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. Jim in PA

    Hm. I was thinking that the Christian parallel wasn't the crucifixion, but rather the fact that early Christians were themselves thrown into Roman arenas where their death was for the amusement of the Romans.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Good idea

      We should reinstate that.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • me2012

      Yeah, that's hilarious "Good idea", I can see you're the kind of open-minded person who likes to persecute people for their religious beliefs. So cool. History always remembers people like that so lovingly

      March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Good Idea

      Apparently you have forgotten all the people that Christians have persecuted because of their Christianity? For centuries, non-Christians sufered miserably at the hands of Christians. Even today, Christians persist in their persecution of gays and other groups.

      And get a sense of humor, dingbat! Only an total moron would mistake that for a serious intent.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • TeePeeEl

      Only...this movie has nothing to do with Christianity.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Truth

      @Good Idea – Joking about torturing and killing those who disagree with you is neither civil nor funny. Please think before you type.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  2. brian

    Interesting article.

    I read the book but chose not to watch the movie for the reasons you allude to. The idea of watching a "survivor" reality show where teenagers fight to the death disturbs me. We are supposed to be disturbed that reality shows and civilization have degraded so far and yet here we are participating in it (granted there is a big difference between it being real and pretend.) Mostly I didn't want to go through the revulsion of watching kids fight to the death again.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  3. GEKnight

    Some reviewaers have called the Hunger Games 'satirical' and say it takes on modern reality TV. It must also be mentioned that it is also historical and biblical. Rome, they greatest and longest lasting emopire in history, put on bloody shows for the masses. Many Christian martyrs became famous for dying there with passive dignity. Their triumph stands today in the Vatican, while the Roman empire is long dead. Whether passive or active, reaction to such inhumanity as the hunger games can only succeed when based on solid righteous, humanistic truths. Katniss's tears are just as potent as her arrows. God bless Suzanne Collins.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  4. Rabbit One

    the reason why people write and read (and more often watch) garbage like the hunger games – is because they have no stronghold in reality and no creativity and understanding of reality – therefore they go to fantasies – but i wish they would think about reality – and come up with some actual ideas about it and responses to it.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      Well, I suppose you could catagorize as "fantasy" the notion that an empire would force subjects from its outlying provinces to battle to the death for entertainment of the masses. Or you could call it the Roman Empire. Whichever you prefer.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • prophet1965

      Dude – take a look at box office receipts. True stories TANK at the box office. People want fantasy.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Vivi

      Or, fantasies are created to draw direct parallels to reality, like Huxley's "Brave New World" and Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." As Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

      March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I cant see how someone could use the argument that people like fantasies because they have no creativty seeing as how it is creativity that makes these fantasies in the first place.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • TeePeeEl

      Yeah...it's terrible to have an imagination! You should never allow something to take your mind off of what you should be doing...BURN ALL BOOKS NOT DEALING WITH REALITY!!!!

      March 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  5. It' has been done before

    So what's so great about this movie that is basically a Battle Royale remake?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      Actually you could add "Running Man" and the remake of "Deathrace" to that list as well. This is a pretty well used concept, but you can always do a fresh take on an old concept.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  6. Imagine that

    Dumbest article I've read lately. Are you guys hiring ? It's got to be an easy job to land......

    March 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Badger 1

      true dat

      March 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  7. BigRed

    OK...Frankly the article is an incredible over analysis of a young adult's book and movie. Why not just go to the movie, enjoy it, talk about it a little and then just get on with life? Books and movies are either intellectual exercises or escapes. But, we don't really need people thinking for us. We'll interpret the movies and the real world on our terms and not some neophyte philosopher reporter's opinions.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Truth

      @Big Red – sticks and stones . . . why are you reading the article if you think it's a waste of time?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Izoto

    They let anyone publish articles on here now?

    Oh please, take a number and join the BS line. Ugh

    March 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  9. fradric

    Your article appears to me like enticing people to watch the movie. Good strategy! it works for me as well. I'm on it and will watch it. You're so successful.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  10. p gibson

    the hype is purely about how superior womyn are to men. It is transparent as glass. It is somehow intended to be their next vehicle to all – out male bashing, where the only virtuous one, you guessed it, in a fantasy movie where most of it is un-real, is a woman.

    it's PR for women.

    Why on earth would a man, in his right senses, watch such a piece of fiction ?

    Recall, that all of your "liberation" comes at great expense to men.

    You disagree ? then please explain Alimony and it's function in American society. If a woman was as boss as is claimed, why, oh WHY oh why do you still collect it ?

    women have been gunning for men for years, and this is just another civil rights film.

    I personally think they have enough rights – the right to steal my children and 1/2 of my paycheck seems like one of them.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Jason

      Holy crap do you have some serious self-esteem issues....

      March 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • ozarkchips

      @ p Gibson. troll less? on the off chance that you are serious, read book two and then three. Peeta is not dumb.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • drb

      Only men as stupid as you are...idiot

      March 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • amy

      You obviously haven't read the book. The greatest aspect to it is the love that Katniss feels for the people in her life and the love that those people in her life – two of them men – have for her. There's not one shred of feminism in there AT ALL. Unless of course you are confusing women being able to hunt and fight for themselves as feminism. Are you?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • cryofpaine

      And so ends another meeting of the He Man Woman Haters club. Thank you all for coming, you can have your parking validated at the front desk.

      I'm sensing someone is going or recently went through a messy divorce.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • SuZieCoyote

      Oh, for pity sake.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  11. Larry

    War is peace

    March 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  12. GOD

    If prayer works so well, why do churches install lightning protection on their roofs?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Larry

      For the same reason I wear a condom when having coitus with your mom. Can never be too careful.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Paul

      Funny... I'm a christian well founded in my belief, but that is funny...

      March 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  13. Wise Notes

    The author came up with the idea for this book when flipping the channels and seeing programming about the Iraq war and reality shows. We are not supposed to watch the movie as members of Panem, we are more than Panem – We are the capitol. We send peacekeepers to more than half the countries in the world "to make the world safe for democracy." Yet we intentionally keep our eyes closed to the poverty and horrors that people in other nations face so we can keep fat and entertained.

    We are the capitol. America is the capitol. Americans are citizens of District 1. That is why citizens of the capitol can watch the Hunger Games each year. It is no different than the way we watch wars wage on every day. We even put our own citizens who train and believe it is an honor to kill others for our nation.

    We are the capitol, and we remain fat and entertained.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Syndrome Zed

      If America really was the Capitol, I think someone would have blown the author's head off quietly and discretely long before this book was allowed to be wriiten.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  14. travis

    i think you looked between the lines a little to much, just watch the movie and enjoy it for what it is, a MOVIE

    March 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  15. Just more proof atheists are more intelligent

    This may be the dumbest article ever put on the Belief Blog. How did this fluff-brain get a job at CNN?

    I vaguely remember her picture. She wrote some other really insipid article, about Harry Potter I believe.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • TeePeeEl

      Yup...amazed at what CNN and Fox approves for publication.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  16. Confused Christian

    What confuses me is not the points made here or the points made by the author about the movie. All have a place in the greater debate. In this great country, we have freedom to debate and speak freely about these things so please let us exercise this freedom, many have died for it! What concerns me is the references a ordained minister/priest makes about Jesus. Jesus did not take the cross to remind us to fight against injustice or to help us to continue his ministry. HE took the cross for one reason only. HE became the one and only perfect sacrifice for all sin. So that no longer would anyone have to sacrifice animals once a year. The LAMB of GOD. HE was blameless and without sin. HIS blood is what allows Chrisitians and ANYONE who accepts HIM to live an eternal life without punishment. Once the blood is removed then Jesus sacrifice goes away. I know that there are those that will attack me for my beliefs, but I accept that in this country where we have the right to worship as we see fit just as we have the right to speak what we think to be the truth.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Jason

      I like your name but I think it applies to all Christians right? Jesus wasn't on the cross for those reason I agree. In fact, I would say that there was never a jesus or any mythical person like that. We laugh at the greeks for believing such fantastic gods in their time or mock the egyptians and their prehistoric sounding ways of life and worship but is your belief really any different? The more we understand the world the more religion is fading. Read up in history. Don't just say you know it and just don't say you read the bible front to back and fully understood it and then say it is 'just and right'. It is ridiculous and an evil book. People obviously don't know how christianity really started and who was the first person to talk about jesus. Don't be scared to read history and find out the truth....even if it conflicts with your beliefs. Jesus = Santa Claus for Adults.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Critical thinking skill would help Christians immensely

      No, Jesus ended up on the cross because he was a rabble rouser, a minor irritant to the local government, and they dealt with him the same way they dealt with all rabble rousing irritants. He didn't choose it – Paul invented that later because he freaked about an Old testament line about how people nailed to trees are always guilty. Jesus got busted, his followers scattered like cockroaches, he himself realized he wasn't a god in this "moment of doubt", and they nailed his butt to the cross, same as they did for many thousands of others.

      Nothing special at all about his experience. He was so unremarkable that there is no contemporary Roman or Jewish record of him at all, and the first writings of any sort date decades later, from people who almost certainly never saw of met him.

      And if he really was a deity, then his "death" was a sham, a fraud intended to indebt people who weren't even born yet. There is nothing less significant than the play-acted "death" of an immortal being.

      Pure theater, with the intent to manipulate. Does that sound likely?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm |

      @ JASON – Don't you dare speak ill of Santa Claus. He is real because my mom and all the holiday caroling books said so. Why would anyone make up a song about Santa Claus if he wasn't real? Seriously, I am 28 years old and how dare you tell me Santa Claus is not real. I'm going to write to Santa this December and tell Santa he can keep those two front teeth, because all I want this year is you on the naughty list! I hope you get coal!

      March 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  17. Hannah

    Wrong. Many Protestant faiths observe Holy Week and Easter, along with Eastern Orthodix churches. Do some research before you snark off.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  18. becool 1981

    fell for the hype, went to see it...it was at best mediocre for me..i dont get the whole publicity about it.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • BigRed

      I'll wait for it to be in the bargain movie bin at Best Buy. I'm sure it will be right next to the Flintstones movie. From the sound of it, that probably won't take too long.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  19. Cadillacjoe

    The fact that Christianity decries violence is ironic, given that the symbol of the religion has nothing to do with Jesus' life or message, but how he was brutally killed. Crucifixion is particularly cruel and violent, something the Romans enjoyed as a spectacle. Celebrating it in the name of religion seems odd at best.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • me2012

      Again, the crucifixion is not about the torture ultimately its about the triumph of the resurrection and the fact that Jesus Christ is the living God

      March 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  20. svann

    "On the Thursday of Holy Week, Christians keep a symbolic vigil with Jesus,..."

    I think you are confusing Christians with Catholics.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Jason

      Many Christian traditions keep vigil on Holy Thursday. Catholics are the most visible, but Episcopalians do as well. She is an Episcopalian priest.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Thinkingisfun

      Catholics are Christians...so are Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, etc.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • nw

      Catholics are Christians!!!!!!!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:21 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.