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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. notrocktsci

    I like how quickly people bash Christianity when doing so is no different than bashing an entire race of people for a few bad seeds. Your bigotry may be painted a different color, but you're still bigots. Base Christianity off of the good ones, not the bad ones. Then you'll realize that the best people you'll ever meet are probably Christians because they actually obey what Christ and the Bible says as a whole and not form their religious practices out of context.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  2. Unit34AHunter

    I have a better idea. How about we all skip church instead.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  3. Pete

    Can anyone tell me what the point of this essay is? It's really bothering me. Should we watch the movie? Not have good Friday? Watch Hunger Games in Church? I'm lost.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • mac

      Dont read the review is what I took from it.Wish I had been advised that earlier,would have saved me from the drivel that followed.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • kyalea

      It is one of those essays that you should take to heart if you are either christian and want to know how others christians are dealing with these themes or are interested in religions of the world. If you have no interest then the article should be disregarded. I understand the author is not setting rules on what a good christian should be watching, but rather saying, what are we doing about violence in general around the world and is it worth it to start a conversation about being less violent in all aspects of life, including the choice of entertainment. Most of us make up our own minds, some of us look for guidance, but this article obviously asks the christian to make up their own mind.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  4. morquasha Black

    well i love the movie it was good 🙂

    March 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  5. Sidrom

    Boy, did this commentator miss the point! All she seemed to notice was the violence. But the books and the movie are not about violence ... they're about struggling to make moral choices in an immoral world. And the most important moral choice is not, as this commentator seems to think, whether or not to watch. It's whether to kill. Christians, of all people, should see that.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Chris R

      Sidrom, I think you might be missing the point Suzanne Collins was trying to make. It's not about killing – it's about the moral bankruptcy of killing. Even when you are doing it for the 'right' reasons. It's about how the violence twists the people – that's why Peta was probably the only really moral character because he's the only one who cared about not becoming what the Capitol wanted – you can't even say that about Katniss.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Tom

      Sigh. I hate it when people who severely overvalue their own opnions feel the need to rant about the shortcomings of another's intelligence or judgement. If she wanted to discuss moral dilemmas, I'm sure she could've dedicated an article to it with the same emotion that she did this one. However, her point, which you seem to have missed, was that Christians especially shouldn't be complicit in witnessing acts of violence. Spare us all the diatribe next time.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Adam R

    This article is a serious waste of space. I kept reading in hopes that it would get to some pivotal point where I would say "Ohh, good point!" Needless to say that didn't happen.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  7. fail

    This movie was made 30 or so years ago. It's called 'The Running Man" And it was written by a much more talented writer.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Chris R

      Look, if you are saying the Running Man was a good movie you've got some issues. The story was really good. The movie was barely a step up from Maximum Overdrive.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Lillith

      again .. read the books. Movie writting and book writing are quite different. People killing people is nothing new, how it's used in the story is.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually, it was 24 years ago. And it wasn't very good.

      Logan's Run was 45 years ago.

      This isn't a new idea.

      And it's just a movie. Deeper ramifications for Christians. Please.....

      March 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  8. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Religions always try to gain attention from adding their $.02 worth to highly popular movies.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • The irrelevance of religion

      Yeah, they repeatedly tried to duct tape themselves onto the Beatles fame too.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  9. soma

    Movie or not, I think this an excellent critic! I never thought of it this way and I think it simply adds to the movie going experience.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  10. Minos

    Meh no thanks.

    When you read Manga the "A bunch of kids are thrown on a battle royal for survival were they kill each other in quite gruesome ways" is actually a quite cliche formula.

    Next time, show me something original Hollywood.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Lillith

      Read the books .. don't judge the "formula" from a movie version.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Minos

      Then I will just read one of the 1.000 Mangas I have read about the same thing.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  11. Randy

    Interesting take. I thought the movies trailers glorified the games as if it were in the ancient Roman Coliseum, and the violence concept turned me off to see the movie. My close friend has read the books and is anxious that I go see it with her.

    I suppose those that are attracted to this violence have enough mind power to realize that it desensitizes the populace. I'll wager that all the producers are interested in is a movie franchise that prints money, and not one that challenges the conscience.

    I have not yet decided I wish to spend my hard earned dollar on this movie, and this piece gave me another reason not to.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Chris R

      The violence is not glorified. In this movie people who revel in the violence are disgusting.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  12. Redemption23

    All these so-called New Atheist, non-believers and "Reason" minded people espouse the same rhetoric as the ones before them. This argument of theirs is nothing new and primarily comes from some painful event that took place in their lives. Even their God Darwin had aspirations of becoming a minister like his father, but due to the death of his daughter blamed God for this loss and sought a theory that is incomplete at times itself requires faith to believe.(Read Descent of Man) Far too often you guys judge God by the state of the world. Try judging the state of the world by God's standard and maybe your eyes will be open. Jesus has been scrutinized and examined before and his truth will still be here long after you have died out. Speaking of which, notice the "world" promises you so many new and wonderful things..........but notice "it" never promises you eternal life. Wonder why? Here's a truth! YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. Better find out who and why Jesus is?

    March 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Chris R

      Sigh, as a christian I find these sort of posts to be incredibly depressing. Look friend, Jesus wanted us to focus on the living. To care for and love each other. To reject violence and power and work for the community. This sort of not so sly "if you reject Jesus you're gonna burn burn burn!" is not only a pointless way to convince other people it's deeply insulting what Jesus was trying to teach us. He wanted us to focus on this world as much as if not more than the next.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Haxor

      Get off your mighty high horse and just let things be. Didn't Jesus say turn the other cheek? This is the reason why atheist believe they are in the right, though they sometimes do the same. So what if they don't believe in Jesus? So what if its their decision to believe in Buddhism, or Confucianism, Hindu, Islam, are Agnostic, Atheist, or Jewish.

      Way can't you just live and let live? Are you so prideful in yourself that you have to say that other people are wrong for what they have faith in? I'd worry more about whether you are following the true path of a Christian before hoarding above others head.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • mac

      So its that promise of eternal life thats got ya ,eh redemption? Sounds kind of self centered.Is that what Jesus was all about?

      March 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  13. ej88

    What if we skipped Christianity? Or religion altogether? Perhaps we're not meant to believe in a "higher power", but to simply live our lives as best we can without that crutch. Perhaps we should skip religion to protest all the harm it has caused throughout the millenia.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  14. billy

    I'm actually upset that I wasted 5 minutes reading this ....

    March 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  15. Michael

    If Christianity was so against violence, they wouldn't have committed millions of murders in the past 2000 years for the "good of Christianity". Get over it.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • chrisrapier

      If you read the New Testament you'd find out that Christianity is opposed to violence. The problem is that it has been perverted to serve the needs of dangerous power hungry people who skipped the whole "turn the other check" and "love each other as you love yourself" bits. The message is fine and noble. The practice leaves a *lot* to be desired.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  16. Gabe

    Soooo, just in case anyone is worried. This is a MOVIE, where you watch for entertainment as the silver screen portrays a wonderfully written book. It is not reality, the actors aren't being slaughtered, and we don't live in a future that pits unwilling gladiators against each other in mortal combat.
    Now, if that wasn't the case this article might have some relevance.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • chrisrapier

      Why is it so hard for people to deal with the idea that a movie (or a book, or a comic) might have more value than just mere entertainment. The author wrote the book as social commentary on reality tv shows and violence (she *says* this). Why wouldn't that movie carry some of that over? Why does it have to be mindless?

      March 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Gabe

      No one ever said that the book, or movie for that matter, should be mindless entertainment. My point was that the editorial was off point since the movie is not reality. It can serve as a cautionary tale but I don't think the movie was made so that no one would watch it.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Chris R

      I don't think she is saying no one should watch the movie because she isn't speaking literally. She's using something Gale said as a stepping stone to talk about violence and our addiction to it. That the best way to fight against violence is to reject it. She is also entirely correct in her assertion that the movie is ironic in the context of what Gale said. If you read the entirety of the essay you'd see the whole thing is summed up when she says "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." Which is something I believe, based on what Collins has said about the book, is the goal of the story.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  17. Lillith

    If you read the other two books of the trilogy, this little article would take on a whole new flavor. There's so much more to it than this movie treatment has yet portrayed.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  18. Chris

    Um, the movie is about power and what those in power (the 1%) do to the 99% – no different than the Church in Reformation times, in ALL religious wars, and the Church in general – rule by fear of the unknown and the known acts that occur.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  19. Boy people are stretching on this one!

    People, this isn't high literature! This isn't Tolstoy or Kurosawa or Nietzsche. It's just another sci-fi formula b-film whose only meaning is making a buck. If this passes for meaningful to you, your literacy levels are an embarassment.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Tess Tosterone

      If you read the books and didn't find meaning in them I think you need to check your literacy level.
      I agree it's just a book (trilogy) but you choose what you take away from it.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Craig

      Excellent post! Would that the ignorant masses find this much interest and discussion about the work of great minds like Aquinas, Augustine, Austen, Burke, Calvin, Cervantes, Luther, Scott, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, etc.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Too weird

      These are books for "Young Adults" – the target market is teeny boppers.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Aaron

    If people should skip anything with violence, they should first skip the bible.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:26 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.