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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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 27, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • afffsad

      Your name just explains how stupid you are

      March 27, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • 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 6:28 pm |
  2. GMRMS

    I wonder if Jesus would attend the movie.

    March 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      Only if he could count cards while he was there.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  3. just sayin

    I am dancing in diapers like Jesus and praying.

    March 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • just sayin

      Don't look now but your desperation is showing

      March 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  4. phearis

    It's a trilogy and she's the main character ..... *Logical Spoiler Alert* ..... Katniss Wins.
    There, I just saved you 2½ hours and $12. 🙂

    March 27, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • LaLa

      Have you read the books ?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  5. Doc Vestibule

    Seems to me that I saw this movie 13 years ago when it was called "Battle Royale".

    March 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • phearis

      Or you might have seen it 25 years ago when you saw "The Running Man".

      March 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • LaLa

      Give it a rest already. BR was not new either – Lord of The Flies, anyone ? How far back would you like to go ? Gladiators ? Matter of fact, every "new" story out there is just a variation on a handful of certain themes or a combination thereof. It's the presentation, the character & story delivery that make the story. Obviously BR was not good enough to capture the attention of the general public or it would have been as popular as HG – or is the "public" too low-brow for you ?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • LaLa

      Running Man's not a new idea either – see my other reply. There are no new stories out there. Only new ways to tell the old ones.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • phearis

      Wow LaLa ..... take a chill pill. It's just a movie.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • LaLa

      Thanks, phearis, but I find it irritating (and that's likely the trolls' points) that they keep saying this movie is a rip-off ... not realizing that there are no new stories. It's all just re-telling, re-arranging of old stories. HG is a good trilogy for teens or adults, and the movie is very entertaining as well. People need to experience something before dissing it.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • crazypete

      To know that there are no new stories you would need to be acquainted with all stories, both past and present. That is clearly impossible, so therefore on cannot logically state that there are no new stories. Dummies.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • LaLa

      Crazypete: This is not MY analysis. It's the analysis of literature professors all over the world.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • crazypete

      LaLa: So your excuse for a logically unsupportable statment is that you just parroted it from someone else? So you are now guilty of both a lack of critical thinking as well as a lack of originality. Well, at least you are honest about your intrinsic redundancy to humanity.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  6. Bryce

    Why would they build a high speed rail line into the middle of nowhere's when they have flying machines that can get you there faster and cheaper? Who needs a billion dollar 200 MPH super train to bring people once a year to the capitol?

    March 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • LaLa

      More luxurious than the hovercraft, duh. Hovercraft are basically military vehicles.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • phearis

      Wasted money on projects that make no sense? hmmmmm ..... A Republican must have been in charge.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • crazypete

      Flying machines make some people nauseous.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • octopus

      I hate the 'flying machines'. I like trains.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  7. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer is delusional.

    March 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • phearis

      Hey, if people want to pray to the immortal, invisible, wish granting zombie in the sky, let them.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • just sayin

      I want to be like Jesus so I wear diapers and hang from a pole in my yard.

      March 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  8. tez07

    Thanks, I will just order "The Running Man" or "Battle Royale" from Netflix

    March 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • LaLa

      Whatevs. Afraid to visit new ideas, are you ?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • phearis

      @ La La – It was a "New Idea" when Stephen King wrote about it in 1982.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • LaLa

      Prior to King – Wm Golding, "Lord of the Flies", 1954

      March 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  9. JessSayin

    So Danielle, Basically, you're equating watching children being slaughtered by other children to the death of Christ on the cross and not only that, but something our children should watch? You do know this will all come to a screeching halt when some kid kills his classmate(s) in the same fashion as in the movie and blames it on what he or she saw in said film.
    Somehow I don't think you'll be trying to sound so profound about violence against children on that day.

    March 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • LaLa

      This doesn't glorify the killing – it actually addresses multiple times the horror of what is happening. And the movie doesn't show the violence except in abstract terms. Anyone who uses this book as a reason to kill did not read it. At all.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  10. Delivery Guy

    hoho, i would watched. it would be fricken hilarious! It would be like lamb and tuna feesh!

    March 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  11. Angie

    This film depicts a totalitarian government that dictates everything fotr its citizens; it shows the harm of big government and lack of moral values, sounds familiar?

    March 27, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Dharmabum

      yes, sounds like the Bush years.

      March 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • TING

      The Dark Ages. When religion ruled the world.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Philippians 1

      3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

      March 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Jesus

      Again, 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 3:04 pm |
    • LinSea

      @J, (I'm not going to write out a sacred name in case you are using it blasphemously) prayer is the way we communicate with God, not a guarantee that we will get whatever we want. Frequently, the time isn't right for us to get something we ask for, or the answer is 'no' because what we want isn't what we need in the long run. And I personally believe that He expects us to back up our prayers with action, that we should what we can to deal with a given situation and ask for His help with the rest. Don't discount the value of something because people have at times used it incorrectly.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • afffsad

      I pray for you to shut up please.

      March 27, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  13. bljstreetteam

    I dont know much about the Hunger Games, but I think that everyone should check out the upcoming Blue Like Jazz movie coming out on April 13. It has a message that those in the church and outside of the church can relate to. Check it out!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GOglQgyxYkI

    March 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  14. KC

    Interesting article and I agree with the fact that both the movie and the books made me contemplate violence in our own world. As BobbyTN mentions the books next talk about debt and consumerism /greed. It is eerie to think about the middle class dying out and there being just rich and poor people left. People like Kim Kardashian who spend 18million on a wedding (that others watch on reality TV) but so many people in the world don't even have food. Or where Rush Limbaugh gets paid millions of dollars to make horrible so called "Factual" statements about other people;always mean, contemptous and derisive statements. Never helpful or Christian and yet he is considered a Christian? I could totally see him living in Panem and betting on the annual Hunger Games and encouraging others to do so also. The tone of the books (written in First person) and the movie (written,directed and filmed perfectly to get the point across) should make a reader or watcher contemplate their current world. That is what a good story does....gets people to think...

    March 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  15. WhyCNNWhy

    Why is this in Travel and Living on the home page and not in From Our Blogs? By putting it there, you're leading your readers to believe it is something it is not - namely, an unbiased, journalistic article rather than an opinion piece. It doesn't matter how I feel about the content itself; I have no problem with this being a Belief Blog entry. However, CNN, you've got to stop pulling this and similar cr*p.

    March 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  16. reason

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

    March 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Truth

      I take the Bible seriously as well because it really happened. Faith is not fantasy. Faith can actually be tested by each individual. Try it.

      March 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • just sayin

      The bible really happened....interesting. lol

      March 27, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      Dear,
      If faith can be tested, it's not faith. Do you own a dictionary ?

      March 27, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  17. LaLa

    The attraction of The Hunger Games is not the violence. It's the victory over oppression and tyranny. It's the idea that a seemingly inconsequential act in one person can light a spark in others that leads to better lives for all. That one person trying to protect those she loves can make a difference in the world.

    March 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Exactly! We should denounce religions and supernatural gods as truth. We must save our children and our government from their tyranny!

      March 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Angie

      There is no victory over oppression, the games still continue, it is more of a survival story of a decent kid.

      March 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • LaLa

      Angie : Read "Catching Fire" & "Mockingjay", the rest of the trilogy. Then you'll get what it's building up to.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  18. Mike in NJ

    Good article, Ms. Tumminio. Thank you.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  19. Voice of Reason

    This is exactly the way the world would be if we allowed religion to rule, history tell us. Educate yourselves and keep religion away from our children and our government.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Truth

      I don't recall any suggestion that the article's author wants religion to "rule the world". Most religions encourage their adherents to overcome their base desires and become better people. When someone exercises too much control over others, it is usually done by those who have twisted their own religious beliefs, or ignored them altogether. Blame people, not religions.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • just sayin

      Turth, but it is people that created the gods and religions...in the end we have ourselves to blame the ignorance on.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • LaLa

      Religion is decidedly removed from this series. Matter of fact, in Catching Fire, Katniss describes an old ornate building as being decorated with "fat children with wings" – not cherubs. They know nothing of religion. It's not mentioned. It's not considered. This is not a book promoting or dissing religion. It is about human morality.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • just sayin

      Lala, there will be a day when christianity will join the rest of the myths...however man is too fearfull and ignorant to move past it..there will be a new form of religion or belief.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  20. kathleen

    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 .

    However , anyone who wants to pretend to be a 'citizen' of Panem
    probably has psycho leanings and should be referred to a mental health facility .

    March 27, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"for example we do work children to death in many countries on this planet ."

      Explain this "We" statement. "We" can only speak for the country and society that we currently live in. If another country is sicko enough to working kids in the mines and such, that's "Them".

      March 27, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      Hmmmm...Us versus Them...isn't this the main wedge that all religions use to justify their "righteousness" over other fellow human beings. Exclusiveness and not inclusiveness is the driving force behind religious beliefs.

      March 27, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • BobbyTN

      We could stop it just by not buying the products made by child labor. I think it's in the second book that the author hints at how much the citizens of the capital as in debt because of their consumerism, and she shows it in the third. Consumerism is a religion in the Hunger Games. The basic story is adapted from Greek myth; the story of the Minotaur, and king Minos' demands of child tributes from Athens.

      March 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Yeah

      Mark – "we" refers to ALL humanity, not just those in a certain religion. If one child suffers in the world, no matter where, that is a tragedy for all of "us". As the others pointed out, even if the US doesn't work children to death, we sure import a lot of commodities from countries that, all the while turning a blind eye to their practices in the name of savings and convenience.

      March 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Huh?

      "We could stop it just by not buying the products made by child labor."

      Then you could go one step further and stop buying things created in sweat shops where they treat their people like crap. Then after that take another great step and stop buy commercialized chicken where they lock the chickens in tiny cages to just get fat and kill them only after a few weeks, cows that are left in small pens grain fed, veil calfs that only have maybe 2 feet to move around, etc...etc... Sadly people are to lazy to live with integrity and ethics, including Christians.

      March 27, 2012 at 3:17 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.