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.

9 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: The Ultimate “Reality” TV

  1. Patti

    My thoughts exactly. I love a book for YA that make them think and ask questions. I am always sad to see the debates when popular books get villified by those who often have not read them. I even read a FB post where someone thought the Twilight series more appropriote for teens and tweens to read!! My 6th grader went to see the movie with me but only because he had read the books and we had talked about them. (I too devoured them, losing sleep to finish MockingJay in one night!).

  2. Lance

    This is where the liberal in my Christian comes through.

    I didn’t think The Hunger Games book was very violent in the context of it’s setting. I mean, Kat isn’t living in the suburbs, gets plucked and thrown into a dangerous world. She lives in poverty and strife and there’s violence around her due to the disconnect between the classes. I thought the novel was very sound in it’s premise. By the hature of how coarse society is getting, the results in HGs isn’t that far-fetched.

    I would take my sixteen-year-old to see the movie. She has no interest. I tried to push the book on her a year or so ago and she just wasn’t into it.

    I have yet to see the full movie. But I really like your parental point of view and reasoned post. Of course, you’re always a good writer.


    • Ooh, an ego stroke. 🙂

      A lot of people don’t go in for “dystopian” because it’s so uncomfortable. I’ve always been one of those, but I’m beginning to see the power in the genre.

      • Lance

        I like the genre because it actually shows us our past and allows for discussion and thought of social commentart – “could we really end up like this”.

  3. maggiefromtheheart

    I loved these books and how it made me stop and think. I made the mistake of going to see this movie to “relax.” We are in the process of moving and I am beyond overwhelmed and stressed. My husband and I made a quick decision to go see the movie to escape. I was tense going into the movie and when we left I was DOUBLE tense because the movie was just so intense!

  4. I read that book when I was a young teen and had so many nightmares!! And I had already been reading things like “Goosebumps” and Nancy Drew. But the Hunger Games, that was a totally different thing. All I can remember from it now were the nightmares about being out in the dark of night, hiding in the forest, hoping that one of my peers wouldn’t eat me! I have NO desire to see the movie. I’d be curious to read the book again now as an adult, but frankly I’m scared to. Just as scared as I am to see “Fire in the Sky” again – I saw that at way too young an age, though I was like 15 at the time.

    Mike went to the movie yesterday and he was telling me it wasn’t as good as he’d expected/hoped it would be. That pretty much sealed the deal. I think I’d prefer to encourage YA readers to get into other books before I’d recommend one that freaked me out so much. It really didn’t encourage questioning for me…. But that’s just my take.

    • Alright, so I’ve been set straight. I don’t know what book I read when I was a kid (I could almost swear it was called “The Hunger Games”, but Mike tells me that the Hunger Games book this movie is based off of was written in 2008… So anyway, nevermind what I said here.

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