Thursday, April 26, 2012

To read The Hunger Games

I came to the Harry Potter books late. Finally I read them because I decided that I needed to be literate in the phenomenon. I still have not decided such a thing about, and therefore have yet to read, the Twilight series. But The Hunger Games seems to be closing in on me.

The Hunger Games (both in book and movie form) is being touted by people I trust as insightful, inspiring (or is that disturbing in an inspiring way?), and provocative for our times, but I didn't really want to read it. It seemed too dark, too intense for me to enjoy. The Roman Coliseum is exactly what I thought of when I heard its premise.

That's what Fr. Robert Barron thought of too, and a slew of other cultural "antecedents" for what basically boils down to the human instinct for scapegoating and human sacrifice. Maybe you've seen the video (H/T everybody); he also discusses it at the National Review Online in an article entitled "The Hunger Games: A Prophecy?" saying:
The really interesting question is this: Why has this motif of the sacrificial victim played such a large role in the human imagination for so long? Why do we keep acting out this scenario, both in reality and in our literature?
What haunted me as I watched
The Hunger Games was that the instinct for human sacrifice is never far from the surface and that it could easily exist alongside of tremendous cultural and technological sophistication. I suspect that this film is disturbingly prophetic.
Brian Green of TheMoralMinefield got to Fr. Barron's thoughts first, and argues that the prophecy is already coming true. I actually read his post on the subject before reading or watching Fr. Barron's, and he crystallized for me a new reason to hate reality TV. I thought of the manipulation and scheming that go on in Survivor, but he illustrated his point with the American Idol-type reality shows, where the diamonds in the rough are celebrated and the less fortunate scapegoated:
We all know how these shows go. A bunch of different acts get up there and most flop and are berated for our amusement by Simon Cowell (let’s call him “Caesar” for now) who, for example, belittles these poor teens when they first come on stage. The other Caesars, I mean judges, might be a bit nicer, but still get their thumbs up or down votes. The crowds of course express their adulation or contempt with their voices.
The message is that these individuals exist for our pleasure, and their social status and feelings, exalted or denigrated, exist as our playthings. And when we are done with them they are thrown away, as good objects of amusement always are – at least that is what we are told by our consumptive culture. All sacrificed for our public entertainment. They are sacrificed for us, that we might be amused.
He tells us that, as we increasingly cast off our Christian moorings, we shouldn't be surprised if we see scapegoating to progress further into reality.
In the dystopian future America of The Hunger Games, they have fed their virtuous ideals to the lions, and so naturally humans follow suit. And in our real world, the first reality TV show began this course. No longer would we just pretend to scapegoat and sacrifice with actors, instead we would take real people and actually, really, scapegoat and sacrifice them, albeit socially and emotionally sacrificed and not physically. Reality is so much more emotionally investing that fiction. And if that means a few will need to be used as social sacrificial pawns, then so be it.
How depressing. But he thinks that The Hunger Games could help us turn back from this progression. So, I'll add it to my library loan list. If you haven't already, go read his thoughts. And watch Fr. Barron--oh, all right, here it is--as he distills the ideas behind The Hunger Games through literary theorist Rene Girard's thoughts on the universal impulse of scapegoating, and the only answer that liberates us from it.

(Of course, I've never read Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Animal Farm either. I wonder if I should now.)

Oh, and here's some more, about what could be coming:


Stephanie said...

Wow! I LOVED this post because I have recently read The Hunger Games. My father, a history nerd, convinced me to. (I am a bit of a snob when it comes to reading... classics please. I am currently in the throws of Les Miserables). All the quotes and commentary you shared are right scary about our culture. My husband and I read the entire Hunger Game series in a matter of days and enjoyed them. So I'm eager to know...did you start them?!?!?! May the odds be ever in your favor ;)

Nicole Stallworth said...

I read and enjoyed The Hunger Games--was done with it in less than 24 hours. And then I entered into a bit of a pessimistic funk that took a lot of sunshine to shake. I have to be a little careful about what I read because of how it influences my attitudes IRL. So I am cautious about venturing into the next two. But they are on the list too!


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