Why we like The Hunger Games (Part 3 of 3)

There are dozens of analogies and parallels I could continue writing about. The Hunger Games is not just an entertaining book, it’s a banner, a heart cry of a generation and we should pay attention to why that is.

We’ve talked about the morality of the story and why we’re intrigued by what’s right and wrong in this story. Then we discussed the identification with the harsh reality of the setting and our quick acceptance of the story that must take place in this time in this place.

There’s something to The Hunger Games itself though that I think connects with each of us independently.

Reason #3

The Hunger Games arena tests your limits. Our world has become so convenient and soft that we have no way to test our mettle anymore. We’re all asking the question: “could I win The Hunger Games?”

I saw this come across Facebook: “I jog because I know I’d be the first to die in The Hunger Games.” There’s something to this…it’s funny because it’s true. Could we outrun the faster opponent? Could we shoot straight? Could we throw accurately? Could we survive? Would we think about the smoke from our fire? Would it occur to us to sleep in a tree?

We’re trying to compare ourselves. The successful stories nowadays are ones where the world can be understood. Harry Potter is a perfect example. Everyone, even the most casual of skimmers would know that “expelliarmus” disarms your opponent. By the time Harry Potter reaches its later books, we’re arriving at the conclusion that the Polyjuice potion would be a useful tool in the plan before JK Rowling is telling us about it.

We want to understand the world because we want to determine what we’d do and the bigger question: if we could.

Limits are a big deal for our spiritual formation, especially in today’s culture. Moving from “I can” to “I can’t” is a line we rarely cross, are terrified to cross, are compelled to cross and fantasize about crossing. The stories we’re reading give us a shortcut. They’re proposing new challenges in new scenarios with physical, emotional, and mental components and we’re entertained not solely through the observation but from the question.

To this generation: there are real challenges in the world. If you really want to see what you’re made of and if you really want to see if God is who He says He is, we can take that journey. It doesn’t have to be enough to fantasize about what could be or what’s possible, we can see and I guarantee this: you’ll learn something that will change your life.

Next post I want to get back to our name study of the continents of the world. I’m fascinated by what I’ve found out and hope it inspires you the way it has me.

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Why we like The Hunger Games (Part 2 of 3)

Kids killing kids? We’re horrified by the story! It’s a reprehensible thought and no one denies it. And yet we watch. It’s the Roman Empire all over again. Remember the movie Gladiator? Maximus gains popularity when he defies the system. He doesn’t give them the show, he charges and efficiently eliminates his opponent only to challenge the speechless crowd and chastise them with his famous line: “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”

But there’s something to note here, another reason we like The Hunger Games.

Reason #2

We identify with the harsh reality (even though it’s extreme) because it validates our own realities and liberates us to admit our realities are hard.

Okay, let me unpack this. The world of Panem is made up. Suzanne Collins invented it. It’s fiction. We could be horrified that she’d even suggest such a reality. In the past I think we would have characterized this as horror literature and pity the disturbed outcast demographic that would find it entertaining.

But today it’s different. We don’t read this because we’re looking for some sick pleasure. It’s not hard for us to accept that the setting is what it is. You know why? Because that’s how we have to view our own worlds.

We are entertained because Katniss and Peeta have a journey that they have to navigate. The government and President Snow might genuinely be evil but so what? That’s life. Our generation is cynical and has little faith in the system. We’ve been burnt by families, communities, churches, and even our own generation and it’s taught us one thing: how to survive.

Some of you have no idea what I’m talking about, but I hear it every day. Abuse, molestation, rape, criticism, perfectionism, demotions, evictions, downsizing, it’s all real. The world of Panem is extreme but it’s not hard for us to see threads of familiarity within it.

We don’t like the world of Panem but we accept that the story must take place within it. We don’t want to be in The Hunger Games but we care more about what we’d do if we had to instead of standing on a soapbox and protesting the mere idea.

Listen to a generation that’s finding solace in the validation of this story. It’s not a healthy worldview, it’s a coping mechanism and it has pervaded our entire culture. Speaking against it won’t change the culture, jumping into the trenches and guiding a generation through the challenges of the horrible realities they face and hear about everyday might be a better option.

One more thought to come. Stay tuned…

Why we like The Hunger Games (Part 1 of 3)

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.

Reason #1

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.

The heart’s cry of the generation watching this movie is: “YES! You see?!  It’s not always so SIMPLE!”

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.