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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. Marc

    The best thing about this article was that it was relatively short. Where does CNN find these bumbling fools? As for Hunger Games, go enjoy yet another mindless, derivative (plagiarized), overhyped, kitsch teen flick, if you are into such things.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  2. Ty

    I have to admit that I thought it could be satyrical as well. And now its symbolic and ironic too. Great food for thought – if you will allow yourself to think from more than one perspective. Thats what I think is funny about so many of us though. So many people can't think reasonably from more than one perspective so we automatically criticize due to our own incapacity to think.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  3. ruemorgue

    Hey, stupid. If you don't want to see the movie, then don't go. Stop lecturing other people, you self-righteous hypocrite.

    March 30, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • ABRAHAM

      Thank You!!

      March 30, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  4. Scratching My Head

    'The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio."

    What opinions – she never gets to a point, any point. Just obtuse rambling.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  5. Trey

    people look too deep into crap, just watch the damn movie

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  6. Stumpage

    This article is proof positive that everybody just needs a good slammin' from time to time.....

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  7. HeyZeus

    I think the Good Minister's thoughts are very interesting. I believe she got it a little wrong though, as she stated that the movie is mandatory to watch from the citizen's perspective, but that Christians have the choice of witnessing the trials and pain of Jesus.

    While no longer Christian myself, I remember my Southern Baptist up-bringing, and it was considered sinful to question the motives or the facts of the Bible. That said, it would be equally as sinful to NOT have mandatory worship for Christ. That is the truth of Religion, and the only truth that I have found in many decades of learning, study, and history research.

    No matter what religion you follow, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, The Flying Spaghetti Monster it holds as fact that it is MANDATORY to worship your deity. This has been true since the first bi-pedal form decided to worship a cow pie in a field 250 thousand years ago. "god" dictates to his(her) followers.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • JD

      Are you worshiping a deity? Well then I suppose it's not mandatory. You miss the entire point of worship. And realize as well, that just because A CHURCH tells you one thing, doesn't mean that's the way it is. That's presumptuous on your part. Worship isn't mandatory, it's given freely, that's the entire point–its by definition, not mandatory–otherwise its meaningless don't you see? I'm sorry you've given up your faith, but it doesn't mean that what you experienced in your So.Baptist youth is what is actually taught in the Bible. I hope you reconsider your faith, because God wants you to worship him, he doesn't make you. I'm sorry people messed with you, that's the problem with religion–not with God.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  8. JD

    Very interesting perspective, and totally relevant to me, even though I highly doubt Collins meant any connection–she seemed to avoid religion quite pointedly, when I read it. But it does ring home for me whenever I watch the Passion of the Christ or anything so bloodily depicting the death of Christ. Its interesting how the Bible really doesn't spend that much time on the "gore" or violence aspect of His death but we these days tend to expound it. I think (personally) this is probably derived from the Catholic Church mostly. I'm studying abroad in Ecuador now and a protestant Christian and one thing I see in all the Churches ARE huge vicious representations of the crucifixion. Perhaps this is to aid in lamenting the death of Christ? I kind of doubt the article's point that Christians use this imagery to *found* their anti-violence sentiments, I think that moral thread runs much deeper in the life and teachings of Christ. But this paradox is SO real for me as I watch, say, the passion, or hear a "gory" sermon. Why do we NEED to know the details? I think the difference between knowing and experiencing is paramount in this writers point, because while we do "know" the hunger games through the eyes of Panem, as it were, we DON'T "experience" it AS Panem, we experience it as Katniss. Just as we don't experience the crucifixion as Pilate or a pharisee, we attempt to look into the experience of Christ. In that sense its a matter of perspective as well.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  9. Danielle Allen

    I feel like the author of this article missed the point of the movie: that one person's courage can change an entire society for the better. The violence was just a way to show how corrupt the government was and the urgency of the situation.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  10. rosie

    This movie is about communism and how it will destroy our society. Really, a girl archer, killing people. HAHAHAHA. What a load of crap.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • no name

      I thought it was about military dictatorships or a monarchy. I didn't get any commie vibe at all. Why can't a girl be an archer that kills people. Is Rosie short for Rosie Palm?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  11. phelanka7

    "Battle Royale" is a more entertaining movie about pitting children against each other in battles to the death.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • no name

      Battle Royale – very nice obscure reference! Well played!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  12. NickZadick

    Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest.... Strange.. you seem to be cultured and intelligent... Why do you promote bronze age fairy tales? Do you not know about science? stop wasting your life!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  13. Liz

    I dont know what's more disappointing: the fact that this column has no clear argument/point or the fact that I wasted 5 minutes reading it.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jim Steadman

      It took you 5 minutes?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Lrrr

      Burrrrrned

      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  14. David

    holy father, I wish I had read the whole article thru. I do not care about this jesus nonsense. Its a movie and jesus is a book. two different media....ya know?

    What'd Jesus say when he was on the cross? ????? AGGGG!!! OWWWWWWW!!!!! IT hurts!!!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  15. David

    Huh? Panem is a country with its own Internet Domain?

    I guess...if Panem is actually Pitcairn island to whom the PN domain is assigned.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  16. LynnJynh9315@yahoo.com

    I find the real moral to be this: No matter how good a film may be... you can always count on a Christian reviewer to bash it.

    Maybe that's the real reason why church seats are emptying... ....

    March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • David

      amen praise Henry. (I worship Henry)

      March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Dwight

      Way to give a gross overgeneralization. I saw the movie, and while I had some issues with it, I don;t think I would say I could actively bash it. I know plenty of Christians who actually really enjoyed the film as well.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Jim Steadman

      Actually, the movie sucked, no matter which God you worship.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  17. metamorelia

    Loved the movie. It is secular fiction, and as so has absolutely no reason to be juxtaposed against religious beliefs or calls by Christians for empty theater seats. In fact, church seats are naturally emptying as reason and secularism spreads across the world. Perhaps the real story here is that envy is a green-eyed monster?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  18. boocat

    It's just a dystopian movie...sheesh...who cares?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • David

      I love Dystopian movies and books. eat 'em up.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Lrrr

      I'm with Dave. Gimmie a bottle of victory vodka and some Soma and I'll be right as rain before I'm out the door...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  19. kevin

    I know I am skipping it.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  20. SeeNN1

    Saw the movie last weekend and it seems to be an artificial hype/cult following around it. The movie is just not that good. It seems that nowadays all you need for box-office success is a bunch of good looking – brooding teens and a goth ambiance. The movie had a crap storyline and very little was left to the imagination. I wasted my money.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:09 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.