So to capture the moment I want to deviate for a few posts from the “I Want a Nation” series (there’s still some good stuff to come there so hang tight) and talk about what’s going on right now.
This weekend I actually saw the new movie “The Hunger Games” twice (the second was free so I figured what the heck). I read the trilogy a year or more ago and I would describe it as “disturbingly fantastic.” It’s not a kids movie, but it’s somewhat juvenile for adults, and yet, we’re obsessed with it!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about (you’re probably living in a cave right now…but seriously) here’s a recap for you:
The United States has suffered a terrible war at the hands of a rebellion of the people that threw the country into a state of chaos. A dictatorial government came in to restore order renaming the country Panem and separating the country not into states but into 13 districts. As penance for their rebellion and as a reminder to the people of their past sins, the government has imposed an annual pageant called The Hunger Games. Two “tributes”, one boy and one girl between ages 12-18 from each district, are drawn from a lottery to participate in a gladiator-style fight to the death. The Games serve as oppression for the masses and entertainment for the elite. The story follows Katniss Everdeen from District 12 as she volunteers to take the place of her 12-year-old sister Prim, who was drawn against impossible odds to represent the district.
(I want to give fair warning that if you haven’t seen it, I’ll try not to spoil anything noteworthy but I will reference aspects of the plot, character and story, so read on at your own risk.)
I believe this story is popular not solely because of its advertising or well-executed eloquence or cinematography, but because it’s a story with which teens and twenty-somethings of this generation connect. I would suggest that this movie could never have been tolerated a few generations ago and Suzanne Collins would have been crucified for presuming to entertain us with such barbaric subject matter.
I believe there are three big reasons we like The Hunger Games, however. I believe the reasons we like them have to do with our current cultural climate, worldview and even thirst for rebellion.
The Hunger Games strikes a perfect dissonance with the young generation’s frustration with conservative morality and its growing disdain for complete situational ethics.
I once interviewed a group of teenagers and gave them this assignment: “make a list for me of everything you would deem always, without exception ‘wrong’.” It was a small group of teenagers and I’m merely relaying their answers, but out of all the ills we discussed (including everything from murder to cheating) the only two issues that made the list were 1) child abuse and 2) homosexuality. Lying and cheating weren’t seen as ever “wrong” and, to a person, everyone said they would do both if there was a high likelihood they wouldn’t get caught.
The Hunger Games heralds our belief that sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Katniss is far more conflicted than Peeta (the boy chosen to represent district 12 alongside our heroine) on this fact and strives throughout the course of the story to maintain a hold on some sense of conviction. She refuses to kill in cold blood but yet has every motivation to: the salvation of her beloved sister Prim. It’s the conundrum that intrigues us: kill to save someone you love or die and leave them to suffer without you.
I’m not saying it’s right, but listen up, there are realities in the young generation’s lives that aren’t simple and they’re trying to get us to understand that.
I’ll leave you with this. In both of the viewings I went to, there was a moment in both where the confusion in the audience was palpable. In the final moments of the Games, Cato has a shimmer of remorse. When Katniss does what she must a handful of people in the crowd applauded…but most didn’t. The story isn’t simple, Cato was set up to be the villain, we wanted to hate him, we wanted to justify his elimination, and yet he cracked and left us confused. Glimmer and Clove were satisfying losses, but Cato was almost repentant…and maybe deserved a chance at redemption. So did Katniss do the right thing? We don’t know.
I have two more thoughts I’ll unpack in the next blogs.