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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. hmmmmm

    yeah...this article sucks. You jump from topic to topic, and neglect to go into relevant depth. Maybe you should take a writing class with your husband.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Jack237

      "I even found myself jumping up and down with excitement as I entered the theater with my husband." ..I knew there was an air of childish idiocy in this article, and this line really drove it home for me.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  2. Mel

    Odd article. The points about protesting could be valid, but I felt the example of Christianity made little sense. I can say that the reason Christians don't take Christ from the cross isn't to condone violence, but it's because we know He rose again and gave everlasting grace to those who choose to accept it.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • JohnQuest

      Mel, you may believe that "He rose again" but you Can't "Know" it. Believing does not make it so.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • ChrisP

      JohnQuest – faith is truly believing something that can't be proven. If you have faith in something, you know it in your heart.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 28, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Dead Cancer Patient

      Nope.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • ATPMSD

      Paryer is for cowards

      March 28, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Tom Paine

      Of course it does. Pray for those who see it as futile.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:58 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 28, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • ChrisP

      "Unanswered" prayers are God's way of telling you that what you prayed for wasn't in His Plan. We don't understand why innocent children are stricken with diseases and taken from life too soon – we can only accept that He has a reason that just isn't plain to us.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • just sayin

      atpmsd
      Never heard of paryer, what is it?

      March 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Skip the movie

    It is not necessary to see this movie to watch children fight to the death. Just turn on the news. Our childen' fresh from high school are sacrificing their lives for our country every single day. Save your money, or better yet give to the poor and needy.

    March 28, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  5. ashley

    I can see what the author is coming from, and I haven't seen the movie, but I did read the book. From what I've read, they didn't properly explain what exactly the Hunger Games are. It's a little ploy for the Capitol to tell the people that they rule them, they're not their own people, and in the end, the government is what is in control. The government has the power to take their children and make them battle it out to the death.and (SPOILER) Peeta and Katniss defy that when they almost commit suicide.(END) Personally, I love it.

    March 28, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • mary

      hunger games show the progressives what life will be like in obamas and all the elites have thire way. read The Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • JohnQuest

      mary, what has the current administration done or said to make you think that?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • WASP

      @mary: "hunger games show the progressives what life will be like in obamas and all the elites have thire way. read The Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan."

      ok how far along in the american education system did you attend? you have a fractured sentence along with a few misspelled words. please proof read before you start accusing the "progressives" of catering to the elite.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • jpip

      @WASP: but isn't it elitist to invalidate Mary's comments because her grammar isn't up to snuff?

      March 28, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  6. Al

    Reminds me of all the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion. That movie was also about more than just gross violence, ... supposedly.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  7. teena

    I am not sure if this world or any future worlds for that matter will ever be without violence.
    One can only hope!

    March 27, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • smartalek

      I can't be sure without a Google search, but I believe that, despite all the various big-power proxy-wars (Vietnam, El Salvador, Afghanistan) and local (Iraq / Iran, Palestine / Israel) and internecine conflicts (North Ireland, East Timor, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tamil / Sri Lanka, Arab Spring), the last half-century has been among the lowest in deaths-by-war of the last 2000 years.
      And what we largely have to thank for that is (among other things, of course)...
      ...the megatonnage of nukes held by the superpowers, and the knowledge of "mutual assured destruction."
      I wonder if the Lord has a sense of irony...

      March 28, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  8. daddylove

    Or, you know, it's OK not to watch a so-so film made from and unexceptional-though-popular young adult fiction piece.

    March 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  9. Melissa

    Danielle,
    This is the first time I've ever responded to an article I've read on the internet, but you've compelled me to do so. I am also disturbed at the audience's response. However, it seems you think the film doesn't deserve an audience, and that the audience of the film is like the audience of the Hunger Games. I agree that some of the audience didn't get the message, but please know that some did .The movie, I think, was meant for those people who get the point of the story. When I watched the movie in the theater, I was deeply disturbed by the audience in that some cheered and clapped when the knife-throwing girl and Cato were killed. I thought, "omg, did they totally not get the point???" then I realized they didn't. Look, I'm Catholic. This film is violent, but the violence has a purpose....To demonstrate how absurd violence is...To show how de-sensitized people can become...

    March 27, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • WASP

      @melissa: humans aren't desenitized to violence. we are by nature violent; that doesn't make it correct but it's how we are. humans have always enjoyed watching violent things, gladitorial games, boxing, any kind of physical violence, hockey.....lol even nascar,most folks watch for the wrecks. you went to see a violent movie that was advertized about violent games. if you are so apposed to violence why did you go see it to be astonished by peoples reactions to violence......plus if you want a really good source of violent television watching turn on your local news.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  10. Mike

    you mean the world won't en if I don't give a rat's rear about a knock off of a Stephen King book?

    March 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  11. Robert

    I really understand how there seems to be a great following of the books. BUT, is it really appropriate to make a huge, glossy film about teenagers KILLING each other nowadays? If we say that this is ok, then what do we say when it happens in real life? Books were bought by the millions glorifying the scenario of murdering teenagers, movie was made. It must be ok then! Remember, if we cannot charge teenagers with murder, (most of the time), because of their age, then why do we glorify it on the big screen and deplore it while wringing our hands over "How do we stop the senseless killing?" when it happens in real life?

    March 27, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Al

      Does the fact that the teens are being forced to kill each other off by the ruling authority make it any more poignant for you? It's a retake of the Greek myth of Minos and the Minotaur, with reality TV and the Arab Spring thrown in as well.

      That said, the first book was written passably well, but the other two seemed like they were just thrown together. There has to be better literature out there for young girls to read.

      March 27, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • ashley

      thats not what the book/movie is about, honey. there's more too it.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  12. Bryce

    OK, my point is this, why would an advanced culture like the capitol, who has airplanes, build a multi-million dollar high speed rail link to the sticks?

    March 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • momoya

      The high-speed rail is how the districts supply the capitol with their resources?

      March 27, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • ashley

      I don't really understand your question. lol, they can do it anyway they please, and a high-speed train going 250+ is pretty advanced lol

      March 28, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  13. Neil Haskins

    Not so important, but just to point out Panem dousn't have it's own top level domain like United States or China or Fiji does. The .pn TLD is from Pitcairn Island, population approx: 48.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  14. Jens

    what a waste of time.... Im usually into fantasy and sci fi movies but this really was a waste of time.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  15. epona41

    I'd like to point out, that, much like the Lord of the Rings, everybody misses the fact that in the end Frodo failed. In this movie, Katniss is NOT a heroinne. She fails. She gives in to the Game. She sells her soul in her false love for Peter. Nobody won here. This story was disturbing on so many levels.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Bryce

      Wow, get some help. it's a movie, fiction, not real life – get out more.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Alice

      She forces the president to have two winners declared. It's an act of defiance, and ultimately leads to the beginning of a successful uprising in the second book. I'll give you that she loses a lot of her hero's appeal by the end of the series. It's one of those I hurried through just to get to the end, like the Twilight books, which were equally disappointing.

      March 27, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  16. Mel23

    One would think the author of this article never read the books. The purpose of the games was not entertainment, but rather a propaganda tool to keep them in line. The movie is entertainment for us. One is reality (within the story) and the other is fiction (to us). She also lost the entire point of the story. The games are featured in the movie and the book as (SPOILER) the catalyst for revolution against tyranny. It is ridiculous to imply that, we as humans and hopefully moral beings cannot watch fictionalized violence, when the whole purpose of the violence within the story is to show how evil it is. It will hardly inspire people to be violent. The author's point is illogical.

    March 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Regis990

      the author is Christian...of course she is illogical.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Bryce

      Yea, and seeing people smoking cigarettes in the movies hasn't inspired millions to smoke and die over the years. What planet are you from?

      March 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Leslie B.

      So you're telling us that the people making millions of dollars off of this are producing a message that violence isn't entertainment? I find that hard to take seriously.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  17. CyraNose59

    Great movie.... just wish I'd thought to read the book(s) first, but will soon remedy that. I'd read that fervid fans would/might be disappointed. Loved the story of selfless sacrifice by Katniss to be a tribute in place of her sister and that both Katniss and her teammate refused to descend into barbarism...... it is about much more than the fighting. I'm going to see this again before it leaves the local cineplex. Reading some of the comments hee, I get the feeling that most of the folks who refuse to see the film are the same crowd who worried about being infected by the Harry Potter series/films (ie, loons).

    March 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  18. Wow

    It is just a movie isn't it? I mean I don't take the Terminator seriously. If I did would I be a bad Christian? Or would I be someone who enjoys watching movies?

    March 27, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  19. God

    I hate you all.

    March 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Everyone down here

      Whatever.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Four Jumps to Insanity

      You're not there anyway.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Bryce

      You're just a figment of the imagination of people with limited imaginations.

      March 27, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Whit from AZ

    i wish this article wasn't written–my mom is now referring to it as if it's absolute law. She, along with many others, apparently can't see past the Games itself. The Hunger Games isn't JUST about the fighting. It's also about how one girl has the ability to inspire hope to millions (the whole power of one thing) and other things like rising against corruption and stuff like that. If it was just about violence I wouldn't go see it, but it's NOT just about violence. So people need to quit being so narrow-minded about this. It certainly isn't a movie for junior high kids and younger, but there isn't a problem otherwise.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Ike

      I agree. It seems this article is trying to compare apples to oranges. The movie itself goes beyond senseless killing. Like you said, it's about how one girl has the ability to inspire hope to millions. This should be the kind of movie you need to watch, because no matter what the odds, you can still make a difference to change things for the better.

      March 27, 2012 at 6:48 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.