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My Take: ‘Hunger Games’ asks us not to watch
March 26th, 2012
01:44 PM ET

My Take: ‘Hunger Games’ asks us not to watch

Editor's note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest and author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom."

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

(CNN) - “What if no one watched?” Gale Hawthorne asks at the beginning of the first "Hunger Games" film. What if not one citizen of the dystopian post-American country of Panem watched the annual competition where children from 12 districts compete to the death as penance for their insolence against the governing Capitol?

What if ...

But the citizens of Panem are forced to watch the 74th Hunger Games, in which protagonist Katniss Everdeen competes to spare her younger sister, Primrose. The Gamemakers hide cameras throughout the arena so that no event goes unseen, and every citizen of Panem must stand in their district’s square to watch key parts of the Games, which are televised live for the entire nation.

Watching also seems to be a focus for those who redacted the first of Suzanne Collins’ bestsellers into film: One of the official posters for "The Hunger Games" features the slogan “The World Will Be Watching,” and as part of the promotional push for the film, I received an e-mail from Panem Hunger Games coordinator Seneca Crane informing me that “attendance IS mandatory.”

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A cynic might say that these are clever marketing ploys, not-quite-subliminal messages designed to lure filmgoers to cushy movie theater seats and extra-large tubs of popcorn.

But I think there is a deeper purpose to this watching rhetoric, a purpose that by proxy has curious ramifications for Christians.

As I watched Katniss Everdeen fight to the death, I became aware that I could just as well have been a citizen of Panem, watching the Hunger Games on a giant screen, rooting for favorites, desensitized from the film’s artfully-orchestrated-so-as-to-maintain-a-PG-13-rating-but-still-incredibly-disturbing violence.

In fact, the film’s creators seem to want viewers to imagine themselves as residents of Panem. For the full immersion experience, the government of Panem, the Capitol, has a website with its own government domain, just like the United States or China or Fiji does. On that website, fans can get assigned to a district, after which they receive an identification card and e-mails from various government officials.

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All of this means moviegoers, especially those in the United States, are intended to see themselves as Panem residents. And like the citizens of Panem, who watch the Hunger Games either because the government forces them to or because they consider betting on children’s lives to be good sport, we must watch, which is exactly what I did.

I did not heed Gale’s call to protest the Games’ viciousness. I did not walk out. I even found myself jumping up and down with excitement as I entered the theater with my husband.

Does that mean those of us who buy advanced tickets to "The Hunger Games" — in record numbers — are so immune to the horrors of murder that we are merely voyeurs, watching the ill-timed termination of life with the same salaciousness of those who watched the Paris Hilton sex video?

For Christians, this issue of watching is complicated further. Christians are nearing Holy Week, the most sacred time of the church year, in which the faithful commemorate the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

On the Thursday of Holy Week, Christians keep a symbolic vigil with Jesus, watching with him during his final night in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he asks God to rescue him from fate. On Good Friday, we relive Jesus’ crucifixion by hearing the story of the Messiah’s death or sometimes, even, by watching re-enactments. What would Good Friday be like if once, just once, Christians stopped their church services in protest or stopped a re-enactment of Jesus’ death and took him down from the cross just in time?

Christians don’t do that, of course, because they are remembering an event whose course cannot be altered: Jesus suffered. Jesus died. The only thing that can be done is for Christians to voluntarily bear witness to that reality and to be disgusted by it, so that its carnage motivates them to protest violence.

In that way, watching for Christians on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday serves a purpose: It empowers them to take on Jesus’ ministry as a servant, to become people who protest against injustices in the hopes of transforming them.

As in Christianity, violence in "The Hunger Games" also serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But there’s a difference as well: We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction.

That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object.

So perhaps the great irony revealed by the film is that we are not meant to see it. We’re not intended to watch its violence, because this story, as Gale says, is meant to be protested. Which means that, ironically, "The Hunger Games’ " greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.

What if we did this?  What if we didn’t watch?

I like to imagine that only then would the odds be truly be in Katniss’ favor.  And in ours.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Opinion

soundoff (857 Responses)
  1. Clytemnestra

    I wonder why this is being played up here as a Christian thing when the author based it on the Theseus myth? You know, Ancient Greek myth?

    March 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • LinSea

      She's just making comparisons and seeing metaphors in the story that fit in with her life experience and knowledge. We are human beings, we learn from and love finding metaphors and symbols. It's part of our psychological hard wiring.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  2. Jean

    I think the book and movie are worth studying. There are profound parallels to our own society. Panem's teens were sent to die in the Hunger Games, we send our teens to die in wars. Panem's elite were entertained by the Hunger Games, many in our society are entertained by increasingly violent sports. Perhaps the book and movie can spur discussions, real discussions, on violence and power within a society.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • TriB

      You know, I really HATE to give away plots, but, alas, I must. The Uber-Wealthy have taken up residence in Denver, before catastrophic events. Denver is the new US capital. The outlying areas are "arraigned" into districts, according to their natural resources. The outlying districts become slave labour to the capital. One district rebels, and ALL districts are punished by having to sacrifice 2 of their young for the entertainment of the uber-wealthy.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  3. Ralf The Dog.

    if a movie or a book shows a person killed, it should be as disturbing as the authors can make it. Murder is not fun. The point behind the books and the movie is, death should not be entertainment.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  4. gstlab3

    THIS IS WHY AMERICA FAILS.

    TO MUCH TELEVISION AND MOVIE WATCHING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    YOU'RE ALL BECOMING MORE FAT., HALF OF YOU ARE LAZY SLOBS.HOW MANY OF YOU MEN ARE FAKED UP STEROID EATING TROLLS WHO BLOW OUT THEIR HEARTS AT YOUNG AGES???

    Your women????

    Just look at you so called women.,

    Spoiled drug addled brats.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Jen

      Try to remember that America is made up of people from all over the world and their cultures.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Yeah right

      You're just jealous because, when you unwrap your wife's burka, you see again that she has hair over 90% of her body.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Arick

    The movie was meant to be disturbing. It isn't glorifying violence, it is meant to fill you with disgust at the way the setting works. The later books in the series are about bringing down the corrupt system portrayed in the series.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      Arick, I am glad someone understands the books and the movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • TriB

      Exactly. So many Christians refuse to read anything outside of their Bible. These people have made an opinion on something, without even reading it. I have read the Christian Bible 3 times over. I have a basis for an opinion on this book. These people haven't even read the books, yet they voice an opinion out of ignorance.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Ralf, it's easy. If anyone reading them took English Lit in college pre-1988, they can pick apart sub-plots and metaphors with ease. The failings of our educational system in more recent times are elucidated in most of the comments in these blogs.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  6. IHiJump

    My family hasn't read the book and won't. We haven't seen the movie and won't. It disturbs me how many Christians I've seen on Facebook who have gone to see or allowed their children to see the movie. It is also a disturbing thing to see a movie such as this top the box office.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      We need far more movies and books like this. We need far fewer moves where there is no consequences to killing another person. If TV or a movie shows a person killed by another. They should show that person suffer. Then they should show the guilt of the person who killed. Then they should show the family and friends of the person who died.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Sumerian Citizen

      You're missing the point. I'm assuming you've read a bit of the Bible? There's a lot of violence in there; a couple of cities and all of their citizens (kids too!) got wiped off the earth by God one point, from what I remember. The point of the Bible, and stories like "The Hunger Games", is to make sure we realize that pointless violence can and does occur and if we can stop acting like pompous fools for once we might be able to prevent it.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  7. Catherine Cathy

    The trilogy of books, the first of which this movie is based on, is about a society that has centralized control of power. Their government has control of everything in their lives from the most mundane and necessary, food and water, to control over their children's very existence; it is a powerful theme. Reading it or even watching the movie for entertainment only is throwing away a very profound message.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Jen

      They shouldn't leave the audience with only 1/3 of the material. I don't aways read a book before watching a movie. Furthermore, as I mentioned below. The Hunger Games hinted at animal abuse, acceptance of physical abuse, bullying, and suicide with young love lost. I am sure it was not the intention of the author, nor the director to perpetuate violence among our youth; however, we must realize that the audience they chose is impressionable and emotionally charged and that many may not understand some of the underlying noble messages. These visions have a path of their own once they enter into the minds of a youth and no one can predict the outcome because there are too many factors. This movie is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18. It should have been rated R.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • TriB

      I thought of it as a continuing sequence to "Atlas Shrugged." The uber-wealthy converge in Denver, and subjugate the remainder of humanity, in the USA, after catastrophic events.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Yeah right

      By "profound" do you mean "banal and derivative"? That context has been used in a great many stories over the last century, some much better than this.

      Copycats are not profound.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  8. Anita

    I think it's a sad day when a family's Friday night entertainment involves paying money to watch a movie where kids kill kids. I'm a child of the 60's...make love, not war! I don't like guns and swords...especially when kids are using them to kill each other! Maybe I'm a nerd...but I was truly disturbed by this movie.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • John K

      I I am from the 60's and I have long forgotten the peace, love and ALL that the stuff. For me today it is distrust, violence, anger against the govt in what they do and how they have sold America down the river. I have no LOVE for anyone anymore especially this govt.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Lillith

      If you were disturbed by this movie perhaps you shouldn't have gone to it. Make informed choices.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      That is the point of the movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Mark K

      The movie is a satire of modern day society. It is supposed to be disturbing. It is also meant to make us think about what we actually do accept as entertainment today and what we make our kids go through. Is our reality television really so different from this? Is there not actually a fight to the death occuring in our inner cities, in our schools, and even in the suburbs (think Trayvon Martin).

      I'm glad you are disturbed. I would be worried if you were not. This kind of movie actually makes me wake up and think about all the disturbing stuff on TV and in our society these days. It is satire at it's best, and I'm glad it's hit the mainstream.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • TriB

      Poor Anita. She cannot be bothered to read a few books.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Perhaps the 60's were different for those who didn't have to register for the draft.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  9. SH

    I did not see this movie, my 17-year-old daughter did on opening night. As she described it to me, it sounded very disturbing. She then admitted she and her friends didn't enjoy it at all (one cried through a good part of it) and only went because everyone else was going. I have to wonder how many people spent decent money to watch a movie they didn't enjoy, and in the process boosted its revenue and ratings. What surprises me the most is that it was written by a woman; we are supposed to be the more maternal of genders. For men to create such "entertainment" doesn't shock me so much, but this is just beyond my comprehension.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Anita

      I totally agree! I was writing this exact response to this article at the same time! The group I saw the movie with thought it was great...I know that sometimes I have different views on life..but this movie was DISTURBING! Mainly because it's gotten so much hype!

      March 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Don't blame the movie .. you should know what you're going to see. Only one person to blame there.
      I teared up a bit too, because it should touch you.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Hayls

      The absurdity of this post is beyond explanation.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      If you only watch movies because they are fun, you are a very shallow person. The best movies are not about having a good time; They are social commentary. I plan to watch this movie again, first chance I get.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • SH

      Sorry, Hayls, didn't mean to offend your opinion with my own, although I'm sure I'd find yours equally absurd. And Dog, go back and read my post again. Where does it say I watch movies for ANY reason? I wish I had the time to call people names for their entertainment choices. I'm just glad I'm not shallow enough to do so 😉

      March 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Chris

      As the author equates, would you not learn about the crucifixion of Jesus because it was disturbing or painful? Would you not learn about the Holocaust? Did you turn off the TV when 9/11 happened?

      Painful and tragic events shape our lives much more than happy and pretty ones. They "refine, as gold" through trials and tribulations. This is not a movie of gratuitousness, but a painful awakening and disillusionment of an extreme of our future. It's a warning of the depravity of disconnection with actual reality. It was a painful movie to watch at times, and a one that swells your heart with compassion at others. That it is (current) fiction is no less important, although I'm almost positive parallels can be made with history. Don't throw away the message because violence is unpalatable, because it doesn't make violence go away.

      "Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

      March 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • dreaminginechos

      I'm in my mid-twenties and have read all three books. The story isn't supposed to be one that is, well, enjoyed. The way I interpreted the story is as a cautionary tale of what we can become. I'm a pretty tough person, it takes a lot to make me flinch, but this story, the books and the movie, definitely left me a bit disturbed. As it should have.

      The fact that your child found the story disturbing is a good thing. So many people these days are no longer affected by what they see on television or in the movies, or even in the games that they play. I see it as an opportunity to talk about what disturbed them, and why. The story isn't all bad, especially in the next two parts, its about sacrifices, strength, endurance, and pushing on when things get to be too much. It's a tough, brutal story.

      I will end by saying that I think it's wrong that they were pushing the movie towards Twilight fans, because it's not Twilight. It's irresponsible of the promoter to do so. I'm sorry your child had a negative reaction to the movie, but I can understand why.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  10. Jen

    The Hunger Games hinted at animal abuse, acceptance of physical abuse, bullying, and suicide with young love lost. I am sure it was not the intention of the author, nor the director to perpetuate violence among our youth; however, we must realize that the audience they chose is impressionable and emotionally charged and that many may not understand some of the underlying noble messages. These visions have a path of their own once they enter into the minds of a youth and no one can predict the outcome because there are too many factors. This movie is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18. It should have been rated R.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      This move should be watched by everyone under the age of 18. It shows the consequences of violent behavior. It is far more likely to make a person of any age think before they act out against another person than it will be to cause people to copy the bad behavior. Movies where people get blown up, shot or whatever, then cut to the next scene without thinking about the life ended or those left behind should be the films rated R. Any violence shown should be as graphic as it can be.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  11. sidenote

    This is a rip off of "The Running Man" (1987)

    March 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Lillith

      Try reading the books. Humans killing humans is as old as humanity .. there is no rip off, completely different stories.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  12. anonygrazer

    Bread and circuses. We were there once before and we'll be there again.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • TriB

      Funny. Bread and circuses is the point the trilogy is trying to drive home.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  13. NancyP

    I think what amazes me most about Christians is that they seem to forget their own past. I have heard Christians time and time again criticize other religions for their violent behavior, senseless killing and terrible actions. Has everyone forgotten about the Crusades, the Inquisition and Gladiators forced to fight to the death? And, yes, by the way I am a Christian.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • IHiJump

      I'm a Baptist. Our past never comes in contact with the Catholics... except for those of us who were tortured and brutally murdered in the inquisition. So don't lump all Christians in with the Catholic church. Read some history. http://www.amazon.com/History-Evangelical-Churches-Valleys-Piemont/dp/1579785417/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1332811984&sr=8-5

      March 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • FranklinS

      Umm...no, it wasn't the Christians who put on the gladiatoral games in Rome. You ought to look it up.

      And, btw, Christians are aware of the history of violence perpetrated by religious groups and governments in the NAME of Christianity, but even the most cursory reading of the New testament would tell you that there is not only zero doctrinal basis for such violence, but rather an active, pervasive doctrine of sacrificial renunciation of violence and even vengence of any kind. And Christians feel free to critique other religions, especially Islam, because even a cursory reading of the founding texts indicate an inherent lust for violence and vengence, which cannot be "bred out of" the religion by it's adherents if they are to be truly faithful to its doctrines.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • J

      Actually, gladiators fighting to the death was a pre-Christian Roman phenomenon. It was the rise of Christianity that led to the end of such practices. So that's a bad example.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Jarhead Ron

      umm... correct me if I am wrong, but the Gladiators were in the Roman empire which was NOT christian. As a matter of fact, they used to feed Christians to the lion in the same gladiator arenas. Besides, I don;t think that things that were done in the name of the Christian church more than 500 years ago have a lot of relevance on today's world.

      And for the record, I am not a christian – I come from an older tribe 🙂

      March 27, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  14. Dan

    It's not a good movie, does not make any sense even for kids.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  15. gene

    This is so CNN...give me a freakin break...it's just a move. I found it very entertaining and my kids LOVED it. We actually read the book as a family...sorry it wasn't the Bible. They are also active Christian kids who are very involved in our church...

    March 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • sidenote

      Movie*

      March 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Ok, seriously people, this is a MOVIE we're talking about. I agree with gene. Just because it has violence and killing, doesn't mean that the movie should be "rated R" as someone commented previously. This movie was based on a book and everyone I know enjoyed both. All those people making up some "hidden message" in the book and/or movie is just taking the whole idea of this way too seriously. The book is about a horrible government that forces children to kill each other. The next two books are about REBELLING against the government, NOT supporting it. If the books and/or movie even had a hidden message, I don't think it's supporting violence. I mean seriously, get over it people. If you think you wasted your money seeing a so-called bad movie, MAYBE YOU SHOULD'VE READ WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  16. thinquer

    Hello, please log me out. Thank you! -T

    March 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  17. fatso

    I'm just not hungry enough to watch this garbage or spend my hard-earned money on Hollywood drek!

    March 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  18. Wesley

    Did you even read the book Danielle? The whole point of the series be it book or movie wasn't made for us imagine ourselves in their world of Panem. We can do that without the book or movie. The books were made with the same reason Harry Potter was written, for readers to have good entertainmen. Ernest above is right. If the movie producers wanted to make us think that way, then they are wrong and you are too. And just little advice goes to everybody not to be rude but if you are going to watch a movie that is based on a book, read the damn book first. The books are always better than the movie because you know everything that the movie has chosen to leave out OR change dramtically unless youre watching Into The Wild which was scripted word by word from the main characters journal entries and other dialogue made by his REAL sister). In my opinion book based movies are not accurate at all and waste time.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • kat

      I can't see how you can read the Hunger Games and not see the parallels with our current society. I hardly think that entertainment was Ms. Collins' sole motivation for scripting that piece.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Wesley

      There is nothing wrong with atheism...

      March 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Anthony

      Tell that to the thousands of crazies who got together with Rick Perry in Houston last year and prayed for rain.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • sidenote

      How is atheism unhealthy, am i going to get lung cancer from smoking it?

      March 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  20. Aerionna

    i read this article and most of the comments and i actually saw the movie openning night i thought it was a pretty good movie i dont see why people have to put down a movie theres no point obviously thid movie was made for kids to like not adults !

    March 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • IHiJump

      Duh... that's the whole problem Aerionna... KIDS watching a movie about kids killing kids.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.