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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. Snazster

    I intend to avoid it. What's next? A remake of Saw, starring children? Grow some backbone and refuse to support these purveyors of escalating shock. If you want something that pushes the edge of children killing children, without crossing into exploitation, go read Lord of the Flies and get it out of your system.

    March 27, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Bippy, the Lesser Squirrel-God of Ditzy Religion-Writer Chicks

      What's next? It's . . . The Brady Bunch Chainsaw Massacre! Coming to a theater near you!

      Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio will post another of her hard-hitting marshmallow articles on the theological parallels between Jesus' torment on the cross and Marsha's torment of having the football hit her nose again. Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! Jan will feel angst and betray Marsha, sorta like Judas except not at all, and Bobby will be likened to the biblical Onan, growing hair on his palms and going blind.

      March 27, 2012 at 1:53 am |
  2. Ms. Tumminio

    I was on something when started and until I finished writing this. That's why its here on the belief blog instead as showbiz clips.

    March 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  3. 5th Airborne Kitten Division

    The fictional story where kids are harmed by an authoritarian entity gets 533 responses, but the factual story of kids being harmed by an authoritarian entity called Catholocism gets 31 responses, some playing apologist to the behavior.

    Religion IS distopia!

    March 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  4. Frank Mugavero

    Last comment , I also wouldn't want anyone telling me "I shouldn't see this movie" if I wanted to, for what ever reason I gave myself. ........ something good about America

    March 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  5. Frank Mugavero

    This "venue" gave me an opportunity to express my distaste for the theme of this movie. I have no sermon to preach, and I'm no goody two shoes, been around the block. Just don't have the stomach for this kind of stuff.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Julie

      I agree! I also feel that parents should not take their kids to see this because it is about kids killing kids to survive.
      It seems to me between the Bloody games for X-Box which deals with the thrill of killng other people and winning. And this is the same same scenario. Why are our kids being brainwashed into killing nd enjoying it. WHY!

      March 26, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Julie, you know there is no link between violent video games and kids being violent right? Strange thing about humans, we can distinguish between real and imagined.

      Next thing you know you'll be saying kids shouldn't be playing with army men or water guns. Too violent!

      March 27, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  6. The bottom line

    So Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio had absolutely nothing to say, but she insisted on saying it anyway? I thought that is what bumber stickers are for.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  7. Frank Mugavero

    I will not see this movie, I have no intention of watching a "reality" type make believe story about children playing a game to kill or be killed. It is sad enough that as adults we can't keep our people out of brutal wars, Pretending we have a society that forces children to fight for their life as a punishment for some act of insolence, and that all adults are required to watch and therefor be complicit in these acts of human brutality is in my opinion a complete waste of my time.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  8. JPX

    What's with all the religious nonsense? Boy are you reading into this too much! The moment I see the word "Jesus", my eyes glaze over.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Traci

      I am sorry for you because one day he will say the same.

      March 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  9. cosmicsnoop

    I would still bet my cash on Arnold winning the games, oh, wait, that was years ago. This is a new movie?

    March 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  10. Jane

    I sit in amazement at the absurdity of the conclusion drawn by Ms. Tumminio. It's no small wonder society is beginning to view Christians as religious zealots running amok. Apparently she didn't read the book or is blinded by her Episcopalian teachings.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  11. cosmicsnoop

    I wonder if these writers get paid by the word? This article says....nothing, really. I was an English Major and can fill many pages with impressive words that say nothing. I need to send in my resume.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Wobbly Bob

      Considering the quality of the articles CNN puts here, they probably get them for a bag of corn nuts and a hardy handshake (and they are getting overcharged).

      March 26, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • cosmicsnoop

      Corn nuts? Never heard of them. Got cashews though. Sorry, that's an inside joke no one will get, but every time someone says corn nuts to me, it comes out.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  12. pg13

    The similarities between this film and Christianity are the blood and gory. And, ah, the fictional part is also common.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • sck

      The children being murdered senselessly, to be more specific with their similarities.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Wobbly Bob

      And it took a lot of elements from books that preceded it. And it isn't particularly well written. And it's fans severely over-rate it.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  13. Shakespeare

    Much ado about nothing

    March 26, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  14. Joe

    I haven't seen the film and don't intend to. All the rage around it makes me disgusted at humanity, however. Just like how people enjoy horror flicks, i keep thinking to myself WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??? People are not supposed to somehow enjoy seeing suffering or watching someone die, but that's exactly what people do, by the millions. And if you claim "it's just a movie", that's BS and you know it. It looks so real it may as well be real. The brain perceives it a real. People watching it is wrong and disgusts me.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • sck

      YEAH, I much prefer to never see violence, that way I can sit around and pretend it doesn't exist and that it doesn't impact people's lives daily

      March 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • CJ

      I don't like violence, horror, etc. either. But this is modern-day America, aka The New Rome. Must also have our bread and circuses...and blood-bath gladiator "sport." We are, in many ways, quite like the Roman Empire. And we know what happened to them...

      March 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Cristobal

      Wow! get off of your pedestal. I read the series and saw the movie and I am not making this movie more than it was like any other piece of fiction I read. Do you say the same things about Jules Verne or any other fantasy authors you read, but something tells me that you do not read. It is interesting on how you comment that the movie/book is only about watching people die and you dont even know what it is about. SOmeone could say the same thing about you, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU COMMENTING ON SOMETHING IN WHICH YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • LinSea

      I hate horror flicks, too and this is not a horror flick. I saw the movie last weekend, and it definitely does NOT glamorize or glorify violence, the movie makes a point of showing how awful violence really is. The books also discuss the terrible aftereffects of violence, which most books do not.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  15. CJ

    Blah, blah, blah. Episcopalian clergy are WEIRD.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  16. LD5030

    It's a movie...plain and simple...go work in a Level 1 trauma hospital in a large city (NY, LA,...) then you will truly see the depths to which society has sunken to. The truly horrible rarely make it to the local news (or national for that matter). Sadly, you become so absolutely desensitized to it all that you become numb to just about all of it. After nearly eight years ( not long in the grand scheme of things) I can honestly say I've seen 2 incidences in the last 3 years that honestly made me think "what the hell is happening to society?" It's not that I don't care, it's just once you see the same thing over and over and over that you wonder how the hell did I make it this far??? The one thing I've learned is bad people ALWAYS pull through and the good and/or innocent are killed by the most mundane things...

    March 26, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • CJ

      I'm sad to say those are my perceptions as well. It also seems that bad is immediate and persistent; and meanwhile good is rare and sloooooow to appear (or remain).

      March 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Joe T.

      Nothing is happening to society. It's always been like this.

      March 27, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  17. amy

    Why why why why why WHY do Christians have to make everything about them??? STFU already.

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

      She's not making it about Christians you moron. She's drawing a parallel. Guess that's beyond your pea brain comprehension. And not having read the book or seen the movie, I don't have an opinion on what she said, but I certainly respect the fact that she is intelligent enough to express herself without profanity.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • sck

      To JoJo, making a point without profanity is valuable, but making a point without naming calling just seems lame...

      March 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • amy

      Jojo, perhaps you should take a remedial reading course. Direct quote: "But I think there is a deeper purpose to this watching rhetoric, a purpose that by proxy has curious ramifications for Christians".

      Not that I'm surprised to see such poor reading comprehension from someone that resorts to playground ad hominem attacks on the internets...

      March 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  18. pazke

    Maybe next time you sit down to write an article you should decide what point you're trying to make.

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

      Oh, she'd have difficulty doing that. She's an Episcopal priest. Episcopal clergy are *adept* at double-talk, dancing around, obfuscating, etc. Ever try reading their (any of them practically) blogs or published articles? I swear George Orwell got his "inspiration" from them, for 1984's Doublespeak. It's double-plus-confusing.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  19. IHiJump

    For all the Christians who were so excited to see this movie or allowed their children to see it...

    "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things." Philippians 4:8

    March 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • sck

      If you strive to follow this verse I can only assume you keep yourself and your children as far away from The Bible as possible.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  20. AngerBot

    Maybe if nobody watched I could be spared sitting with my kid through the sequels of this awful movie.

    March 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Jojo

      Nobody's putting a gun to your head and making you watch it.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Jojo

      Nobody's gonna put a gun to your head and make you watch it.

      March 26, 2012 at 10:24 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.