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. Ladybug

    I could write an article comparing Panem to the Church very easily. The Capital City could just as well be the Vatican City building wealth on the backs of the poor. Children being sacrificed to Priest who after being caught just get moved to new churches where they can abuse their power. The question could be what if people stopped going to Church. So this might be a movie that should have been up there on the Boycott list like Happy Feet was. Makes people think about how people in power abuse that power until they question it and no longer a complacent about it. That kind of thinking is bad for Christianity.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  2. Joy

    Isn't this blog pointless becuase you DID watch? I will now sit down and do drugs and blog about how NOT doing them is realllly good for the world.
    Hm, be the change you want to see in the world

    March 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  3. malathy

    I agree with Danielle. I think the portrayal of violence in all our entertainment avenues, as well as the actual violence in the world...albeit in "far off" lands, has desensitized us to being compassionate, caring, empathetic humans. We trivialize fights and blood and gore because to us, in our cushy seats, whether in the theater or our basements, it is "not real". I recently learned more about this while dealing with my brothers PTSD (he is a Veteran) – that to him, the wars are real, the horrors true happenings of human meanness and cruelty. Whereas to the rest – it is just a 'story'. While boycotting such movies may not solve the problems, it might help to raise awareness that its NOT ok to watch violence for entertainment and mirth. There is nothing wrong in promoting good thoughts, actions and words.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • just sayin

      Help! Dial 811!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  5. Maty

    I'm up my high horse!

    March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  6. UtahProf

    We watch this ugly scenario in movie form so that we (hopefully) will not have to see it play out in real life. With each passing day, the US and other countries around the world become more and more like Panem. "We the people" need to get angry and stand up to the oppressors/tyrants while we still can. It is time to draw a line in the sand and declare "ENOUGH!" ... today.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Truth

      I read the book, but having done so, I avoided the movie expecting a graphic reminder of the disturbing passages I read. I don't dispute the possibility that the author wanted to suggest it is time to draw a line in the sand, but if that were her purpose (instead of just to display a fictional tragedy that we can't look away from) why not create a world very similar to the one we live in now, but with enough consequences to show us we are on the wrong path? Wouldn't that be more effective?

      March 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  7. kyle

    I think the thing I find most amusing about this article is that christians are so often the most bloodthirsty. It's liberals and atheists that protest wars, while the "religious" right cries for revenge, to turn countries to glass. The people protesting mosques who's close proximity might actually provide some cultural understanding/learning/cooperation are virtually all christian.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • me2012

      you're absolutely right and that's so sad, kyle. all I can say is that people are all imperfect, we should all better understand that Christ taught us all to love each other as he loves us.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • MG

      Atheists are peaceful. Always excepting, of course, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Pol Pot who between the 5 of them were, in less than 100 years, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Anyone who claims that any group must be judged and held accountable for the crimes of it's predecessors must accept that same standard. Or should we just accept the fact that every group has it's saints, its monsters, and people just trying to do the best they can.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • kyle

      MG, Hitler was and always will be catholic. Christians often have this convenient way of saying anyone who doesn't behave as a christian should ISN'T a christian, well sorry to say but Timothy McVeigh and Hitler were Christians. You are correct that we can't hold everyone in a group up to the behavior of a few, but in the cases I was mentioning I didn't include ridiculous past massacres, I was using current events with significant number christians involved. I didn't even mention westboro baptists. If you want to dispute the specific things I said go ahead and TRY.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  8. me2012

    I sortof get your point, except that you're overlooking the actual reason that Christians celebrate Easter and venerate the Crucifixion. It's not because what happened to Jesus on Good Friday is horrible, and we take it as a message to protest violence, we don't. Accept that Christ loves the meek and persecuted, his own crucifixion has absolutely nothing to do with that. He dies on Friday so that he would rise again on Sunday. In doing so Christ conquered death and cleansed mankind of all it's sin, he look it upon himself and conquered Satan, so that whoever believed that he was their savior could be saved. Christ's ministry was partly about protecting the meek and loving our neighbors, but ultimately it was about God's glory, and that's why we celebrate Easter. It's not some protest of torture, that's a very weird appropriation of easter to make your point, everyone on earth knows that's not what it's about...

    Also, the Hunger Games is fictional and this doesn't happen, but I do understand your point about us being desensitized to violence, and it's a great one!

    March 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  9. Papa Georgio

    What if we didn’t watch? Well, you got to watch, so that just wouldn't be fair.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  10. Mike, Cleveland OH

    From the sounds of it, mushrooms will be required to enjoy this movie.
    Just like The Matrix.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Truth

      Are you suggesting drug use will make this movie better? If you are joking, then your comment may be funny. If you are serious, then you need to rethink the effect of drugs on your mind, body and soul.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  11. Dan Bednarik

    A continued message of our times - kill and kill and kill. Our movies, TV shows, video games, everything... All conveying the same thing. Humanity wants to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at CNN, everything in the world is grounded in death. Maybe it is time for man's extinction. We may well get our wish.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  12. gojo

    Astounding ignorance! The author missed the primary message of the story and, even more disappointingly, flubbed the significance of Jesus' crucifixcion, a foundational event of faith, and she's (apparently) an Episcopal Priest! I can't speak for all Christians, but this woman definitely does NOT speak for me.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  13. Jennifer

    Good commentary, but there was just one thing wrong with it. We see what happened on Good Friday (the Crucifixion), a very violent death, to remember the pain and agony that Jesus experienced to die for our sins so that we don't have to experience that eternally. That is what Christians see in the Crucifixions, among, perhaps, other things.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Theodore Simon

      Yeah right. According to your myth, the guy who knew he was a god and wouldn't die goes on the cross. That puts his "sacrifice" down at about the level of a root canal. And he did it to make us all indebted to him forever? Right.

      Like a real God would have needed to do that to remove sin anyway.

      It's not just unbelievable; it's impossible, and it's downright stupid.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • gojo

      @ Theodore; nevertheless, He did for YOU too. Because He loves you. 🙂

      March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • kyle

      Careful Theo, you know how christians love their guns and get very violent when they think they are being persecuted.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • me2012

      I hope you see how wrong you are someday Theodore Simon, and stop feeling so angry toward Christ, he died for you and loves you with all of his heart.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Chris Synfield

      It's a common tactic amongst many Christians in discussions like these that when they get a question they can't answer or a position they can't defend/hold, they go with "why are you so angry?" or other such deflections. As soon as I hear a Christian in a conversation retreat to "where is all this anger coming from?". Passive/aggressive insulting. Also a warning sign that you have lost the debate. You're done. Night night.....

      March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Truth

      @Chris Synfield: Perhaps some comments (like the one above) aren't worth the time to argue.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Tak Tochna

    You know, when right-wingers blather on about how jacked up CNN is, I tend to laugh at them, but when I read things like this, I have to admit they may have a point.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Karaya

      Just don't forget who the author is most likely to vote for...

      March 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Tak Tochna

      Good point. Maybe the Belief Blog is where they dump their token morons, uh, conservatives.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Name required

      "Just don't forget who the author is most likely to vote for..."



      March 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  15. Karaya

    Lady, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

    March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  16. Tex

    ...maybe taking this movie just a *tad* too seriously...?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Yo... Wassup!

      aite man! chillax!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Lolla

      What do you expect from someone that takes Books seriously?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  17. onestarman

    WE WATCH – The CRYING and SCHEMING on 'The Bachelor' or SURVIVOR. We Watch the Video-Game-Like DRONE STRIKES on Faceless Terrorists. WE WATCH and LISTEN to the Criminals and vigilantes gunning Children Down and wonder WHICH is Which. We Watch but but we ever really SEE.

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

      Get help for your multiple personality disorder. All those "we"s are just you.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  18. Anthony

    "incredibly-disturbing violence"

    Lol, this person hasn't watched too many movies as of late. Rapid flashes of blood is not incredibly disturbing.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • onestarman

      At ONE TIME it Was -THAT is the QUESTION – WHY is it NOT Disturbing to You Now?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  19. Fiction and reality

    It is okay for the movie audience to watch fictional character Katniss fight for her life. It is not okay for any audience to watch real people fight for their lives.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Amazing

      Wow, what an insight. Really groundbreaking thinking. Did you need the Bible to help you understand something really obvious like that?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Yo... Wassup!

      many of us are watching war victims in news bulletin. watching homeless people begging, fighting to survive. etc. is it ok? i guess it's ok to watch them. the real question is, is it ok to do nothing?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  20. Bill

    You are really digging too deep on this. It's a movie.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Aunty Venom

      It is a movie, an adaptation of a book, that has a (if not several) messages that can be gleaned from it. If all you get out of watching a movie or reading a book is a couple hours of distraction, then the problem isn't this writer digging too deeply, the problem is you aren't digging at all.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
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