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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. kathleen

    ANY country that would use children for death games is psycho ,
    And ANY real person that would Want to be a citizen of any part of that country
    even as pretend ,
    Has psychotic leanings and needs and intervention for therapy .

    The film makers should refer EVERYONE who wanted to be a 'citizen' to their local mental health facility .

    March 27, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • kathleen

      Forgot to say , that the film itself makes a good statement and probably can be seen as allegorical to much of today's reality for example we do work children to death in many countries on this planet .

      March 27, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Wakey Wakey!

      There is this thing called "fiction" where someone tells a story that is not real.

      March 27, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. deathstalker187

    Ohh come on?? We know this is fake if we thought this was for real we would try and stop it. There would be such a public outcry that it would never happen. Even if things were so controlled that we had little choice most of us would do what we could to help the kids or stop it from happening. Sure maybe we would watch and cheer even but underneth most of us would want to help and prevent the kids from getting killed. Even to the point of sacrificing our own lives to help. I wonder how many will watch this and even though they know its all fake would still want to help one of the actors not die.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  3. reason

    It is not surprising the ordained priest who wrote this critique has a hard time discerning between reality and story telling.
    She probably takes the Bible just as seriously.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  4. What?

    "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."

    Ummm... please read your Bible again. The reason Jesus died on the cross was to pay the penalty for our sins, and he did it willingly... not so that we can protest violence. Not saying we shouldn't protest violence, but relating the death of Jesus to the Hunger Games makes no sense whatsoever.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  5. Girl in Denver

    Geeh Whiz – you, Ms. Blogger, got someone to pay you money for exploting the movie, Hunger Games. Now you have people "watching" a/k/a reading your stuff. Christian? Are you really? And.... what IS your deeper point? Aaah, getting people to watch and you get to make money. Sweet.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  6. Voice of Reason

    Listen Lady, we do not want to hear what you think. You are delusional and dangerous. All you are accomplishing is displaying your archaic ignorant intolerance. Seek mental health and go far, far away until you make sense and by sense I mean logic and reason. Keep your BS away from our children and our government! You should be required to pay a TAX for spouting such drivel to the masses but with a disclaimer that your philosophy is unproven.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • J.W

      So everyone who says something stupid should have to pay an extra tax? How would you enforce that?

      March 27, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      @J.W.
      Let us start by TAXING THE CHURCHES

      March 27, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  7. Joe T.

    We should go back to when we weren't desensitized to violence. Bring back the gladiator fights and Christians being killed by lions! Yeah, these violent movies (which normal people can discern the difference) are much worse than the good ole days.

    Watch the Penn and Teller BS episode on the effects of violent entertainment. It breaks it down pretty well.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  8. Girl

    I think people read way too much into films. I watched it myself. Did I picture myself as a resident of Panem? No, I did not because I am old enough to understand this a fictional movie. Why must we all create drama? It's a movie! It's agenda is to sell tickets and make money.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Bot

      Thats the agenda of the film producer/movie studio& theather. Danielle hits on the agenda of the writer of the book the movie is based on, Suzanne Collins. Sadly this is often overlooked,

      March 27, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  9. iamdeadlyserious

    Did I really just read a whole article about the moral implications of watching a movie?

    Ma'am, you owe me two minutes.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  10. Fuyuko

    It is ENTERTAINMENT. It isn't real, thus there aren't a lot of moral implications to watching a film, easter or not.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  11. lisa

    What is the point of this blog? It makes no sense at all!!

    March 27, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Fuyuko

      I agree.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  12. HEAVENBENT

    HUNGOR GAMEZ OH YEAH HOT

    CREME FRAISE!!

    OH IF I WAS THERE I'D HELP YOU DEGLAZE THE FUCK OUT OF THAT PAN

    March 27, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  13. Louis

    Watching killing for entertainment, both in religion and movies, is disturbing. I hope someday humanity can move beyond human sacrifice (i.e. Christianity).

    March 27, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Fuyuko

      I agree. I do not like and find the glorification of human sacrifice disturbing. No good god would expect or want a human sacrifice.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  14. Dave

    We seem to have forgotten that Christians, too, were once forced into gladiatorial combat, and were forced to stand their ground in the arena because of their faith. If the author had delved for meaning in this book like she did for Harry Potter, you can see that Katnis does not willing sacrifice her values in the arena, but turns this horrible situation into an opportunity to display her values.

    Katnis' love and respect for Rue, in giving her a televised funeral, giving thanks openly, and her willingness to lay down her own life to save others. What, then, is missing from Christ's example?

    It's not only appropriate for Holy Week, but the core – Christ morning over the death of Lazarus, his procession into Jerusalem being hailed as a king, breaking bread and giving thanks with his disciples, offering his life to take our punishment willingly, and starting the ultimate rebellion – against sin and death for all time.

    March 27, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • iamdeadlyserious

      While we're at it, let's not forget the millions of people killed in the name of Christianity since the days of Constantine.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  15. Gimme A. Break

    Oh, please...get over yourself. It's just a movie – a big, overhyped, blockbuster movie, but a movie nonetheless. It has no special meaning for Christians or any other faith, unless you happen to be one of those people who can't let a day go by without seeing Jesus in your slice of toast. Try just living your life on your own without the crutch of some invisible guardian angel who died 2000 years ago.

    March 27, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  16. Michele

    I sure would like to know how we got from watching the hunger games to Jesus, "belief blog" or not. If no one watched, the odds would have been completely against Katniss because the very core of how she and Peeta escape alive is the fact that everyone IS watching and to please the crowd they let her live. What not watching the movie has to do with the odds being in our favor just completely makes no sense.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:32 am |
    • Karen

      Thanks for giving the end away to those of us who have not read the book or seen the movie yet.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • just sayin

      karen, bruce willis was dead at the end of 6th sense

      March 27, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • just sayin

      Everybody wants to be me here too

      March 27, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 27, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • Jesus

      Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested Friday morning...

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!

      March 27, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prater changes things .

    March 27, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Typo
      Prayer changes things

      March 27, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer really changes things

      March 27, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • your god is irreducibly complex

      Your entire post is a typo, as usual.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • just sayin

      Wonderful Truths, both on prayer and on atheism, two undeniable Truths for the price of one !

      March 27, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Jesus

      "Wonderful Truths, both on prayer and on atheism, two undeniable Truths for the price of one !"

      Using two handles to agree with yourself shows everyone what a liar you are.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • just sayin

      ?

      March 27, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  19. just sayin

    Just remember. Someday, we'll all be dead. And none of this will have ever mattered. Think about how stupid all of you are.

    March 27, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • Brad

      Are things going OK for you?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • Butch

      I like being stupid! There's NO PRESSURE!!

      March 27, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • just sayin

      Everybody wants to be me all the time

      March 27, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • your god is irreducibly complex

      "Stupid" is believing that only your beliefs are right (with no proof to support them) and everyone else will burn forever for not believing.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • just sayin

      god does not exist.

      here's your sign

      March 27, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • just sayin

      Everybody wants to be me you are on the wrong page

      March 27, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  20. armyofone

    i just tried to watch this drivel online and made it to the 20 min mark. this made 150 million dollars? amerika stop watching this garbage and do something more useful like plotting and preparing for the overthrow of this tyranical state. live free rather than watch free.

    March 27, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Nii

      ARMY Take a trip to Iraq, Libya or Haiti! U will love the anarchy.

      March 27, 2012 at 6:44 am |
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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.