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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. notimportant

    Why would anyone watch such a movie? keep in mind that this is a movie, a money making machine. There is no "mesagge", let alone a clear one...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  2. JayJay

    Why does CNN care about what an Episcopal Priestess thinks about a teen movie after she smokes a doobie?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  3. Derek

    If you want to see a slow, super boring, soft core feminine version of Battle Royal and Running Men.. This movie is great!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Derek

      Watching this movie made me think its demographic was aimed at younger kids or teens.. But then I realized neither should be watching this BS in the first place. That would be a shame.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  4. AJ King

    Instead of ripping this movie for the horrible violence it portrays, can we not for a moment step back and look at the spiritual truths we can learn from this. One of the best scenes from the movie I think is when Primrose is selected in the Reaping. We then see Katniss sacrificially take the place of her sister and head off to almost assured death. Katniss knew that if she took the place of Rue that she would most likely be killed. But despite this fact, she chose to step down and become a living sacrifice.
    Isn't that what Christ does for us? He saw our hopeless state, how we were headed for death. Then he stepped in and faced death for us so that we could live. And just like Easter, it ends well as Jesus conquers death, just like Katniss meatphorically "Conquers death" when she survives the arena.
    As a Christian myself, I don't believe violence is the answer by any means. But if you look past the violence and the horror, it does paint a beautiful picture of what Christ did for us.
    Food for thought

    March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  5. toxictown

    "...to voluntarily bear witness to that reality ..." LOL, really? The only thing real in the bible is the oppression it caused over the ages. Fantasy fiction just like the Hunger Games.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  6. benedictus

    It is simple. "The Hunger Games" may displace "Network" as the most prophetic movie ever. This film should offend JEWS; CHRISTIANS; ATHEISTS ...EVERYBODY.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  7. agentzac

    I'm definitely gonna go see it now...if it offends Christianity, it must be excellent...thanks for the promo!!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • JPX

      Word. If Christians are offended by it than it has to be good. I find it ironic that the author of this article saw the film and then wrote an article about why we shouldn't watch such things. Typical Christian hypocrite.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • V

      Really this is what turns you on? weather or not someone who is a Christian says it is good or bad? That is hillarious! You are unable to make up your own mind based on your own opinions. You need to rely on someone elses opinion; than out of hate go against it. At least Christians have an opinion based on weather or not they feel something is right or wrong.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  8. Ricky

    What a stu pid article. Yeah, let's not watch the movie that comments on our obsession with violence, reality TV, and xenophobia. That is the Christina thing to do. To ignore our problems. Religion is the opium that keep the masses happy, so they don't realize they are getting screwed. Religion today (Christina here in the US) in is what the games are to this futuristic society; you cannot speak against it, because they will crucify you for inciting rebellion against it (ironic I know).

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Ricky

      What a stu pid article. Yeah, let's not watch the movie that comments on our obsession with violence, reality TV, and xenophobia. That is the Christian thing to do. To ignore our problems. Religion is the opium that keep the masses happy, so they don't realize they are getting screwed. Religion today (Christian here in the US) in is what the games are to this futuristic society; you cannot speak against it, because they will crucify you for inciting rebellion against it (ironic I know).

      March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Jim Warn

    Some of us Progressive Christians believe that Prayer changes people in the midst of the "things" which come upon them.
    After seeing poster on film, I had this sarcastic thought that we might have to do this for decent health insurance.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  10. ithinkthat

    This is why you shouldn't take acid before writing.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  11. jamdfh

    A female ordained Priest goes against the very religion she practices! That's the real story here, not the movie! Just because a few post=protestants made up a new version of christianity doesn't make it any less confusing! How does that work with the Old Testament?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  12. Barry G.

    The good news is, the Hunger Games isn't another vampire movie.

    It isn't–is it?

    March 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Camelenema

      Thank god for that.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • History Bear

      Amen brother!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Davis

      Yesssss. It is nothing like that other trilogy.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Ricky

      The president smells like blood. Hmm, not sure.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • humbug

      Right. But the bad news is, its a bad movie regardless. Don't spend $$ at the theater.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Sam Yaza

    Sure don’t watch a movie about a woman empowering and insighting individuals to rise up against their corrupt government

    March 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      that the "Christian" thing to do

      March 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • c

      October Baby is playing too 😉 That is the story of a very strong and courageous young woman

      March 28, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • Camelenema

      "inciting". Not "insighting". Unles, of course, you mean she's empowering people with prescience. Now that would be cool.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Response

      Wow. Way to miss the point entirely. Are you not feeling like a very empowered woman is that the problem?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  14. Warm

    In contrast to the article, I wanted to see the film to see how the protagonist brings down a reprehensible practice in her world. I wanted to see triumph over abuse of power. I mistakenly expected to see it happen in this first film and only later learned there are more films in the story to come. So not everyone was watching for sadistic purposes.

    One thing the author's right about, though, is that humanity's sadistic side may be the draw for many audience members. In fact, Hollywood is so tuned into its audience's psychology that Hollywood isn't saying not to watch the film. Hollywood is saying it already knows we will.

    March 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  15. FredInIT

    If you are disgusted by the book, movie, Freddy Kruger, politicians, clergy, what someone just ate, or just about anyone or anything else – I suggest you pick up a copy of That's Disgusting by Rachel Herz before you go grab your Holy Book. I think you might be enlightened to understand why you feel the way you do about the emotion of disgust.

    I watched the movie, with my wife and son, who also read the book. We used both the movie and book to discuss why we can't let over zealot right-wing religious types or hyper-social left-wingers run amok in our government or the media. Yes, you have the right to free speech – not taking that away from you. I just don't want you taking away my right to turn you off, either.

    March 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  16. Payers are a waste of time

    Prayers are a waste of time – Proven truth!

    March 28, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • not sayin

      March 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Marty

      A few days ago, I prayed you would say that.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  17. c

    It cracks me up how people justify watching this movie with their little ones. "It's just a movie, it's entertainment, it's nothing" Yeah, nothing if you call systematically desensitizing a society nothing. I allowed my 15 year old to go watch it with a bunch of her girlfriends. I didnt want to in fact I discouraged it, as I feel the whole idea of enjoying people hunting people down is demented, but, she is old enough that she needed to decide if it was right or wrong and I cant always make her choices. And the fact, that she and her girlfriends were more interested in the hot guys than paying any attention to the theme. But, what saddened me were the parents showing up in droves with little little ones, like 8, 10, and 12 years old. Wow, so darn sad. So you really think allowing your 8 year old to attend a movie whose plot is the death of children is proper moral training? It is very apparent that we as a people are allowing hollywood and celebrity to dictate our morality and that is a sad sad slope

    March 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Ceege

      I agree, anyone who brings their 8-year-old to watch a PG-13 movie is not the best parent. My mom and brother went to see the movie with me, and when talking about what age groups would also be watching it, my mom said that it was probably not okay for you to watch if you weren't old enough to compete in the Hunger Games (age 12 is the minimum).
      I myself am not interested in the books or movie for the violence; it interests me to learn about how people behave in crises: impulses, whether they stick to their values or not, whether they work with other people or by themselves, etc. It was also very thought-provoking to read about how an oppressive government keeps order in its regime, and how it tries to convince its citizens that what it is doing is actually okay.

      March 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  18. Jack Kieser

    just sayin, you know people who were heal from cancer AND who were prayed for, but you cannot empirically claim that they were "healed BY prayer". Scientists, Christian and otherwise, have attempted large-scale double-blind testing on the effects of prayer on healing and actually found a NEGATIVE correlation (people who were prayed for actually had WORSE health than otherwise). So, don't make lofty claims you can't back up.

    March 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 28, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • pauleky

      Really? I prayed and prayed and my dad still died of cancer. As did my grandmother and my aunt. Nothing fails like prayer – nothing. Telling me it's all part of god's plan means nothing to me. Apparently, his plan includes burning babies alive in plane crashes or house fires, too. Or having people you love die a miserable death of cancer. Please, feel free to pratice your religion, but please stop with the "prayer heals" b.s. It clearly does not.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • just sayin

      Personally know several persons healed from cancer by prayer, know several others who were not. Sorry for your losses, looking forward to the day when God eliminates cancer from the face of the earth. There are many cancers related to chemicals and radiations that science has unleashed on the earth. Besides healing there is good evidence to suggest that we as mankind clean up our mess to avoid some future innocents being afflicted.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Bo

      "Prayer changes things."

      I've been thinking about this statement. What I notice most is the word 'changes'. It doesn't say 'fixes'. Prayer might not reverse a situation but it might bring some help. Here's what I'm thinking particularly: Prayer doesn't necessarily reverse my MS, nor do I really expect it to. On the other hand, it does help me to cope. No, it's not the only thing that I rely on but it is a tool of sorts. Yes, I believe prayer can change things but I don't believe it's your ticket to a utopian life on Earth.

      March 28, 2012 at 1:19 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 28, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • just sayin

      I'm an insensitive, delusional idiot... sorry

      March 28, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Brad

      I'll go along with that Bo. Prayer is really meant to change the one who prays, as Kierkegaard would say.

      March 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Gabe

      anyone who says they "personally" know people cured of cancer, through prayer, are either complete liers or horribly delusional psychopaths, or even just gullible idiots who pay money to attend faith healings. It's pathetic.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  20. Josie

    When I saw the movie, there was a group of middle school age girls who were obviously there because it was the most popular movie, they giggled, laughed...until the first real scene showing someone killing another person, and then the gaps. People this movie is to make you think about the fact that we as humans tend to be entertained by violence. Not only that, they did not really get the message of the fact the GOVERNMENT is making this mandatory as a show of power...with the catch of it being entertainment as well. The next two books are not any less violent, but in the end the message is clear and the series is well worth reading.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Aaron

      Honestly I do completely agree. Taking the nations name "Panem" foreshadows the true meaning of the existence of the book and the movie that soon came after. "Panem et Circus" is the roman term meaning "Bread and Circus" showing the duality of the Roman's efforts in keeping the people happy. Bread – Give the people enough to live but never enough to fill comfortable and miss understand a place in the Roman hierarchy and Circus – To provide entertainment to allow the citizens to forget their condition within life with excitement and terror and a feeling of satisfaction. A very comendable and smart tactic for controlling the people but ultimately relinquishes the rights of people and edifying the power of the elite. Rome's Circus became the collesium and the gladiators and Panem's Circus is the Hunger Games and its "Tributes". This only makes a person think if devices that are in place in america now(Movies, Television, Sports, and extreme stunts) are all forms of circus to only allow a certain way of thinking that follows the government unquestioningly. But hey, this is coming from a sixteen year old that edifies education believe it or not. But the book and the movie is for each nations self-examination beyond your choice in religion. Religion isn't the factor its government and reform.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:24 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.