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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. Unimpressed

    The movie was just Lord of the Flies meets Twilight, with a bit of 1984 thrown in for good measure.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Ituri

      I must have missed the vampire vs werewolf scene. Care to point it out?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  2. Ituri

    I saw many themes in the movie, but not one iota of religion, and I never once got the feel it was about not watching the MOVIE itself, or movies in general. I think this writer genuinely missed the point, which was one of non-involvement in travesties, rather than overt agreement through simply watching things happen around us. We can do nothing and go on with our lives, or we can DO something and tell the people creating more victims to STOP.

    Such as the government starting frivolous WARS wherein innocent people and children are mur dered, like in this story, in the name of the "national security" of a country who's power vastly outweighs the power of those innocent people, who are simply struggling to survive under oppression. (All the oppressed districts under the thumb of an all powerful government.) Or the theme of rising up against ones oppressors when the tragedies become too great to bare? (Rue di es and her district revolts.)

    Or are larger themes like that just too difficult for this writer to grasp?

    March 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  3. ThisGuy

    Stupid. I think the author is reaching a bit here. Don't over-analyze, just take it for what it is.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  4. meemee

    Regardless of what religious pandering is done because of this movie, it deserves to be criticized. The plot of sooo dumb and unlikely, unrealistic, etc., that only the most credulous simpletons could like it. Sorry, but this is just too dumb, kids. Sad comment on what goes for "science fiction" or even science fantasy. The Post Feminist touch of a girl child hero is also just tooo..... predictable and panders to the vanity of teen girls, who seem to be the main ones excited about it. I don't think that Christianity is realistic or even useful if you're searching for the truth in life, the real truth, but I agree that this film deserves to be ignored, or at least laughed at until it is forgotten.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • chris

      im a dude with a big c0ck and i like the movie and think you are likely a 40 year old virgin. and its a sci fi movie you tard @ss.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  5. † In God We Trust †

    Atheists will BURN in h.ell in less than 80 years.... life is too short. Convert & Be saved!

    March 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • BlatantAtheist

      god I hate stupid trolls.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Judgement Day is coming sooner or later.... life is short! Be prepared

      March 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • WASP

      @in dog we trust: you are an example of why the world should never be religious and why the USA won't ever be a theocrasy. you're on a blog about a movie spewing crap about a figment of your imagination and telling people to convert before the end? i will say this slowly for you w-t-f type of message are you sending saying crap like that. study your bible again. jesus was nothing like you crack-head.

      March 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Huh?

      wow IGWT you are such a troll but thanks for showing the world what idiots fundamentalists Christians are, since you don't know your bible. 😉

      March 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  6. SilentBoy741

    The really big question for me is why all the characters have names that sound like fragrances of feminine hygiene products.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Sarcastro

      Me and my sister, Mary Summer Eve, are deeply offended.

      Yours truly,
      Massengill Goodhealth

      March 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Ituri

      You would use a feminine hygiene product that sounds like "catnip?" (Katniss, for those who don't get it.)

      March 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  7. Mike

    The movie tells that we humans can get used to anything. Calling it a religion just makes it go down easier.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  8. joe54

    Jimbob's comment is freaking hilarious

    March 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Yep I guess you love being bútt ráped by your uncle Joe. Right?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  9. Sarcastro

    Or....

    We can realize it's a tween movie and move on to a more poignant recollection of the spiritual euphoria that only comes when one becomes truly in-tune with one's inner Witches of Waverly Place (only on UPN!)

    March 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • chris

      your a f@ggot dont call it a tween movie, dont say poignant, and dont claim spiritual euphoria to be anything less than seeing your ass in heaven and slappin you with my d!ck

      March 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Sarcastro

      chris, Although you do articulate some excellent points, I have to disagree.

      In particular, I feel that Dale Earnhardt's team isn't providing him the support he's going to need if he's ever to catch up to the more technically savvy pit crew of Greg Biffle.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • chris

      lol. dale jarret got it on lock

      March 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  10. DA

    Problem with this article is that the movie was a book first so the logic is flawed.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  11. raj

    This lady is high on P or she has lost her mind...

    March 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  12. S

    This article kind of beat around the bush for me. Since not watching the violence in protest is more like being passive and indifferent to it as much of America, including me, does as the war in Iran and Iraq occurred, I wouldn't really encourage such a method so confidently. As I watched the movie, I felt like its point came across to me clearly that we should all be wary that we may be heading down this path now and hopefully, if and when this occurs, we will still feel just as disgusted to see people enjoying the most innocent of our society committing the most heinous crimes against each other all because of power. Yes we live in a violent society, but it is not as violent as societies back then which actually did have death games. Think of the Colosseum and what that was originally built for. Remember Russell Crowe in Gladiator? This movie is reminding us that history repeats itself and that as we fight more and more against each other, this dystopia could be a result. Hunger Games is not glorifying the violence, its criticizing it and its growing prevalence in our society presently and in the future, through the representation of the children. I realize that I may be repeating the last couple of paragraphs from the article, but it seems like most people commenting are not getting that part. And bringing in religion to it, I don't really understand unless you bring in that we should all love each other in brotherly love. Because, on a side note, religion is definitely another fuel for violence all throughout history and now, especially Christianity. I'm not hating on the religion. I believe that God exists and the Bible is true. It's just the people within the religion that really cause all these problems and give Christianity a bad reputation. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you aren't going to act and live like one. Aside from that side note, I think Hunger Games is a good movie with a good message that requires you to take a step back before you react.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  13. Wipperwill

    Blogger, reading the book before seeing the movie and writing this article could have given you a better perspective. Not watching the film made from the book is completely missing the point. Focus on the story, period.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  14. Jennifer

    You can see religion in a tortilla...if you look hard enough.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • longshot

      the tricky part is finding a tortilla at church

      March 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Jennifer

      A tortilla at church? Isn't that what they serve with the wine? Little tortillas?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Sarcastro

      Tortilla!!??!!??

      How absurd!

      Now the picture of baby Jesus in my Turtle Wax- that is a true miracle.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  15. Kel

    Cindy, the author of this article is not saying that there is religion in the movie. I would suggest that you re-read for clarity.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  16. chris

    the movie was the sh!t. glad i saw it

    March 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Brce

      YES!

      March 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  17. † In God We Trust †

    Non-Christians (except those who accept Christ but can't openly practise it) have the devil inside them.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • just sayin

      He gets in pretty far, too. Hits all the right spots.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • lagtat

      I'd rather have the devil in me than listen to you religious crackpots for a second.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • TeePeeEl

      Uh...right. How do you type with a staightjacket on?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      lagdat I know that... that's why you act the way you are. Prayer goes to you!

      March 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Jimbob

      Yeah, the non believers may have the devil inside, but you have a priests genitals in your anus. Wonder which you prefer?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Really!?!

      The devil.... your a special breed if you think non believers are the devil ... come on isn't that unchristian like? HAHA

      March 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Jim that's what your father do to you frequently... right

      March 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • IMHO

      There is nothing so obnoxious and misdirected as the self-richeous. You're missing the entire point of the religion you claim to embrace.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • meemee

      Keep your christ to yourself. We've all had his great example around for 2,000 years, so we know the tree by the fruit. The tree is dead and jesus is the incompetence hanging on it.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Say that on your judgement day... 🙂

      March 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Jimbob

      Maybe it's your turn now, in god we thrust. Or, I wanna get down on my knees and please you baby jesus. Your judgement day consists of how well you sucketh on the balls.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  18. Marty

    ......just another stupid kids movie. Harry Potter grew up, Twilight has played out, this is the new adolescent fad.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • chris

      your a f@ggot. movie was off the chain

      March 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Zack

      aren't you just so above the rest of us slaves to the entertainment industries newest fad. ur probably right though, no higher idea's going on in this story then blah blah blah hormones and whine blah blah love #b.a.nonconformist over internet

      March 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  19. shootmyownfood

    I haven't seen the movie or read the book. Are they any more disturbing than "The Handmaid's Tale"?

    March 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • DaisyinNY

      In theme yes, in storylines no. If you like Handmaiden's Tale you will like the Hunger Games, trust me 🙂

      March 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  20. cindy

    wow .... I am surprised at what I'm reading .... I saw the movie and I saw NOTHING about religion .... what I did see and what we all commented on was that as an individual you can accomplish anything, even it's against the government, we as a society have a word but if we stay quiet and cross our arms, THEY can get away with anything ....even the killing of children.

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

      Nope...no religion in the movie or at least the first book. Funny...

      March 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • meemee

      Not a new idea, but put across in the silliest and most unlikely way.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:43 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.