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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. AR

    Is it just me, or does it seem like this editor never read the book? This article is taking things to a literal context, which is completely wrong to do, in the first place. It is a story - (that means that it is fake) - and we are to watch the movie of a (fictional) story so that we can be entertained by said story. So, what would happen if we didn't watch? Well there are billions of people in the world so getting everybody to stay at home instead of enjoying a night out is impossible.

    However, on the flip side, if the world doesn't end this year and we are instead in a post-apocolalyptic world, I would be in the Capitol so that I don't have to worry about my kids getting killed.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  2. AGuest9

    "I even found myself jumping up and down with excitement as I entered the theater with my husband."

    How old is this woman?

    March 26, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  3. Mike Bertrand

    This was my disturbance in reading the book. I am 61 years old, a 'child' of another era...and one who recognizes this theme as a repeat, sorry, a blend, of several other writings. Very well done and a good read, but a repeat.
    The author seems an honorable lady, so it's hard to drop this here, but this book gave me the impression it was written to be a "blockbuster" movie...one who's three writings can be turned into six mega-movies. It seems very packaged to me. Not at all original, unless you've never read Animal Farm, 1984 or Lord of the Flies....or Vonnegut/Roddenberry. I'm just sayin'....

    March 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Ndlily

      I'm 37 and in almost every way a child of this era, and I still found it sickening that the book was written for young adults and the movie made. The author is a decent writer and the premise all right for an ADULT book. As if our children need one more reason to think life is cheap.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  4. Jason

    The point of the Hunger Games is so deep that most of the comments I have read (note I did not read them all) are seriously off topic. First of all, its a reference and a warning about how we as a society are becoming "reality TV slaves." Yes that is right Hunger Games is a reality TV parody where the rich have no fear yet the poor are required. In the case of districts 1, 2 and 4 (in the book) they are even taught from a young age to be career Hunger Games participants. Secondly its about how a single person can change the world that they live in even when they dont want to be the person that brings about the change. Third its about humanity and the fact that when faced with a kill-or-be-killed world most will choose to live yet our heroine Katness chooses to maintain who she is and protect those that she can (Primrose, Rue, & Peeta). If you read the rest of the books you will learn exactly how much Katness cares and the lasting effects that the games have not only on her but on everyone who participates.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Russ

      Joan of Arc...

      March 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  5. The 666 Club

    I won't be seeing this movie but not because it's violent, but because it looks like crap and because Battle Royale was first and did it much better.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Phillip Nolan

      I'm sorry am I detecting ignorance? You have NOT seen the movie, and yet you say it is a piece of crap...
      I'm sorry but the hunger games has a critic score of 85% with the "professional" critics giving an 80, and the audience has an approval rating of 85%. I'm sorry, but do you live on planet earth?

      March 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  6. Sakura

    The book's intent was to create revulsion for Panem and its games (and all such societies). It successfully did so for me. I hope the movie will as well, but I fear many people in this country will see the movie and think how awesome it would be if there were hunger games in real life.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  7. River

    The heart of what she is writing, and her link with religion (Christianity) and Hunger Games comes in this paragraph – "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." I believe this is true for those that are truly looking at this from a spiritual perspective, and there are many examples of individuals living this way. It becomes problematic and muddied when you consider all the injustices done in the name of Christ/God.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Phillip Nolan

      Lets. . . stay off the christianity, I know it is mentioned in the article, but. . . it really doesn't fit here

      March 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • River

      Except that it is one of the main points of this blog entry, and this is the belief blog. Think outside the parameters of what she explicitly writes then. There is a great parallel with what she is saying can motivate a Christian to act and what is causing many to act after seeing what happened to Trayvon Martin.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  8. roblearns

    Let me just say that I did not watch Hunger Games. And for that reason I can see the argument that I'm not qualified to comment on the movie.

    However, I didn't go for this reason, I read a review beforehand that the key to the movie was to tell a violent story without glamorizing it.

    My experience in life, is that Hollywood fails on that score every time, and ultimately the key is to stop telling violent stories as entertainment.

    Are you kidding me – in the future people watch death games, but what about 2012 – Hunger games is just watching a fictional version of death games, but is in every way similar to enjoying the death of human beings.

    If we weren't such a violent society, this would be obvious. My wife, who is foreign born, went to see the movie, because of the buzz – she did walk out on the movie, she said it was disgusting.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  9. confused

    What was the point of this article?

    March 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • roblearns

      The point of the article was to be cautiously and half-heartedly against violence.

      In defense of the author, it's such a controversial subject in america that you have to walk on egg shells.

      I'd put it more bluntly, don't watch Hunger games because its a glorification of violence, the only way I'd be fair to hunger games, is so are half the other movies – don't watch any of them.

      It's ok to be disgusted enough by violence that you don't pay $20 to go watch it.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  10. olepam

    I will NOT be watching this movie. I have a problem with the underlying concept of it and I do NOT watch reality shows on TV either. They are mostly all complete trash and it is horrifying that they are so popular with viewers.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Phillip Nolan

      The problem is not the violence, it's just the bad camerawork which is way too shaky to help the movie. It's actually nowhere as brutal as you think, and the performances on part of the actors is excellent. But then again, it's just me, everyone has their opinions

      March 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • RLSD

      So then, you're not seeing the film because you completely agree with the movie's message? Ironic, but certainly your choice.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  11. Scott

    This show is horrid. I apologize for sarcasm, but "Isn't it wonderful to watch young innocent people forced to kill one another." I read the movie spoiler, and it looks like the major part of the movie is watching the youngsters killing each other off. Seems absolutely barbarous to me.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • CATHERINE

      This is so true Scott, It makes me sick the way people can watch violence. I am appalled that people would go watch a movie that has young people killing other children.. No, I have not seen this movie and will not, I watch CNN, I see the children I Syria being murdered and maimed and I can barely keep my tears back or my stomach in. If so many people are not worried about showing this, then what about the gangs, are we not showing them indifference to life and don't tell me It's just as movie. We as society have made television the one thing to point the finger at and say, "the violence on television had to have something to do with the way that child went in and killed all those children at that school. oh and don't get me started on video games...." COME ON" Indifference the word that makes the world go round .

      March 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  12. bw80209

    didnt know "christianity" was a religion... thx, but i'll believe in MYSELF, not voo-doo. BTW–it's a MOVIE

    March 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Aletheya

      Just curious, if you didn't know christianity is a religion, what did you think it was?

      March 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  13. Urafkntool

    Seriously.. why would anyone watch something that looks this stupid?

    March 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Phillip Nolan

      The book is great and the story is great, the camerawork has problems, but the actors' performances are great

      March 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  14. Susan

    I remember that in high school we read a short story called The Lottery. It was very similar and I wonder if this story is where Suzanne Collins got her idea for Hunger Games.
    The only reason I will not go is that I have read it. Like The Lottery, I found it depressing. Some people simply are not de-sensitized at all and do not need the stimulus. Thought provoking idea though. God Bless us softer Christians who live in a world we were not made for.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Becky

      Her influence was from reality tv. Pure genius.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • dondondon

      I also read the lottery in high school and thought of it when I heard about this movie . I will not see this one. Perhaps it has a good ending, but as a society, we move ever closer to the gladiator games of the romans. I remember watching the almost real time videos from the pilots perspective as vehicles were blown to bits in Iraq.....The Americans loved it.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • MSKATE!

      I believe she got the idea by taking a look at what is on TV these days and noting that if "reality TV" keeps upping itself, how far will it go? There are aspects of the Lottery, but I think she's kind of reminding America that what's on TV, even the reality shows where we sneer at "dumb, ugly girls" who get kicked off of the Bachelor, has real ramifications. These contestants go home, sometimes crushed.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • HungerGamesIsRunningManForTeens

      Hunger Games is a remake of Running Man for teenagers.

      The character development is bad to say the least.

      A rule change (and some soggy bread) somehow causes the couple to fall in love. An awkward kiss makes it true.

      You know the plot of the entire trilogy by watching the first ten minutes.

      Hint, the games will be stopped by the star(s) of the movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  15. Punky Bold

    The author of this article simply does not get the story. Did she even read the books, rather than wait for the abridged movie version? I'm a bit of a lit snob; I do not usually cow to bestsellers (I'm still hurting from The Davinci Code...ouch!), but the Hunger Games are part of an important genre – the distopia novel (1984, Brave New World, The Dispossessed, etc.) – that I find particularly intriguing, because it has a 21st context. No wonder the Millennials (and some fellow Gen-Xers) are hooked. Think about it; we were raised on violence, reality TV, being part of the 99% that feeds the 1%'s greed for wealth and power (Districts feeding Panem), and the idea that we are powerless to change the crazy socio-economic, entertainment-pacified, thought-less world we have found ourselves in. If the author of this article had read all the books, understood the story in it's entirety, then she would understand that it is a story about dissent. Where all this Christian stuff comes from is beyond me, except that when people are this religious, they often feel compelled to overlay their thinking on everything. The article has no real point to make. It's nonsense. The books do. I haven't seen the film for the first book yet, but I hope the thinking behind the novels is as clear on screen. I'll find out this weekend.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Susan

      I don't think you understand what she said because you are not a believer. Do you read articles written in a foreign language and presume you understand? Neither should you read this and think you understand if you are not a Christian! Or is your perspective the only one to be had?

      March 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • the truth

      Susan.. What the hell is a "believer"? I "believe" you and your ilk know nothing and presume to know all. The religious are largest plague on this planet and have been complicit in almost every major violent act on this planet. Believer's begone..

      March 26, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Punky

      Susan, why are you so angry? i think you missed the point, i.e., that not everything has to do/relate to Jesus. Its a dystopia story. Period. And just because i have pointed this fact out does not mean i am attacking you. Lately, there have been a lot of whacky Christian interpretations of things on cnn. As a Christian, you should ask yourself if everything someone connects to your faith is true, in line with your belief. Example, if i said that the death of Superman was about the death of Jesus in America, would it be true? Why would anyone care. It might make for some interesting discussion, but nothing to get upset about. The hungEr games is a story. It has no religious undertone. It takes place in an imagined future. The author of this article is grasping at straws. It was also poorly written, poorly interpreted (again, she clearly did not read the books)

      March 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  16. Whats The Point

    The Hunger Games taglines "attendance IS mandatory" and "The World Will Be Watching" are successful marketing decisions because they both a) reference the film's dystopian setting and b) playfully challenge the audience to watch, but also c) earn audience trust by having the film not necessarily admit to, but certainly reference, its own mainstream, box office aspirations.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • ana

      The first and only accurate comment on this board. It's not "cynicism" to suggest that clever, ironic "meta" marketing pulls dollars.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  17. SokrMom

    I gather that it took this woman a while to figure out what lots of us knew from the get-go: there is no good reason to see a movie about children killing children. A lot of the right-wing religious crowd liked the Hunger Games trilogy, however, because the moral of the story, when you finally reach the depressing end, is that all governments are corrupt and that it is okay for somebody who thinks the government has done them wrong to assassinate an elected president (yes, that is what poor put-upon Katniss decides to do in the end). Of course, all governments are not corrupt, and the best remedy is always participation, not violence. So, I would encourage everyone to avoid this and all subsequent Hunger Games movies and focus on getting along with others and working to keep our government among the best in the world, as it has long been, despite occasional mistakes.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  18. the_dude

    Gosh dangit all to heck this movie sucked the big one.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  19. hello

    excellent take on the film and book – one I hadn't come across yet.

    March 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  20. † In God We Trust †

    God Bless Christians.... Christianity only truly religion

    March 26, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Umm Well

      Nice troll, but yer a loon.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Duh

      "Christianity only truly religion"

      That's why only 30% of the people on this planet are Christians.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Actually 33%..... 3% are still hundred million people. In fact, there are many closet Christian believers out there who cannot convert to Christianity, such as in Islamic countries.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Duh

      "3% are still hundred million people. In fact, there are many closet Christian believers out there who cannot convert to Christianity, such as in Islamic countries."

      Read your rule book moron – lying is a sin.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Dr. Jen

      On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.

      Poster 'In God We Trust' is in fine company there. Congratulations.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Shawn

      Actually its far less than 33%. There are many former Christians that (thanks to the age of information)have figured out that Christianity is just another of the hundreds religions humans have created. They just don’t come out of the closet and break their parents brainwashed hearts.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Yepp keep believe whatever lie you would like to believe in.

      'God with us' and 'In God We Trust' is not same thing. In God We Trust is U.S. motto. So that means America is a nazi country?

      BTW Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. killed HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of religious people in their name of Atheism. Disgusting!
      Hitler later rejected his faith and became a silly atheist

      March 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Duh

      "BTW Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. killed HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of religious people in their name of Atheism. Disgusting!"

      Religion has killed 3 times that 480 million give or take a few – it's religious nuts like you that are disgusting.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • the truth

      Why do loons like "In god we distrust" continually spread lies and half truths? The ruthless dictators and ideologues you use as a examples of the negativity of atheism are a false flag and another lie promulgated by religious nutbags. Those regimes would have killed anyone with affinity for anything else other than the state regardless of spiritual affiliation and DID. You might want to check your numbers as those are outright fabrications.

      http://articles.exchristian.net/2002/10/how-many-people-have-been-killed-by.php

      March 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Don't confuse other false religion with Christianity. Christianity is nothing but peaceful and loving.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Keep spreading false beliefs.... Atheism = Communism = Mass murder leaders = Gothic/Satanic

      Keep Atheism AWAY from our children and living things. It belongs to h.ell !!

      March 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      Please don't confuse fact with opinion. Your OPINION is that Christianity is the only true religion. As not everyone holds that opinion, please don't state it as fact.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Aletheya

      Every religion says it's the only true religion. *shrug*. The truth is, the world would be far better off without ANY religion. Not to say "spirituality", one can be spiritual without being religious, but organized religion is the greatest curse the world has ever had to endure. The mere fact that you set yourself apart from the rest of humanity proves the point.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Phillip Nolan

      SHUT UP WITH THE RELIGION CRAP, this is a movie, SO TALK ABOUT THE MOVIE

      March 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • shootmyownfood

      It is too bad that you don't believe people should think for themselves. Any organized religion is a power trip – to make people obey! FYI – a "belief" cannot be true or false – it also cannot be proven. Anyone can believe anything they wish, and although you may convince them to change their beliefs (to maybe match yours), you cannot call what anyone believes "false." Beliefs are not true or false – they are unique to each individual.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • dondondon

      what do you mean by that ? you should look up the definition of religion.. its like saying steak is the only true food

      March 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Christianity is the world's largest religion and spread throughout the world almost in all countries except parts of the Middle East (Islamic states). I love Jesus forever!!

      March 26, 2012 at 7:05 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.