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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. bg in oregon

    But wait, there's more. The movie and christianity have something else in common ......they're both FICTION!!

    March 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  2. bryce

    People don't go to movies to see celebrities, or great performances, or to see how the story turns out. And they certainly don't go to the movies to learn.
    They go to the movies to see themselves, or a self they wish they were.
    Is it any wonder then, that advertising and marketing for this movie is intended to make the target audience to feel as if they are indeed citizens of Panem?

    March 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  3. Ran

    Rescue Jesus? What is she talking about? What would be the point if Jesus didn't die? That God could just forgive....that a human sacrifice wouldn't be needed because an all knowing God would understand that humans are fallible and will make mistakes. Clearly a human sacrifice makes up for all that. Duh.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  4. Kevin in SF

    This blog is as silly as it is out of place. First off, the writer offers no evidence of having seen this movie given the just plain wrongness of her thesis point here. Did she really see this? Second, I am already challenged in taking seriously these literal bible interpretations – and it becomes impossible when it is paired with such mundane content and comparisons. First Harry Potter and now this.

    I'll tell you what. My belief and interest in Christianity has been eroded...and it's been almost entirely by Christians. It's disappointing.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Sarah in KC

      Interesting. I have felt the same way for years. I grew up Christian, but now it seems common sense contradicts so many of the stories in the bible. I no longer believe word for word what is written. I have not seen Hunger Games yet, but find it disheartening that this author seemed to jump on this as Anti-Christian. Why does everything need to be Christian or non-Christian? Why can't we look at it for what it is- entertainment, a story, nothing more, nothing less.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • What if

      Kevin,
      I am really sorry to hear that. Jesus Christ is the best thing that ever happened to me and I hope you will get to see this too. Lord willing, you will spend more time reading the bible and He will work faith back in you.

      Peace.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  5. LinSea

    Perhaps the author of the article hasn't read the books. It's the people in the capitol who cheer and gush and gamble over their favorite tributes. In the districts, watching is MANDATORY. Harsh punishment is handed down to anyone who tries to avoid watching the brutality.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  6. Rick

    I keep accidentally clicking on these silly religious blog articles thinking they are news until the opinionated ignorant sputum starts to flow. This dribble has no place on a news site. Sent this crap over the fox news.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  7. Anchorite

    If she thinks HG is incredibly violent, she should watch the film the entire trilogy was shamelessly ripped off from: Battle Royale. Now there's some violence. It also happens to be genuine sociopolitical commentary instead of just enough to give the trilogy some meaning but still focusing on the tear jerking trials and prettiness of the main characters.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  8. D

    Much like "white people problems" we catagorize this as "American problems"

    March 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. Emilio Dumphuque

    I was dragged to see this film, and I thought the overall premise of this society was ridiculous and made NO sense, even within it's own internal rules! But in the darkened theater, no one can see you roll your eyes.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  10. Andrew S.

    @Chrisrapier: I didn't intend to imply that "..it completely undermines everything else she has to say." I thought she got her point across quite well.

    @River: I agree that it does have a website, I'm not disputing that. The way she wrote, it appeared to me like she was saying that this fictional government has its own country code, which it does not.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  11. Sarah T

    As a born again Christian who went through Sunday school, confirmation, and a Christian college, I find this article absolutely and completely RIDICULOUS. First of all, it is quite a stretch to compare Jesus on the cross to The Hunger Games. I am pretty sure God does not mind us having entertainment, and I doubt he's real worried about The Hunger Games, so why is she? And if the author thinks that the reason we remember Christ dying on the cross on good Friday is to help us remember to "protest violence," boy has she got some problems. As Christians, we remember Jesus dying because he died for us and took on our punishment. THAT is why we remember it – it makes us grateful for all He did for us and because of being grateful we want to live for Him (and since this author seems a little fuzzy on theology – maybe I'd better also tell her that the Bible is pretty clear that nobody can be "good enough" to get into heaven on their own – we are broken and human. THAT is why Jesus died, he died for us and took on the punishment that we deserved, we just accept what he already did. Pretty sure that is a more important message than "avoiding violence" and not watching The Hunger Games. How utterly stupid).

    March 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • WorldBelow

      from everything I've seen in my life, god doesn't care about anything human

      March 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Jess

      Well said!

      March 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  12. Mark Rand

    I went last night and thought the movie was horrible. I also read the book first and that was poorly written, just like this article.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  13. Too weird

    Funny the Christians are trying to associate themselves with a movie like this, when the original book is in fifth place on the American Library Association's list of most banned books for 2010 for being "sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence."

    Christian values bans it, Christians take credit for it.

    Weird.

    It's just a book for juveniles.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • ohforheavenssakes

      Uh... wait a minute... Christians are NOT trying to align themselves with this movie. This particular author, who is Christian, is saying that she sees parallels. I'm Christian, and frankly I don't see any parallels at all. Please don't lump us all in to one category. We actually are not one giant person with "The Christians" tattood on our foreheads.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • nathandf

      .."Christians take credit for it" ... that is Too weird. To be sure, an Episcopal priest represents a small corner of the christian market and can only speak for a few, if any.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  14. BB

    Sounds like a not-so-subtle political panic ploy "Oh noes this is what will happen to America" thing.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • nathandf

      you mean it's not happening!??? So I can put my archery stuff away? – dang!

      March 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  15. Kat-A-Tat

    This article was painful to read.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier

      She wrote a similarly insipid article on Harry Potter a while back as well.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Dave

      She found the recipe for attention:
      1. Be a professed Christian
      2. Glom on to some wildly popular movie
      3. Don't say anything terribly religious-right-y about said movie
      4. Show up on CNN

      The only step she missed is the one where people read her writing and come to view her as erudite and informative.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Pebbles Flintstone

      Ditto. She made my head hurt. 🙂

      She put way too much thought into a youth novel and movie. Anything can be picked apart and deeper meaning found. For me, it was an entertaining book and movie. Nothing more.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  16. Dave

    It's a movie. Get over yourself.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      It's just an article, just somebodies opinion get over YOURSELF!

      March 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • lori

      totally agree.. it's entertainment.. everything in this world is NOT racist, political, etc.. go enjoy a great movie.. we all know it's fiction..

      March 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  17. CHRlST

    How do I report an article like this as inappropriate?

    March 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Ron

      @Christ...tell your Dad.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  18. Cosmo

    What I think is amazing is how desensitized we are to violence in our society. Here is a movie about a bunch of teens killing each other, and it gets a PG-13. Whether or not they show kids actually dying or not, that's a pretty heavy subject. On the other hand Bully, which may help kids to be kinder to each other, gets an "R" rating because a couple F-bombs are dropped. Are you kidding me? We have become an overly violent society, and we don't even seem to care too much. This isn't a Christian issue – I'm not Christian, and I don't think I would let my 13 year old go see it. We need to examine how we view violence, and start ratcheting it down some.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • MarcusInMN

      Well said. My thoughts too.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  19. Josh

    Summary of the article:
    1) The author is a Christian
    2) There's a movie out now called The Hunger Games
    3) Easter is coming

    That's all I got from this article. Maybe there's some internal debate within Christian circles about whether a PG-13 movie is too "secular" or not, but seriously, why is this worthy of a spot on CNN?

    March 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • River

      Because it is on the Belief Blog where people come to think about such things and maybe pull out a little bit more then you did.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Matt

      lol River. Christians are always hijacking stuff

      March 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Lets see, it's in the blog section, check. It's in the religion section, check. Ummm, so whats your problem?

      March 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Roden

      No, you got it right. All the hidden meanings are for those who choose to live their lives searching for imaginary conflict.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • River

      Matt, that has nothing to do with my comment – this is not worthy of 'news' but it is worthy of a belief blog. As to the point – "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." This is not an 'outstanding' article, but it was never meant to be. Just some thoughts she had that she is sharing...on a blog...and that is what blogs are there for.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Roden

      ...except this was on the front page. Headlines. See?
      I hear you Matt, we are not alone...lol

      March 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • River

      Roden, I guess that just falls into my 13 year old's "whatever" category. CNN had different sections, they are all lumped together on the headlines and features, and it is up to the reader to decipher where the article is coming from.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  20. Richard Williams

    With civilians being bombed and fired upon by government forces in countries like Syria while we stand by 'watching', I don't think that we should feel that far removed from a society where the wealthy live in luxury and order the killings of the innocent in order to send a message to the rest of the population.

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

      Richard, the last time we tried to stop governments by bombing people, we did so by ... bombing people. And I bet you weren't a big fan of that either. It's pathetically easy to point out what doesn't work. It is infinitely harder to come up with something that will work. Maybe you could put some effort into that ...

      March 26, 2012 at 5:57 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.