The Hunger Games: a movie/book/my-opinion-on-violence Mashup
Monday, April 02, 2012
Back in the fall of 2008, when I was still a new librarian, I'd get a little bit anxious about recommending books to the collection developers. I didn't quite understand the process of how they found or chose the books for the library shelves, and I didn't want to seem pushy or step on anyone's toes. But when I read Janssen's review of this new book called The Hunger Games, I knew immediately: my library needed this book because I needed to read it and because of my gut's insistence that this one would be huge. So I stepped out of my comfort zone and told the collection developer (who has since become a favorite work friend) about the book.
Then I bought my own copy because I didn't want to wait to read the library's, and because I knew Haley and Jake would want to read it, too. I gulped down the story in two days, handed the book to Haley who did the same, and then started recommending it to friends. "I know it sounds crazy-violent," I'd always start my recommendation with, "because it's a story about teenagers trying to survive being killed by other teenagers. But it is so good, and the violence isn't even the point, and it isn't described in detail, either."
That I always wanted to preface my recommendation with a warning perhaps speaks to my reticence at recommending books I love in the first place (having been criticized quite often for my reading tastes). But there is also this knowledge: parents of teenagers are still protective. We don't want our teens being exposed to too much, be it violence or sex or video gaming or swearing or strange ideas that might make them think for themselves. We have this fear because we simultaneously know that the amount of time we have to influence them is dwindling and we aren't 100% certain we've influenced them enough. We want them to have good stuff in their lives. We want them not to experience the extreme harshness of the world. We also know that is unavoidable.
Despite the violence, however, I still found The Hunger Games recommendable. I knew that teenagers would love it for its fiesty, strong main character, for its adventure and its story ingeniuty and even for its love triangle (a plot device I confess to absolutely hating because really: even in future dystopias how many teens actually get caught between two love interests? or maybe it was just me who could hardly handle her one love interest?) And I hoped that maybe they would see the eventual point of the story, which to me seems so obvious I can't believe I'm writing the next sentence: violence only begets more violence.
When the movie came out last month, I was, strangely enough, not excited to go. I didn't entertain the idea of a midnight showing; in fact, we didn't see it until Saturday morning. (I'm cheap like that: I try to go to the first matinee showing of movies, since the tickets cost a buck less.) I kept thinking wait a second! I was an early Hunger Games adapter. Why am I not excited? and Haley finally put it into words for me: because so many people were hopping on the bandwagon so late. Some of them, as proved by the outrage over Rue being a black girl, hadn't even read the book. And since I tend to not like to do what the trends say I should...my enthusiasm for the movie wasn't extreme.
I still enjoyed it, once I finally made it there. I think they did a decent job of including important points, with a few notable exceptions: the actual desperate hunger that most of the people of Panem experience (if you hadn't read the book would you know why Gale's name was in the reaping 42 times?) and the threatening menace of The Capitol. Katniss's affection for the stew. Her father's illustrated book of edible plants. What about the story behind the Avoxes? I think they should have developed the story of Peeta and Katniss in the cave much better, and included the still-warm bread that District 11 sends to Katniss when Rue dies. Plus, in the book Prim's cat Buttercup is orange, but it's black and white in the movie. Is there a shortage of orange cats in the movie world?
When I left the theater, in addition to thinking about what I liked and what I was disappointed by, I had a certainty: the violence in the story was going to be an issue. Especially since, in the movie, you cannot enter the characters' minds like you do in the book so you don't understand as well their motivations. Why is Peeta hanging out with the Careers? How does he end up wounded and in the river? What happened to the girl who built the fire? Why was Katniss so devastated when Rue was killed? None of that translated in the movie. But we also can't see as clearly the fact that Katniss was doing her best to avoid the violence. You can sort of see it, a little. She doesn't actually kill anyone who didn't threaten her first. But you are only outside of her head, watching.
When I got home, I checked in on Facebook, and one of the updates I read was my niece's husband's:
"Human beings are better than that. Decency and morality are much more prevalent in kids than the movie gives credit for and parents wouldn't simply stand by and watch their children get taken."
While allowing Jeff (would he be my nephew-in-law? I suppose so!) (whom, by the way, I am not ridiculing but simply using to make my point) his opinion, I had to personally disagree. The districts in the society created in The Hunger Games are controlled by the violence of the games. Like any dystopia worth its weight, The Hunger Games is ruled by a tyrannical government. The people in the Capitol might disagree, but the rest of the society wouldn't. The parents stand by and allow their children to be taken because they are being ruled by tyranny. They don't have a choice. Just as, say, the Native Americans didn't have much choice when they were relocated or murdered or murdered while being relocated. Or the Japanese people in the 1940's didn't have any say over being moved from their homes to internment camps. (And this by a non-tyrannical government!) Katniss's small rebellions are a start of parents being able to stand up for their children—but only a start. And the problem isn't the decency and morality in the teenagers (who are forced to compete; perhaps the lack of menace from the Capitol means this doesn't translate in the movie) but the lack of decency and morality in the government and the privileged few who live in the Capitol and wealthier districts.
Another friend insisted to me that The Hunger Games is likely to create a rash of school shootings because it promotes children killing children. (Just as Star Wars caused us all to take up killing each other with light sabers and channeling the Force.) To my mind, this friend is missing the point of the storyline, which really isn't much more simple than the ancient "man's inhumanity to man." Look down through history: has there ever been a time when people weren't brutal to each other? I'm not a historian but I don't think there have been many. Aside from the Careers, the kids in the arena are doing what they've been forced to do, which is fight for their lives. (And really, in a sense the Careers choose, either, considering that they've been trained to see it as an honor; they're just better prepared.) They don't have a choice, unlike the people involved in school shootings.
Still, I keep questioning myself: why doesn't the violence in this story dissuade me from being affected by it? I would like to say it is that the entire story arc provides the counterbalance for the violence: the Capitol uses violence as a weapon until the people rise up and roust out the government. But that isn't entirely the truth because I've been recommending the books since they first one was just a blip on the popularity scale and I didn't know the entire story arc. Perhaps it is because the story doesn't glorify violence; violent things happen but they aren't made glamorous or intriguing. (THIS article gives a good summary of all the violent points.) This lack of glamorizing violence in a violent story allows for the point to shift elsewhere: how much tyranny will one person accept before pushing back? Or one entire society? How does a person put into a violent situation maintain control of her humanity? How do small kindnesses translate into a greater good? What does it mean to be brave?
Or maybe it's because really: none of this is new. You've read all about the Reaping if you've read Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery." You've read about publicly-viewed execution games if you've read (or watched) The Running Man. Or even Survivor. There is something of the Roman colosseum in the story, isn't there? And The Lord of the Flies, of course. The Olympics, even, in a round-about way. It's a different face to the same story of a sharply-pitched contrast between wealthy and poor, or the story of a government doing deplorable things, or the one about people rising above, despite.
But ultimately I am not dissuaded by the story's violence because of my reading philosophy. (Which I wrote about HERE.) "I believe that there is a morality to be found in good novels that cannot be undone by their inclusion of questionables," I wrote then. "Bad books encourage the practice of evil; good ones describe the practice of evil, the implications of it, the way it spreads, the way it is everywhere. But they also offer up some small little spark of hope—a piece, even if only the tiniest, of the light of truth that is scattered everywhere."
I'm not offended by the inclusion of violence because, ultimately, the violence isn't the story's truth. It is one of the ways it tells its truth, yes. But it isn't the point. And I stand by my original response: this qualifies as a good, recommendable series, even though it is the crazy-violent story of teenagers killing teenagers.
Tell me: what is your opinion on the violence in The Hunger Games?
I haven't seen the movie yet, I think due to the same reasons as yours. I'll be waiting for the dvd version I think. As to the violence, I think it's necessary to get the point of the story to really surface in the readers mind. I read the book in two settings, and I was horrified, shocked, happy and sad, and dare I say it, entertained as well. But mostly I was horrfied. Children killing children, for entertainment no less. But I was horrified because, like you, I believe it could happen. If our survival depends on it, if it's one child or all the children we're forced to choose among. I don't know, I just fear that humanity is actually capable of such a horrific act, if the circumstances are right. Heck there's wars on our world now, where pre-teen and teen boys take up arms.
Anyway - I think I'm digressing. What I really wanted to say is I think the violence (in the books, can't say about the movie) is necessary. You need to sit back and feel horrified of what this society is doing to it's people. Wanting to shout "STOP don't do this, they're only children". Cause maybe it will trigger something, help people actually become more decent, more helpful, even try to stop those pre-teen and teen boys in taking up arms. I don't know. But that would be my hope. I don't think anyone, after reading the book, would think it glorified violence, on the contrary. I hope they would realise that it needs to end, in the world of Hunger Games as well as our own.
I apologise for my english - not my native language.
Posted by: Lina | Monday, April 02, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I've had a lot of people ask me my opinion of the Hunger Games and what age I think the series is appropriate for. I never know what to say. I haven't had teenagers yet, so I have no idea whether I'd let a 12 year old read them. It definitely depends on the kid anyway and not the age.
I do believe, though, that the Hunger Games is a great way to bring parents and children together because the books appeal to both parties. What a great opportunity parents have to read what their kids are reading and then discuss the books. I think the Hunger Games is a great tool for teaching kids how to find depth in literature. There are so many great discussions to be had: How do you feel about the games being broadcasted to the districts? How does it compare to modern-day reality television? How does the government maintain control over the people?
There are so many themes to extract from the books, and I think it's great preparation for high school and college where kids will need to be able to pull those things from their reading.
Posted by: Britt | Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 07:49 AM
I have opinions though not nearly as well put as yours. I was never bothered by the violence in this book and often felt annoyed when others reduced it to “a book about kids killing kids” or, worse, a love triangle. I think it has so many important theme worth discussing like tyranny and fear, sacrifice, friendship, gluttony, survival, what entertains us and yes...even violence as a means to an end. I like Britt’s comment above about how it prepares early readers to look at books as educators and challenges them to think about what they are reading. I had my eleven year old read them but I won’t let him see the movie. I think the movie was a descent adaptation of the book but, as you so eloquently defended, major development as to motive, relationships, and consequences are left out. So, the movie kind of is just....violent.
I was disappointed in the first fifteen minutes of the movie when the mockingly pin she wore was introduced with a fast and easy movie explanation instead of the layered and deeper meaning of the book. No time to develop an awkward friendship between the mayor’s daughter and Katniss, who brought him strawberries. Or why he mother was depressed and drugged out. Or what that pin meant.
And THAT is why we read the books!
Posted by: Lucy | Tuesday, April 03, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I was quite disappointed in the movie, though I know I shouldn't have grand expectations for movies of books that I feel so attached too. Your disappointments align pretty closely with mine as well as the previous commenter's statement about the mockingjay pin. You miss sooo much of District 12 in the movie. I felt like the suffering and hunger of both District 12 and the kids in the games was just glossed over. I felt guilty eating when I read the book but had no problem plowing through the popcorn during the movie. On a positive note, I did love the casting!
Posted by: Carla | Friday, April 06, 2012 at 05:47 PM
I am one of the few that didn't read the book, but only saw the movie. Dystopian literature is not a favourite genre of mine. I read to escape, and generally I don't find the dytopian worlds a nice place to escape to. That being said, I had been hearing about these books for quite some time and I was curious about the concept of the Hunger Games. I liked the movie (probably because I didn't have any preconceived notions) although it did make me a little sad. I came away with the thought of how strong Katniss(?) was and am curious about how the bad guy is going to get her back. I also thought about the deeper ideas, but the actual games struck a chord with me. I think of all the "reality tv" we watch as a society and I wonder how much of a jump it would be for us. Right now we watch people's lives unfolding, contests for "survival" in foreign countries and other shows. The amount of violence allowed on tv and in video games numbs youth and the rest of us (to some extent) to real violence. Some media sensationalizes everyday violence as well as the war and struggles in other countries. I wonder if there will come a day when the Hunger Games would become a new entertainment concept when other things get old? Scary thought.
Posted by: Jennifer | Sunday, April 08, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Our teens nowadays are very expose to forbidden topics like sex, violence and others that helps develop their curiosity. If teens will be so curios to a thing they'll do everything to try it. That's why today many are engage with early teen sex, and violence because of what they learn from their surroundings, from the movies they saw, magazines and books that they read and computer games that they play. Maybe we should make books, computer games and movies that don't include violence, sex and others that can influence them a lot.
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