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 »

18 Responses to The Hunger Games: Gratuitous Violence or Morality Tale?

  1. Melissa on March 30, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Surprising that parents would be opposed to the book due to the idea that the books are sexually explicit – I am a parent who read the books and loved them – they aren’t sexually explicit at all. The books are very good, and I too found them to be a weighty morality tale. I had my 16 year old daughter read them – they’ve been great deep conversation starters. I thought they did a good job with the movie.

    Wish more parents would read and be more informed before decrying something as evil, wrong, etc.

  2. Dick Staub on March 30, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Thanks Melissa. So far I’ve read only the first in the series. I appreciate your insights and wish more parents shared this vision for preparing our kids through teaching them to read culture while practicing faith.

  3. Darlene Pajo on March 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I wouldn’t trust what the American Library Association says about HG being banned. They love to cry censorship, and I doubt that the book has been banned anywhere. Maybe a few parents objected and they call that “banning.”

  4. Dick Staub on March 30, 2012 at 10:36 am

    good point!

  5. Lisa on March 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Totally agree with Melissa and Darlene. I’m the (conservative) mom of a 13 yo girl, and I read them so that she could. The first book was engrossing, and I’m nearly done with the 2nd. (Looking forward to your reviews of the 2nd and 3rd books!) I thought your review was right on target. The book provides the opening to a great conversation — and sheltering our kids and refusing to teach them about evil in the world does NOT protect them from it. It only makes them more vulnerable!

  6. Brent Sherman on March 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I watched it last Friday, and passed up on Monumental on Tuesday. I figure it this way, if I’m looking for something gratuitous, might as well find one I can give a little artistic license to. Meet you at the LA Coliseum for the real games next year, when Rush Limbaugh takes it to Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’ Donnell, and Denzel Washington plummets Spike Lee.

  7. Kelly on March 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I am a concerned parent. My son is 11 yo n the 6th grade. His teacher, w/o permission introduced the book and movie to the kids. I feel she should have at least sent home a note asking parents before asking the kids! The movie is rated pg13 and the book is very violent. Kids shouldn’t be fighting eachother to the death! That’s appalling and I can’t believe we are considering it ok! Call it sheltering if u want, but some material is not appropriate for young kids.

  8. [...] Hunger Games Film Review: Liberal Propaganda Or Conservative Truth? and The Hunger Games: Gratuitous Violence or Morality Tale? A couple thoughtful reviews of the current box-office smash. These days Hollywood rarely offers [...]

  9. Olivia on April 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Mr. Staub,
    I am an adolescent who relished the Hunger Games trilogy. I understand where parents are becoming concerned with the violence and such, but it includes themes rebellion and survival and how to make decisions for the better of every factor. Thank for writing this point-blank review on it and I wish the best enjoyment of the (even more tragic) second and (slightly disappointing) third book.

  10. Olivia on April 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    The themes, I am sorry.

  11. Dick Staub on April 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Thoughtful responses like yours give me great hope for your generation!

  12. [...] radically. Doug Wilson describes the book and film as an exercise in situational ethics while Dick Staub sees the story line as a morality tale that plots a pathway beyond situational [...]

  13. Christy on April 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    The central story is far from original. (Citizens of some future society fight each other to the death for entertainment.) The story is far too weak and unimaginative to justify the gratuitous violence. Would a movie about defenseless women being brutally raped justify its existence as a cautionary tale or be classified as exploitation? This grandmother, for one, was embarrassed to sit in a theater and watch children killing each other for sport. Don’t buy the hype. This movie is nauseatingly unnecessary.

  14. Car on April 5, 2012 at 8:13 am

    The books have no sex in them. I have read all 3 and can’t imagine who would say they are sexually explicit. They deal with so many topics that kids seem numb to these days – reality TV, self sacrifice, protecting those you love, the horrors of a socialist government, replacing one bad government for another. I think it’s a book with great messages for our youth. The violence is not explicit in the book or movie, but viewing should always be based on age-appropriateness. I thought the books were great, but didn’t like watching the ‘game’ on the big screen. Seeing such young kids killing each other made it all seem to real and bothersome. We watch this kind of killing all the time with adults (on TV and in the movies), but it just seems terrible with kids.

  15. Stephen Fox on May 3, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Dick: Saw your piece on the Hunger Games picked up in Baptists Today. I plan to post a link to the Collinsville PTO site here in NE Alabama where my Mother was baptized.
    Short note and hope to follow up by email with you soon if you will email me.
    Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone, Katniss in Hunger Games Movie; is now starring in the adaptation of my friend Ron Rash’s Serena. But first I hope you will read his One Foot in Eden and then his latest The Cove. I think you will find all his work worth your time and worthy of blog comment. Google The State feature for Ron RAsh, rusoff agency and that will take you to the heart of his works, scrolling around there.
    Hope to hear from you by email soon.
    Collinsville, Alabama

  16. brianna on February 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    this book was awesome

  17. brianna on February 26, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    this book was awesome im in 6th grade and understood this book completely

  18. [...] Doug Wilson describes the book and film as an exercise in ethical relativism while Dick Staub treats The Hunger Games as a morality tale that moves beyond situational [...]

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