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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. fredy L rojas G

    I think we are already living "the hunger games", with wars in the middle east and us just watching the news as they unfold in the comfort of our houses it is a sign the games have already started. Look at Syria, we see how the power of few have controlled their food supplies, bombarded their neighborhoods and killed thousands of innocent people...until we decide to do something about it, “The World Will Be Watching"

    April 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  2. Chill out

    It is a book. It is a movie. It is for the sake of entertainment. Don't find the topic entertaining, there are plenty of other novels. Go read that one!

    April 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  3. yenewok

    a friend recommended the book so I got it read about one third and was sick to my stomach and didn't finish reading it and told my children not to let my grandchildren read them or watch the movie. I hear some school libraries have the books and that is really disturbing.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Cielo

      Wuss. It's a great story with an important message. We as a society are ALREADY greatly desensitized to death and violence. Tens of thousands of people die each day around the world, and yet we don't know about it, nor care to think about it and especially not DO anything about it. Our video games are violent, the cartoons are violent, and heck even the BIBLE is violent if you bothered to take off your rose colored glasses! THIS Story, the Hunger Games is about become RE-human! I haven't finished the trilogy yet, but something tells me that HUMANITY will win out in the end. But that WILL take WORK. And those that are afraid to look, to really SEE, will allow the status quo to continue and people will continue to die nameless and faceless. And people of FEAR, like YOU, will allow it to continue.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Lisa

      I find the concept of being de-sensitized to violence interesting. Didn't people used to fight hand to hand combat? Didn't people used to kill and chop up their own animals for meat? How were they able to do that if movies like "Hunger Games" is such a controversial issue. I guess humans were meant to buy their meat in neat little packages at the store?

      April 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  4. LisaP

    I'm an atheist but I found this to be an interesting article if you ignore it's "christian" message. I was in the theatre really enjoying the movie, glad it followed the books so well, and when the victor was announced, the theatre clapped and cheered. Isn't that ironic to anyone? In watching the movie, I felt like a Panem citizen and that was disturbing to me.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  5. Stefan Stackhouse

    I haven't seen it, and I refuse to watch. Yes, I get the underlying social and political critical commentary. Be that as it may, the idea and depiction of children killing children for entertainment – and of our watching it for entertainment – is just SICK, SICK, SICK.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Cielo

      And really, just think! We ALREADY allow "Sports" and otehr forms of "entertainment" that already pit kids against kids; football, baseball, even disgusting Tiny Tot Beauty Pageants! Each of those activities results in some "death" of the childhood of that child. The Hunger Games isn't a made-up story so much as an extrapolation of what we ALREADY PERMIT.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Lisa

      The movie was so so really. You won't be missing much if you don't go see it.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • fuzzer

      I agree 100%.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  6. hellodollyllama

    This is the stupidest article I've read in months. CNN has really slid down a slope.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  7. Chi-town Gal in Houston

    I am a Christian. I read and enjoyed the book. I saw the movie and did not enjoy it. It had nothing to do with my faith. I did not like the film because I thought there was very little depth of character development, the acting was bad, it was too long and frankly I could not make myself care about the characters. The only thing that was worse than the movie was this stupid article. To the author of this article - it was a movie, get over it! Everything is not about Christianity.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • yenewok

      I can see why you would enjoy this christians and other faiths ae the most violent people in the world.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Lisa

      LOL at yenewok's response to you. From one war mongering Christian to another who has seen this movie, I agree. It didn't move me. I cried when Rue died but other than that, the movie was flat. I blame the material though I haven't read the book. I just can't bring myself to believe the lemming-like behavior of everyone except for a few of the main characters and the lack of bounderies everywhere devalues the plausibility of most of the story.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  8. fuzzer

    I would like to post a minority viewpoint. I look at all movies through the lens of my faith. I know this is a well written and "exciting" story. However, the take away point for most people, children and adults alike, is that the children in the games HAVE NO CHOICE. YES, THEY HAVE A CHOICE. They can choose not to kill. If I had to live, to sit down in front of a meal, and know that my child chose to kill so I could eat it, I would vomit. What about the great non violent role models in our society – Ghandi, King, Jesus. Is living worth doing anything for? I think that is the bottom line question.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Cielo

      Than you fuzzer are an idiot. ALL people are CONDITIONED as to what they can and cannot do. This society has been forced, through violent means, of never revolting or in ANY way show displeasure with the government. So, NO the children AND the adults HAD NO CHOICE. Somehow, suicide is NEVER a choice. And without a leader, resistance would be nothing short of suicice.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  9. freeonlinegameshere.com

    I used to be recommended this website by means of my cousin. I am no longer positive whether this publish is written via him as no one else realize such particular approximately my problem. You are wonderful! Thank you!

    April 1, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  10. DEP

    *

    April 1, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  11. Jodie

    I am amazed that people even take this story seriously. This is not relevant to Christianity and I for one am so sick of the Christian faith assination. Get up off of it, it's a book!!!!!! and has no religious base.

    March 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  12. Cristina

    I think people are rushing into this movie without reading the trilogy. Yes, I said trilogy. There is a story there, it's not just a movie about kids killing kids and two kids fall in love so they get to live and everyone's okay with everyone killing everyone. Read it, THEN watch it. Or does anybody read anymore?

    March 31, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Lisa

      I don't think anyone said that at all. There is more and this movie did introduce many problems to be addressed but it failed miserably at setting up any anticipation for more let alone appreciation for itself as a movie.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  13. Matt

    What a waste of my time, reading this article. Relating this series to Christianity? Can you seriously think of nothing else to write about? Your Harry Potter @ Yale words must have sparked someone's attention, but this is just rubbish. Get off CNN.

    March 31, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  14. Angelica

    Please!! it's just a movie, the only disturbing thing here is the mislabeled PG13, it should be rated R. Other than that you as Christians dont have to agree with every movie out there, if we cant live in the real world we might as well just move into a cave, or become amish.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Fred Saud

      Are movies the real world or are they a precursor to what the real world can become once we have accepted the harmless big screen version?

      April 1, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  15. Dman

    This has to be the biggest piece of crap to come out of Hollywood since The Adventures of Pluto Nash.. Premise? It's the future and every year 24 kids have to run around killing each other until only one lives. The future people put a lot, and I mean A LOT of effort into setting this up. To the point where it's sorta creepy..Future people get off on kids killing kids and they have really bad fashion sense. They've developed completely new technologies specifically for children killing. Next two kids fall in love and they live.. The End.. As if Americas children weren't already doing a pretty good job of killing each other, now there a movie that glorifies it! Guarantee in the next few weeks little Johnny is going to walk out of his house and get impaled by a spear because some dip shot kid just watched The Hunger Games. DUMB!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Dave C

      You really don't get it. The movie is about opression. Those who rebelled against the government and lost now have to suffer making a choice of near starvation or getting more food for their families if their children increase the chance of being chosen for the games. The games themselves and the enforced viewing of them are a reminder of the horrors that the government will bring down on them and their families should they try and rebel again.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • ans

      It was a book, genious. Not an idea that came out of Hollywood. Read much?

      March 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • waileka

      I loved all three books and I'm 63 years old. For me it was just sci-fi and a very good read. Gee, I don't understand why everything has to be 'interpreted' to mean something political or spiritual. Sometimes it is just a good read (like CS Lewis books).

      March 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Aman

      I thought the C.S. Lewis stuff was supposed to be allegorical? Aslan the lion = jesus; etc,...

      March 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Mary

    Wouldn't want any young christians to stop drinking the Kool-Aid, would we????

    March 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  17. Diana

    What?! That doesn't happen in real life? Phew...I didn't know what to think since so many conservatives are in support of sending 18 year olds to the middle east right now. And watching those young middle eastern boys holding guns, they can't be any older than 14 years. I guess it's all fake, right?

    So glad we cleared that up. To think that people support children going into violence is monstrous. Our society would never approve of such an atrocity! 😉

    March 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Lee

      On December 1, 2009, President Barack Obama announced at The United States Military Academy in West Point that the U.S. will be sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Antiwar organizations in the United States responded quickly, and cities throughout the U.S. saw protests on December 2 in response.
      So the current admin. is conservative ??

      April 1, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • MidwstrnGrl

      Lee: no choice but to wrap up a war started by someone else. quite different. dont love the latter at all but quite different.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  18. Johnnnn

    Don't watch.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  19. Sunnylovetts

    Hunger games is a agenda 21 model for how the elite want society to be. The sad part is that I'm not even kidding. This film is like a mirror into their demonic design for society.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Think Instead

      get back on your meds.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  20. madison

    News flash Ms. Tumminio, it's a movie! Or did you forget? I'm fairly certain if someone decided to air a REAL fight to death among children there would be an outpouring of protest. However! It is only a bunch of actors running around a movie set, so why don't you cool your jets and enjoy it.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • CM

      We do air those, every night on CNN or any international news network. Nobody cares and nobody watches. Maybe the real horror isn't the idea that we might one day accept it, but that we already do so long as we aren't forced to look at it...

      April 1, 2012 at 7:41 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.