence of the story and her actions and thoughts will be emulated and are respected and harnessed by zillions of young female readers and that is so problematic it makes me want to rid the entire series from the planet 🙂

  2. “It’s not enough to just survive. One has to be worthy of surviving.” (Adama — Resurrection Ship Part 2)

    Among the thousands of books I have read, my most recent additions to my mental library have been: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Narnia, LOTR, The Golden Compass trilogy, the Bible, The Shack, Screwtape Letters, and am working on The Hunger Games. In all of these books, I have found something good. Something that made me think. Something that I learn from. That alone is my goal: learning; becoming more.

    I believe that your biggest issue with these books is with society’s reaction to them. I agree with what you have said about society, Charity. I find fads disturbing and I find violence disturbing. But these stories are not the problem. They don’t tell people what to think. Not even the Bible has that power. It’s up to us, as human beings searching for truth (or not), to make choices. My family didn’t read any fiction or watch any movies for the longest time and my father enjoys violence and other things that I won’t speak of here. He got that out of the Bible. I know of several other families who have the same mindset. Is it the Bible’s fault that is speaks of sex and wars and humiliations and etc, etc, etc? Stories can only fuel certain aspects when those aspects are part of the heart.

    And yes, I must admit to feeling sorrow for the Ice Queen when Aslan killed her. She never knew what it meant to be truly happy and fulfilled.

    You’re right: People pick up on certain things, like enjoying Lisbeth raping her rapist. But did they pick up on the end of book three, when she suddenly realized what Michael and her lawyer had been trying to tell her about life: (to quote Adama again) “it’s not enough to simply survive” ?

    However, even if she hadn’t felt that difference in herself at the end of the series, I still would have considered them good books. I look at stories… and at life… differently than some people. Life may throw some strong punches my way; it might even trample me for awhile. But I can get up again and I can break the cycle. I can learn good from everything.

    I felt the same way about The Hunger Games. Of course, I can’t pass judgment on them yet because I haven’t read the other two. 🙂 But I did like the first one. I felt it was poignant and subtle: the balance between defying society and still searching to be better.

    My point is this: The book… the story… the movie… isn’t the problem. It’s what *we* do with them. So, let’s be different than those teens whining about it not being rated R. Let’s be different than the other gladiators. Let’s not fall in love with Edward *or* Jacob. 😉 Let us find the good in the stories and in life.

    P.S. Religious books are often my bane. This is one reason I dislike Twilight so much: too much sparkly religion.

    1. With all due respect to every other comment on this blog, I think you propose the finest response to the series on the whole. You’re right, it is not the book series that should concern us s much as what society chooses to do with it. However… that is not my foremost concern. What concerns me is the blind adoration of the books as “good.” I agree that they are entertaining, but what makes them “good”? Does everyone who reads them truly think they are “good,” or are they just following a fad? Is it tapping into their deeper abhorrence of violence, or is it tapping into something darker in their nature?

      I did read the first book, and I saw the movie… and I don’t get it. To me (and if you have read this blog at all, you know that I can find something spiritual or profound in just about any form of entertainment) it felt soulless, without hope, and devoid of any sort of depth. I felt nothing for it, other than flinching as children were killed left and right. Watching “The Golden Compass” filled me with anger and indignation. “Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings” fills me with hope and joy, in spite of their darkness. But with “The Hunger Games”… I felt nothing.

      True, there is some small amount of truth in everything, because God is the originator of truth, but each book we read, or movie we watch, represents the worldview of its creator, and as such, shares with it the messages they intend to impart. “The Hunger Games” is a worldview devoid of any form of higher power, intercession, hope, or faith. Other than being a condemnation of reality shows and socialism, it is empty. And that the masses cling to something that is so profoundly empty concerns me, because I am seeing a trend.

      Chronicles of Narnia — Christian worldview.
      The Lord of the Rings — Catholic worldview.
      Harry Potter — Christian Symbolism.
      Twilight — Mormon Worldview.
      The Hunger Games — Atheist Worldview.

      Each one is progressively less deep than the last. And that is never good, because where do we go from here?

  3. I have ended up loving The Hunger Games even though I set out to hate it and I despised the first person narrative. I think it is popular among teenagers because they are actually reading it. My best friend’s daughter is 16 and this is the first book series she has picked up that was not school related and read. For that alone I would love the series.

    The thing I liked about most about the series was the political story behind the love story (I could have down without the love story tbh). It was anti-big government, it showed the downside of socialism even if people don’t recognize it.

    It also had an example of selfless love; if you wanted you could parallel Katniss going into the games for her sister with Christ’s love and dying for us.

    1. I’m finding that a curious amount of people dislike first person narrative, which is concerning me a bit since the book I have just finished writing is in first person. Was it just the first person narrative in this book that you disliked, or do you dislike first person narrative in general? If so, why?

      Yes, the anti-socialist, anti-big government slant is an enjoyable one. I’ve seen quite a few conservative bloggers reminding people of that, which is prudent considering the timing… we’re heading into a social crisis in which we will have to choose to fight against a socialist form of government, so in that respect I’m glad HG is raising awareness.

      Very true.

      1. I think over all in general I am not a fan of the first person narrative but this book was just driving me nuts all around; the narrative, the simple language and simple sentences. Once I got into the book I could over look a lot of things, but it was a struggle. I think the reason I disliked the narrative so much was the person it was coming from, I didn’t relate to it like I’m sure my friend’s daughter did. She loved the books and had no problem with the narrative, which surprised me. There are some first person narratives that I do like because I connect to the characters and want to know what they are thinking.

        I know you are not into the series, but I do wonder what you will think about book 3. It was my favorite and a lot of people hated it. lol. Sadly I think people are too caught up in team Gale or team Petta to care about team revolution.

        1. I found it really hard to relate to Katniss, I agree. For me, there was no emotion out of her and as a non-emotional person myself, I need that from the narrative if the writer wants me to care.

          Read book three, had some mixed emotions about it. Didn’t care for Peeta being out of his mind through most of it. Didn’t like it that Gale made up Katniss’ mind for her and just left. It felt… empty somehow.

  4. I was surprised by how much I liked this book — and I don’t say that lightly, but when talking about a book in terms of how it worked for me, how I received it — I thought it was really well-constructed and thought-provoking. A condemnation of war and a lot of the bad in our culture, and because it “hooks” readers through Katniss’s character and experiences, it makes readers voyeurs of the very activity, the very worst in humanity that the novel condemns. Cyclical, yes, but I really thought in a rather genius sort of way — because when approached by in a non-fandom-obsessed manner, it really makes one think. At least it did for me, anyway. 🙂

    ~ Ruth @ Booktalk & More

    1. It did make me think. I’m trying to figure out why, for a story that (for me, at least) seemed so empty and godless, it has become such an enormous success. Dad said the irony is in its godlessness — it follows a trend that with each subsequent installment, has left God out more. Narnia — extremely religious. Lord of the Rings — very religious. Harry Potter — fairly religious. Twilight — marginally religious. Hunger Games — non-religious.

      Either way… yeah, not my thing.

  5. I agree with most of the other “defenses” presented in comments before mine, so there’s no need to rehash them. Suffice to say I do see a difference between THG and violence for violence sake like the Saw movies or the Dragon Tattoo books. Heck, even Focus on the Family gave the movie a very positive review, so apparently they understand that watching the violence of THG is not the same as condoning it. It surprised me how much they like it, given how they skew *extremely* conservative.

    When I watched the movie, a few idiots in the audience cheered when two certain tributes died. I pretty much gave up on their generation right then and there, because if you’re so dumb you cheer for the death of tributes while watching The Hunger Games (basically *being* the Capitol), you probably will not end up a contributing member of society. But then, I was never a fan of 24 or any of those torture porn movies anyway, and I look away at the very violent scenes on TV shows I do like. I just don’t need that in my head. There was nothing I had to turn away (literally or figuratively) from while watching or reading THG.

  6. I read all three books on a friend’s recommendation and did ‘like’ them, although I did not ‘enjoy’ them. The atrocities were horrific, and I felt both saddened and outraged with the actions of both characters and the Capitol at several points. The reason I felt they were worth reading is that although they were clearly designed to have shock value –and succeed in this- they also touched on some really relevant points in terms of culture, how humans manipulate each other, and how violence does breed more violence.

    Hopefully without giving too much away, the first book was a simple enough story of survival and loyalty in the face of awful cruelty, but in the second and third a more political spin takes place. I don’t know how intentional this was, but the books do make comments on issues like the media, celebrities, corruption, maltreatment and sacrifice. The ending that most people found ‘disappointing’ I found very poignant, because you see how much the struggle has changed our characters. In their fight to overthrow the people that forced the Games on them, they have let themselves become just as heartless and manipulative. They set out to beat them, but instead have become just like them. I think Katniss’ ending makes perfect sense, and although it’s tragic in some ways it’s also the best one she is capable of making for herself given the psychological and emotional state she’s in by the end.

    Sometimes I do think stories can tell us truths more fully than facts can, and in a way that makes us listen. All that said, I’m a 23-year-old, and I wouldn’t want my siblings reading them until they were at least 16 and I felt they were mature enough to be able to read into and deal with issues of this size rather than just getting sidetracked by the gore.

    1. I haven’t read them all yet, but I’ll be interested to see the political take in the second and third book. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment on the series as a whole, except to agree that it is a bit too intense for young readers.

  7. How does one write a narrative that critiques violence without violence in it? How does one tell a story that critiques war without some war in it? To address a thing within a narrative text of any sort (print, film, etc) you generally have to involve it in the plot somehow.

    You are correct about one thing: our culture does have plenty of violence for the sake of violence WITHOUT ANY commentary or critique attached to them. It is those books and films should be the object of this blogpost, not The Hunger Games. At least it tries to say something about it.

    1. I chose to talk about THG, because it is the hot topic at the moment. Our society has a lot of violence on a continual basis, ranging from video games to movies. But none of them have swept in and created a fandom like this has.

      1. I think another reason for the fandom aspect is because to some degree the Hunger Games fandom is riding off of the fandom of the Twilight series. For example, I have seen “team Peeta” and “team Gale”, which was inspired by people’s treatment of Twilight. It is true that the media is taking advantage of fandom trends, to the determinant of the novels themselves. Sadly I think this treatment of the series takes advantage of its commercial promise rather than drawing attention to its very condemnation of abuse of media tactics.

  8. I’ve been thinking about whether I should read ‘The Hunger Games.’ I’ve finally decided no for reasons:

    1) I’ve heard it isn’t as well written as Harry Potter.
    2) I don’t want to read a book for teens.
    3) I don’t find to be involved in another fad.

    I also agree with you about the excess of violence. This is a book I’ll be passing up.

    1. Many people think it is better written than Harry Potter. I wouldn’t know. But don’t dismiss a book just because it is aimed at teens — some of the finest literature was marketed to teens. =)

  9. “Either way you choose to see it, The Hunger Games reveals something about our culture that is not entirely wonderful: we want entertainment in any form we can get it, no matter who is hurt along the way”

    What worries me the most about the whole idea, is that this “society” (and I use that term loosely) is willing to sacrifice their children in this game….!?! If there is a remote possibility that your child will be picked for the tribute, why one willingly have any children at all (wouldn’t the population eventually die out or become like Japan in the sense that they have an aging population and little to no children at all?).

    But I will say, the moment I heard about the plot of “The Hunger Games,” I immediately thought of the Japanese novel, “Battle Royale,” published about 13 or so years ago which was about a national lottery and a classroom of kids fighting to the death….

    1. My only guess is that accidents happen? Katness says in the book that she doesn’t want a romance, because it might lead to marriage and children and she would never, ever want her child’s name put in the tribute cup.

      What interests me more is… what parent would not protest the games being targeted at their children? Why kill off the kids, and none of the adults?

      Really? That IS interesting…

    2. Just a quick mention here, but the societies aren’t really willing. The ones closer to the Capitol are more easygoing about the games but the ones on the outskirts hate them. It’s just that they would be completely wiped out if they raised a fuss so fear keeps them from rebelling. So they’re not willing to sacrifice their children, they just feel there’s nothing they can do about it. 🙂

  10. Interesting. I have some differing thoughts about Hunger Games, and perhaps I shall eventually write something up.. =)

    “Either way you choose to see it, The Hunger Games reveals something about our culture that is not entirely wonderful: we want entertainment in any form we can get it, no matter who is hurt along the way” Exactly.. I think that the books function as a way to point this out in ourselves, not to say that it is something to be proud of. I think that the series actually does the opposite of glorify such lifestyles, through exposing the harm in them. I have several other thoughts, but I shall have to organize them. 😉

    1. I don’t know what I think of it, to be honest, but I do know that I am not completely comfortable with it. But that is hardly new, since I am not completely comfortable with “Twilight,” either.

      The irony of the series is that in reveling in them, how are we any different from the audience in the book hanging on Katness’ every move?

      1. Charity – I think you make a great point. I think that the author intended that irony. Though admittedly, I think the target audience for the books should be adults, not kids. (For example, my family will not allow my youngest brother- aged 13- to read them) Yet many kids have lost so much “innocence” that books with heavy themes like the Hunger Games are considered appropriate for their consumption- interestingly tying in to the lost innocence of the children in the book. I think that kids who recognize this theme in the book will realize what is true of themselves. Government is certainly a part of this book, but it is the themes of morality (or lack thereof) and humanity that I think play the largest purpose in the storytelling.

        1. I think I might add that perhaps the problem is not so much in the book itself, but in the way that audiences have committed the same crimes that books warn against. It’s like using the book Wuthering Heights as an example of romance rather than a warning of the effects of misconduct.

  11. I wonder why I like it so much. The entire series is a favorite of mine and I’m contemplating the reason.

    You make a good point about the American culture craving the “arena” setting. We don’t execute people on live television and call it entertainment. Or wait. Do we? Many of our tv programs loudly endorse violence and a survival of the fittest mentality. How else could Jack Bauer have received such acclaim when really he’s just a murderer. I honestly see “The Hunger Games” and its franchise as a warning. It’s not just entertainment and you do feel sick sometimes at its atrocities and you cry whenever a character might die. It hurts because there’s a sense of helplessness. I could easily see our country heading down that road should people ever choose to resist the government.

    I like Thomas Jefferson’s quote when he says “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.” We’re heading towards the tyranny stage at a rapid clip. I hate that much control in government and I can easily foresee such a culture as the one in “The Hunger Games” coming to pass.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it very much. It was neat when we had it for our APPR program at the library because we had all age groups reading it. Not little kids of course, but teens, their parents, and their grandparents all read it and participated in discussions about it. There’s nothing I love better in a library setting then when we bridge the generational gap with a popular novel. So cool to watch!

    Am I the one that let slip the ending? Yikes, I sure hope not! I really try to be good about that sort of thing but sometimes spoilers escape anyway. Sorry if I did. Oops!

    1. What concerns me is how people have embraced this book series, because to me it parallels the way the people of her civilization have embraced the Games. Readers “love” the Games too — we keep reading, we watch them, and in doing so, we are no different from the people in the literary world who are hooked on the same pain, death, and gruesomeness that we are reading about.

      Our civilization is very much like Ancient Rome these days, from our embrace of perverse sexual practices to our hatred for Christianity, and our love of violence. Maybe the message of “The Hunger Games” is that violence is abhorrent, but when you have teenagers on message boards complaining that the movie is going to be PG13 instead of R, because they wanted to see all the gory stuff… that isn’t good.

      I never liked Jack Bauer or his methods. I was sickened at the end of the series when a Christian woman I know was giddy that he had just disemboweled a man on television. That is something to celebrate? I think not. I think we’re sliding down a slippery slope.

      Having said that — as I said in my entry, I don’t know what my opinion is of “The Hunger Games.” I don’t know that I can “hate it” and still like something like “Gladiator” without being a hypocrite, but then again, “Gladiator” was not made for, or marketed toward, young readers. And “Gladiator” is not going to be required viewing in school programs. I may see the movie with Dad, because I want his opinion on the series on the whole and he probably will never read the books. But we’ll see.

      No, you didn’t give away the ending. I read who Katness winds up with in the article on “The Hunger Games” from last autumn, and one of my online friends had a several page rant about the death that transpires.

      1. Jack disemboweled someone? Eww! Thank goodness I stopped watching before that point.

        I think perhaps people need to seriously consider why they like “The Hunger Games.” If it’s because of the games themselves, because they get off on that type of violence, then there’s an emotional and spiritual lack in that person. If we had anything even resembling a hunger games in real life, i would probably get myself arrested by protesting to stop it. No one should read this series of books and think it praises the hunger games, because it doesn’t. The games show how corrupt a society can become if unchecked and unchallenged.

        You did raise a great point, though, on why the author chose to write about an arena setting as a form of protesting that type of arena setting. It would almost be like writing about vampires to protest vampires. Strange idea but somehow it worked.

        And no worries, I wouldn’t call you a hypocrite if you decided you didn’t like this franchise but still enjoyed “Gladiator” or “Spartacus.” I’ve turned away moms in the library who were curious if the books were appropriate for their 11 or 12 year-olds. The answer was a simple no and I gave specific examples of why this is an older teen series. I would never want anyone under 15 to read these books because of the spiritual and emotional dilemma and the violence. Because they are violent, almost to the point where much of it was unnecessary, especially in the first book, although the violence does carry through the rest of the series.

        On a totally random note, what did you think of Peeta?

        1. … yes, apparently a terrorist swallowed something, so Jack cut him open and took it out of him. Ugh.

          I think that in a strange way, “The Hunger Games” books do reveal the best and worst in our society, because there are those who read and enjoy it as a cautionary tale who are very uncomfortable with the violence… and those who revel in the violence, because it’s so amazingly cool to have a female protagonist out there killing people. I imagine that Christian readers have a very different perspective on it than secular ones.

          You were right to recommend parents keep younger teens away from this series… in my opinion “grade 6+” is a little bit low considering the fact that the series is so violent.

          Peeta. Honestly? I don’t have much of an opinion on Peeta. He’s sweet but other than not wanting him to die, I didn’t get much of a feel for who he is outside of his general kindness. What’s your opinion of him?

          1. My fondness for Peeta started in the 1st book because he was so sweet and I loved that he gave Katniss bread when he was a child. But I really started liking him for a specific reason in the 2nd volume. He and Katniss are a support group for each other, after everything they went through during the games. I really need to read them again before I can give a definitive answer because it’s been awhile.

  12. Glad you shared your thoughts, Charity!

    It was ironic that you brought up the current political scene because in reading “The Hunger Games,” a similar thought did cross my mind it just wasn’t something I thought of when blogging about it. I was “intrigued” enough by the story that I’ll finish it out, but it is NOT my fave novel. Chances are, I may even re-read it when the DVD appears but other than that… yeah, not the best.

    1. It must be a fairly evident theme, because I think FORBES even published an article on the anti-big-government slant of the books, and that may be one reason it has such enormous appeal in the current climate. You never know why some things are popular. It may be the timing, or maybe just luck.

  13. Then you definitely won’t like the third. I certainly wasn’t pleased with the ending. I liked the books, but I can see your concerns.

    1. One of my friends spoiled the ending for me — both with what happens to a certain someone and whom she winds up with. I can see why the author would go that route — this is “war” and innocent people die, but still… what a lousy way to end the story.

      1. Not just that, but how SPOILER REMOVED doesn’t get a good ending in the story. Her death is needless. And they make another Hunger Game. Did they learn nothing??

        1. They do not make another Hunger Games. That is just something someone votes for to see how horrible something is before someone kills someone, which puts a stop to it because someone better takes their place. Yeah, that was vague, but I don’t want to give things away.

          I also don’t think that death was meaningless, although I hate it.

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