The Hunger Games: Gratuitous Violence or Morality Tale?

The Hunger Games: Gratuitous Violence or Morality Tale?
I’ll confess. When I first heard about the storyline of Hunger Games I was appalled and thought civilization had slipped another cog into the abyss.
Hunger Games has sold 26 million copies and is the first young adult book to sell a million copies on Kindle. Released last weekend at theatres, it broke box office records for a new non-sequel release.
People who know the basic plot line are asking why the series is so popular?
After all, Hunger Games is a dark story set in a post-apocalyptic future. It features twenty-four teenagers, two each from twelve districts, chosen at random and released into the wild with a mandate to kill each other until one is left standing.
In reality TV fashion these killer teens are televised so an elite, effete, pampered audience can be entertained. A game master introduces dramatic elements like forest fires and mutant attack dogs to keep the storyline exciting. Bets are placed on winners and losers and “sponsorships” provided for the audience’s favorite teenage warriors.
These gladiatorial games are the invention of a tyrannical, oppressive government seeking to suppress any attempted uprising by the twelve impoverished districts, whose inhabitants sustain the pampered lifestyle of the Capital of Panem, a nation rebuilt from the ruins of a war savaged North America.
The Hunger Games is wildly popular and controversial.  The American Library Association ranks it fifth on the list of most banned books for 2010, because of parental complaints that the books are sexually explicit, unsuited to the age group, and too violent.
Is Hunger Games gratuitous violence run amok or a morality tale?
It is common knowledge that Suzanne Collins conceived the Hunger Games when one night she flipped the TV channel from teenagers on a reality-TV show to footage of teenagers serving in the Iraqi war. She couldn’t shake this jarring juxtaposition. As a result, beyond the short sentences, page turning plotline and memorable characters, Hunger Games smuggles ideas that matter into the reader’s minds.
So does the popularity of Hunger Games offer good news for those of us concerned about American civilization and the younger generation? I say yes, for a few reasons. (I can only speak for the first book of three, and I have heard the violence ratchets up in book two and three.)
1) Hunger Games is a morality tale being devoured by a generation raised on situation ethics. The cynical citizens of the Capital say, “may the odds be ever in your favor,” about a game in which the odds are 24 to 1 that you will be killed. Neither Katniss, our heroine, nor Peeta, desire to take human life, and as the last two survivors, both seek an alternative to killing the other. Both eschew their self-interests by helping each other and other contestants too.
2) Hunger Games celebrates the heroic efforts of a few who inspire hope for the many. Like the young Theseus in Greek mythology, who overthrew decadent political and religious powers to establish Athens, in Hunger Games underdogs Katniss and Peeta set out to beat the system. They raise hope in the Districts and concerns in the Capital. President Snow warns the game master, “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous.”
3) Hunger Games is a searing, angry commentary that exposes our entertainment culture as a diversion from the injustices and superficiality of contemporary life. Like Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Hunger Games reveals the dark side of a society whose minds and consciences are numbed by sensate amusements. Before it collapsed, the Roman Empire offered the spectacle of humans killing humans in Coliseums. Ironically the Hunger Games movie puts us in the stands of today’s Coliseum, the movie theatre, as we are entertained by watching a sick culture being entertained by watching what we are watching! Hunger Games exposes the dirty little secret “If no one watches, then they don’t have a game.”
4) Hunger Games is a love story for a generation trying to distinguish between love and friendship. Harry Potter, Twilight and now Hunger Games each feature a triangle of friends in which friendship and romance become intertwined and our central character must make a choice for love. Katniss Everdeen’s best friend in the district is Gale Hawthorne, but her partner in the Hunger Games is Peeta Mellark, who she learns has been smitten with her since childhood.
The Hunger Games is juvenile fiction that makes you think. The themes are big, and dark and the stakes are high, something like real life.

Posted in Books, Faith, Movies, Staublog in March 29, 2012 by | 18 Comments »

Much Depends on Dinner:WSJ

Much Depends on Dinner:WSJ


The recent death of Gerry Thomas, whom many credit with inventing the TV dinner (think Swanson), draws to a close the kinder, gentler era when happy families gathered around a television set, aluminum trays in hand, enjoying their chopped sirloin beef and sweet green peas in seasoned butter sauce while laughing at the wacky antics of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Today, televisions are a lot bigger (and flatter), the frozen-food industry has grown into a $30 billion business and the chances of getting everyone to sit down for dinner at the same time are a lot slimmer. Instead, we are a nation of take-outers and drive-throughers, eating our meals on the go, dining by ourselves and laughing alone. The family dinner has become an endangered species, the victim of our own ingenuity and productivity.

Mealtime in the 1950s: Somehow, everybody managed to show up at the same time. Eventually they may have even talked to one another.

These days, fewer than one-third of all children sit down to eat dinner with both parents on any given night. The statistics are worse if both parents are working and the family is Caucasian (Latino families have the highest rate of sharing a meal). The decline in the family dinner has been blamed for the rise in obesity, drug abuse, behavioral problems, promiscuity, poor school performance, illegal file sharing and a host of other ills.

A recent study at the Harvard Medical School, for example, concluded that the odds of being overweight were 15% lower among those who ate dinner with their family on “most days” or “every day” compared with those who ate with their family “never” or on “some days.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens from families that almost never eat dinner together are 72% more likely to use illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol than the average teen and that those who eat dinner with their parents less than three times a week are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana and twice as likely to drink as those who eat dinner with their parents at least six times a week.

In my home, I rarely eat dinner with my two children and wife more than twice a week. Because I commute 55 miles to Manhattan, I seldom return before 7:30 or 8 at night, which is simply too late for our nine-year-old and six-year-old to eat. Instead, my wife feeds them microwaved chicken nuggets, hot dogs, plain pasta and other staples from the children’s food pyramid. Sometimes she will wait for me; more often I pick up something at Grand Central and eat on the train.

Even on days when we are all together, our dinner table resembles a diner, with each family member ordering his own meal. My son will eat pasta with pesto, but not with red sauce, while his sister loves the latter but hates the former. She will eat hamburgers and chicken, while my son will only eat hot dogs. Neither likes cereal with milk, but my daughter adores milk and cereal (just not together). My son can’t stand either. We accommodate their pickiness because we can and because it’s easier than the consequences if we don’t.

In my absence from dinner, I am not alone. My evening train is packed with men and women shoveling burritos, couscous or pizza into their mouths, while firing off messages on their BlackBerries. Among my friends, I know few who sit down to eat with their children on the weekends, let alone the weekday. Instead they arrive just in time to plant a kiss on the moist forehead of a drowsy babe, then retire downstairs to the computer.

The causes for the incredible disappearing family dinner are many. As women have entered the work force in greater numbers, fewer hands are available to shop and cook. Both parents are working longer hours and commuting farther, which makes it harder to get home in time to share a meal. Children are busier, too, overcommitted to school and sports and other activities, which has made coordinating dinner time more difficult. Finally, the plethora of fast-food choices exemplified by the TV dinner, though partly an effect of our changing style of life, is also a cause: The easier it is to pick up or microwave something on the run, the less likely we are to share our meal with others.

There is also another reason for the decline in shared mealtimes, one rarely spoken about: Parents don’t want to eat with their children. Arlie Russell Hochschild noted in “The Time Bind” (1997) that as home becomes more like work, and work becomes more like home, there are fewer reasons to rush back in time for dinner. Most men say that, if given a choice between time or money, they would choose the former; in fact, they choose the latter. After all, who wants to deal with a six-year-old having a temper tantrum because there is green stuff on her pasta? Much easier to stay at the office, order in, drink a beer and trudge home when the kids are asleep. Even in families where both parents are at home, they often wait until the kids are in bed to eat. As one mother told me: “It’s just not fun to eat with them.”

As food preparation has become easier, meals quicker and distractions ubiquitous, it’s tempting to view the family dinner as simply another choice from columns A, B or C. Just as television has splintered its viewing audience, TV dinners have splintered the dining audience. When anyone can eat alone, few eat together.

And that’s a shame. Because dinner is like a formal poem, with a fixed meter and time. It can’t be hastened by new technology or emailed as an attachment to our kitchens. Instead, it’s one of the few opportunities for conversation in a noisy world, a place to take a slower measure of our frenzied days. By missing mealtime, we are missing a substantial part of our children’s lives. Sooner than we realize, they will not be at our table. Sooner than that, they will not want to have anything to do with us.

Right now my own son’s head is filled with baseball statistics that he cannot wait to share. My daughter is obsessed with iTunes, and wants to know what every song means, even when the lyrics go: “I’m your boogie man / I’m your boogie man / Turn me on.” Instead of answering their questions, however, weeks pass when I do not know what they are learning in school, who they are playing with, what they do when I’m not around.

But I’m trying to mend my ways. So when my son asked me, a few days ago, whether I’d be home early or late, I told him I’d be taking the 5:03. “What do you want for dinner?” I asked. “How about Chinese?” he said. It was a start.

Mr. Stracher is publisher of the New York Law School Law Review. His blog may be found at

Posted in Faith, Staublog in July 29, 2005 by | No Comments »

A Kierkegaard “Purity of Heart” Sampler

A Kierkegaard “Purity of Heart” Sampler

(Note from Dick Staub: Here is a collection of quotes mostly drawn from “Purity of Heart is To Will One Things.” They are powerful as excerpts, and certainly timely given the delusional, smug state of American evangelicalism, but I would hope many would be inspired to read SK’s masterpiece and allow it to “work you over” more fully.)

All attempts at mass prescription, all things attainable in the mass as such, in fact the very notion of the crowd, of the mass, drew the most violent invective Kierkegaard had at his command. For he believed the crowd, the mass, to be a hiding-place in which the individual may abdicate his true quest for inward intensity and responsibility. The crowd is a sink of cowardice in which individuals are relieved of individual responsibility and will commit acts they would never dare to do alone.
Douglas Steere, translator of Harper Collins version, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

What is significant about Kierkegaard is the use he made of this suffering. He refused to seek invulnerability. He accepted the suffering, he lived with it, he searched it, and he found its costly meaning for him — that he was to live as one called under God — to live as a lonely man — to live for an idea. Through suffering he found, and later was kept in his vocation. For his intense nature this pressure of suffering meant debauchery, insanity, suicide — or the penetration of the sorrow for its message.
Douglas Steere, translator of Harper Collins version, NYT March 17, 2004

Father in heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass a world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. Oh, Thou that giveth both the beginning and the completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give to the young man the resolution to will one thing. As the day wanes, may Thou give to the old man a renewed remembrance of his first resolution, that the first may be like the last, the last like the first, in possession of a life that has willed only one thing.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

Alas, it is horrible to see a man rush toward his own destruction. It is horrible to see him dance on the rim of the abyss without any intimation of it. But this clarity about himself and about his own destruction is even more horrible. It is horrible to see a man seek comfort by hurling himself into the whirlpool of despair. But this coolness is still more horrible: that, in the anxiety of death, a man should not cry out for help, “I am going under, save me”; but that he should quietly choose to be a witness to his own destruction!
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

In the first place a statement must be made which is easy to grasp; that the man who desires the Good for the sake of the reward does not will one thing, but is double-minded.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

(The talk) should at least touch upon that versatile form of double-mindedness: the double mindedness of weakness as it appears in the common things of real life; upon the fact that the person who only wills the Good up to a certain degree is double-minded.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

So the double-minded person may have had a will to the Good, for the one who is betrayed into double-mindedness by feeling, or by that distant recognition, he too has a will; but it received no power, and the germ of double-mindedness lay in the inner psychical disagreement. He also has a will to the Good. He is not without intentions or purposes, and resolutions and plans for himself, and not without plans of participation for others. But he has left something out: namely, he does not believe that the will in itself is, or indeed should be, the most solid of all, that it should be as hard as the sword that could hew stone, and yet be so soft that it could be wrapped around the body. He does not believe that it is the will by which a man should steady himself, yes, that when all fails, that it is the will that a man must hold to. He does not believe that the will is itself the mover, but rather that it should itself be mover, that in itself it is fluctuating and on that account should be supported, held firm, that it should be moved and supported by causes, considerations, advice of others, experiences, rules of life.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

To will one thing could not mean to will the world’s pleasure and what belongs to it, even if a person only named one thing as his choice, since this one thing was one only by a deception. Nor could willing one thing mean willing it in the vain sense of mere bigness which only to a man in a state of giddiness appears to be one. FOR IN TRUTH TO WILL ONE THING, A MAN MUST WILL THE GOOD.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

And even if the terrible thing now happens the confident venturer is injured. Even an earthly government is I accustomed to care for its faithful servants who risk danger in loyalty to the state, then shall not God and the Good also care for their faithful servants, if only they are sincere! And even if the terrible thing happens that when the sincere person had risked all, that it was then that the government said to him, “My friend, I cannot use you.” Oh, how clear it is that the smallest crumb of grace in the service of the Good is infinitely more blessed than to be the mightiest of all outside that service.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

Another says, “I have not the strength to risk all.” Again evasion, an evasion by the aid of the word “all.” For the Good is quite capable of reckoning and computing its demand in relation to the strength that this man has. And what is more, if he will venture in all sincerity, then he will certainly receive strength enough in the act of decision.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

One says, “The bit that I can do is not worth while.” The clever one is polite, he understates, he says, “Do excuse me.” He acts as if the Good were a distinguished man, and as if willing the Good were a distinguished act. But it is a misconception. No, here it is an evasion. The Good is not distinguished. It demands neither more nor less than all, whether that is a mere bit or not is neither here nor there. The widow’s mite was all that she owned. Before God it was as great a sum as all of the world’s gold in a single heap, and if one who owned all the gold in the world gave it all, he would give no more. Yes, when that public collection of money was made, it was possible that the collectors both kindly and politely might have said to the widow, “No, Mother, you keep your mite.” But the Good — how shall we express it? Its goodness is so great, that it recognizes no difference.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

One man says, “I am not justified in doing that because of my wife and children.” Alas, even the civil government looks after, yes . . . yet this is out of place here. But I wonder if he, as man and father, really could do anything better for wife and children than to impress upon them this trust in Providence. Here, then, it is not as in civil life that the person who risks dares hope that the state will look after his wife and children. No, spiritually understood, he has by his venture cared for them in the best possible way, for by this he has shown them that he at least has faith in Providence. Here, then, it is not as in civil life that the person who undertakes to risk can do it by caring for wife and children. For spiritually understood, the fearful one shows that he has no concern for the true welfare of wife and children.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

One may say, “Experience teaches that it is best to divide one’s energies in order that one can win by the one, when he loses by another. I owe it to myself, and to my future, not to place all upon a single thing.” Yes, God grant that he will not restrict his pains to his future, for that is too little; but may this alone be set before his eyes, and ever called to his mind; that his future is — an eternity.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

Above all, the one, who in truth wills the Good must not be “busy.” In quiet patience he must leave it to the Good itself, what reward he shall have, and what he shall accomplish. He dare not allow himself a single word of compromise, not a glance. He dare not ask the slightest relief from the world. He has only to give himself up to the Good and to that thing and to that person that might possibly be helped by him. He is no judge. On the contrary, he is just the opposite, he is the one who is judged. He effects a judgment only in the sense that the surrounding world becomes manifest by how it judges him.
Soren Kierkegaard Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

So, my listener, turn your attention now to the occasion, while consciousness of sin sharpens the need until it becomes the one thing necessary; while the earnestness of this holy place strengthens the will in holy determination, while the all-knowing One’s presence makes self-deception impossible, consider your own life! The talk, which is without authority, will not have the presumption to pass judgment upon you. By vigorously pondering the occasion you will stand before a higher judge, where no man dares judge another since he himself is one of the accused. The talk does not address itself to you as if to a particularly designated person, for it does not know who you are. But if you weigh the occasion vigorously, then it will be to you, whoever you may be, it will be as if it spoke precisely to you. This is not due to any merit in the talk. It is the product of your own activity that for your own sake the talk is helpful to you; and it will be because of your own activity that you will be the one to whom the intimate “thou” is spoken.
Soren Kierkegaard, on usefulness of SK comments in Purity of the Heart, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing March 17, 2004

Then comes affliction to awaken the dreamer…Genius, like a thunderstorm, comes up against the wind. (1938)
Soren Kierkegaard, the value of hardship, The Journals October 22, 2003

Kierkegaard’s splendid essay, “The difference Between a Genius and an Apostle” is relevant here. The one appeals to reason as the insights of the best and brightest among us. The other appeals to revelation as the voice of authority, which comes from beyond ourselves. There is no guarantee that this voice will tell us what we want to hear.
Merold Westphal, professor of philosophy at Fordham University, on Blind spots, Christianity and postmodern philosophy, Christian Century, June 14, 2003

It’s not too much to say they were converted by books. Three of the four were not Catholics. Thomas Merton had been raised among the ruins of medieval France. Dorothy Day had been either baptized or confirmed in the Episcopal Church as a teenager. Walker Percy had been raised a Presbyterian. t was their experience with literature that quickened the religious impulse in them. Day read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Dickens. Merton read medieval philosophy. He took seriously the injunction in certain books of philosophy that we are all called to a personal experience of the divine. Walker Percy read existentialist work including Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Sartre, and Camus. He recognized himself in their alienated protagonists the representative figure whose malaise or despair is that of western society. The first thing I would say to a young person is to look to books and learn from them not only to see how books are written, but also to learn about how the human situation is to be understood. Don’t feel obligated to like everything. Find certain works that one has strong affinities with, trust that, and follow it.
Paul Elie, personal journeys of Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy , Dick Staub Show, May 27, 2003

Posted in Faith, Staublog in March 17, 2004 by | No Comments »

Behold the Power of Cheesus

Behold the Power of Cheesus

A ridiculous sight-Jesus sculpted in Cheese and a sign of the trivialization of God.

Posted in Faith, Staublog in March 9, 2004 by | No Comments »