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?