The Hunger Games: The Ultimate “Reality” TV

The Hunger Games (film)
The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time the next big thing in YA literature comes out, everyone has to weigh in on the relative merits (or lack thereof). Is it well-written? Does it foster the occult? Does it give girls the wrong idea about romance? Is it too disturbing and violent for the intended audience?

I devoured each of the Hunger Games books in nine hours, walking around the house doing everything one-handed with my nose in the book. It was that gripping. So I’ve been looking forward to the movie. And although we rarely go to anything on opening weekend, it just worked out that we had babysitting, so Christian and I joined the crowds yesterday to watch The Hunger Games.

As movie adaptations go, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. But that means the images were quite disturbing. This is, after all, a story set in the context of brutality visited upon youth by youth…and that is the crux of people’s objection to the to the novels: the violence.

I will admit that seeing it on the screen was more disturbing than I had anticipated. I’m not sure these are movies I’ll want to watch again and again. But here’s the thing about fiction: it allows an author to make a point that we wouldn’t pay attention to if she got up and wrote an essay on the subject.

I haven’t read any interviews with Suzanne Collins to know whether I’m anywhere near her intentions, but I think these books showcase the natural outgrowth of our own national obsessions.

The Hunger Games are the ultimate reality TV. And while our “Survivor” and “Bachelor/ette”-type shows may not involve physical brutality visited upon each other, they certainly do involve people knowingly and willingly doing violence to each other’s dignity. Just like in the Hunger Games, the game controllers are constantly manipulating behind the scenes to make sure things are shocking enough. (Sounds like CSI/NCIS/Castle to me. The other night we turned on the TV to find that someone had poured molten gold–well, fool’s gold anyway–down someone’s throat as a murder technique. Uh, yeah. That’s realistic. Or not.)

My point is that the Hunger Games aren’t all that far-fetched a concept. The things we watch on a daily basis illustrate with depressing clarity how easy it would be, given some major calamity, for humanity to become this bloodthirsty. That is a reality check we need, and I think the popularity of the books makes it clear that people do “get” it. Katniss is so very heroic: she represents hope for us all. There is something so eminently human about her, amid this inhuman madness. She refuses to play by their rules and become the animal they want her to become. She shows that integrity and love and are inextricably linked to one’s sense of self. And those qualities allow her to defy a brutal regime and beat them at their own game while still holding on to her self-identity.

So, although I understand the discomfort with the violence, I think that’s the whole point. We’re supposed  to be uncomfortable. We’re supposed to recognize the seeds of the Hunger Games in our own time. And hopefully do something about it.