Monday, March 26, 2012

"The Hunger Games. . . ."

There was no need for me to stand in line at a movie theater or even read the paper to know that there's a cultural phenomena sweeping the nation and the world that's known as The Hunger Games. It all started for me several weeks ago with a simple question from my daughter, who is a 6th grade teacher. "Dad, have you done anything on The Hunger Games?" She proceeded to tell me that her students were reading the books. She had started to read the books. Then I heard about countless others who were reading the books. Then, there was the massive buildup to the movie, which opened late last week and proceeded to post some pretty impressive box office numbers.

No, all I needed to do was look around on Friday while I was sitting in airports and belted in during flights. The first book in the trilogy was everywhere. It was in my hands as well. I picked it up on Thursday and read it on Friday and Saturday. If you want to know how gripping it is I can tell you that I was wishing I had gotten through that last chapter by the time I turned the lights out on Friday night. I didn't. I had to suffer through my own youth culture seminar on Saturday morning while waiting to finish on the flight home. Now, I need to read the next two books and see the movie.

Several folks have asked me what I think of The Hunger Games. I've got no easy and quick answer on this one. I need to do some more reading. I need to do some more thinking. I need to do some more asking around. I need to do some more discussing. I can, however, offer some initial thoughts.

First, the book is simple yet gripping. The entire time I was reading I kept wondering to myself about why it's such a best-seller. There is nothing about it that makes it stand out for me. I've read many, many good stories that never got traction or stuck. For some reason, this one has. I find it especially interesting that a work of juvenile fiction has such a huge adult audience. Maybe it's a matter of something going viral in our current culture of social media.

Second, I'm not sure that this is just "a book about kids killing kids." I know that many commentators have made that suggestion and I even had someone describe it that way to me. There are things much deeper going on here. In fact, it's a book about kids being made to kill kids. That's the deeper story for me at this point. The cover art, colors, and font trigger thoughts of Hitler and his Third Reich in my mind. That leads to thoughts about propaganda, totalitarianism, and mind control. Read the book and you'll see that there's some of that going on. The story itself conjured up images of The Lord of the Flies , Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Huxley's Brave New World for me. Anyone else see any of that as they read?

Third, I think the book serves as a look ahead to the the kind of ugly fall-out that just might be around the corner for our own culture when an obsession with reality TV combines with a diminished respect for human life and dignity. Realistically, this might be a story about where we're headed.

Fourth, The Hunger Games offers a launch point into discussions about human brokenness, sin, and depravity. Sadly, we've come to believe in the inherent goodness of people. Looking at life on that foundation eliminates any need for salvation, redemption, and a Savior. Why would we need to a rescuer if there's nothing we need to be rescued from? Consequently, there's something "good" about the evil world depicted in the book.

Fifth, the immense popularity of the books and the film(s)remind us that our kids and ourselves are in desperate need of a hope-filled story. We've been made to live in God's story. When we don't know that story or live in it, we default into insufficient substitute stories that remind us of that deep yearning for wholeness that life in God's story brings. In that way, the popularity of this story should spur us on to tell the bigger, better, and most amazing/complete story of all.

Finally, the obsession with The Hunger Games should lead us to question the obsessed. "Why do you like this story?" and "What do you like about this story?" are two questions that will not only take us deep into the hearts and minds of the spiritually hungry, but they will offer us opportunities to talk about the only Bread that satisfies.

So, that's where I am at this point in time. I want to keep thinking.

What do you think about The Hunger Games?


Marv Penner said...

I found the book to be profoundly prophetic. I have no problem following the trajectory of contemporary culture and seeing it end up in a place like that. Sadly, it didn't feel like much of a stretch at all. And by the way - I'm hearing some mixed messages in your blog - the "nothing special" assessment juxtaposed with the fact that you finished it in 48 hours (like all the rest of us) and had to suffer through your own seminar waiting to read the end of the book - Admit it pal - This book was a page turner. Hopefully we can sit down and watch the movie together this week - Looking forward to the conversation that will create.

KTElltt said...

I thoroughly enjoyed them and was surprised by the thoughts they evoked from me...

Dan Kish said...

Walt, thanks for writing on this topic. I took some kids from our church to see the movie last night. I haven't read any of the books, but I was extremely curious as well about the popularity of these novels.

My favorite quote of the movie was one where the President is talking to the dude with the crazy facial hair, essentially asking him why they play the games. In their dialogue, he says "Hope, it is the only thing more powerful than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it is contained."

I thought that was a powerful statement that could be applied to many things, specifically the state of American Christianity and youth ministry. Am I (are we) providing folks with only enough of Jesus to be placated, or are we allowing the true Jesus to spark something inside us a dangerous hope?

Anonymous said...

I attend a PCA church in Ridgeland MS. Our youth minister and education director and another PCA pastor have a blog where they review movies through the lens of scripture. They reviewed Hunger Games Friday called battling the cultural lies. It will definitely give food for thought and spark dialogue. You can find the blog and review here.

Marcia@(GraciousInteriors) said...

Walt, you are spot-on. I couldn't stop reading these books, but that in itself disturbed me. Why was I fascinated about the outcome of such horrific evil? The trilogy did remind me of Brave New World and Animal Farm. The resemblance to Survivor wasn't lost on me either. But, I especially liked your third observation: "the book serves as a look ahead to the the kind of ugly fall-out that just might be around the corner for our own culture when an obsession with reality TV combines with a diminished respect for human life and dignity. Realistically, this might be a story about where we're headed." Having just finished Bonhoffer, I am hopeful we are awake to the possibility of mind indoctrination that Germany was blind to before the second world war. Thanks for writing about this!

Kim H. said...

felt the same after pre-reading, when I found out book one was on teh 9th grade reading list at school. After reading all 3. I feel it is a def. social commentary and loud warning as the dipravity of human nature and just where society will go. Lots of good conversation with my 15 1/2 yr old BUT not appropriate for my 12 yr old. have voiced that to other parents of 5th and 6th graders wanting to read it. We are sinners and will so easily be where this stories society is. If you doubt it look at history, killing for entertainment is not a new idea. I have vetoed books for my kids but did not with this series, I did however require her to read all three in order to get the complete thought.

DH said...

I found that the movie was not geared toward a youth audience at all. Although the actors are young, the themes for the movie were very mature. It's set in a "New World Order" society. It brings out themes of war, survival and comradary. There is also how society is being controlled by the government through fear and hope. When I reflect upon these, I not only see that it is prophetic, but it is a social commentary of the now. From a Christian perspective: We are not battling a Spiritual war against non-believers or other religions, but we are battling against a force that is acting behind the scene trying to manipulate our lives intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We know the way to get out of this spiritual "Hunger Game" and be filled and quenched with something that truely satisfies.

Debbie Blendermann said...

Book 1 actually gave me nightmares. What I don't like is that elementary school children are reading this and that it's required reading in some jr. high schools.

Kim R said...

As well as propoganda and reality television, no one has yet touched on the ridiculous appearance of those in the capital city and their obsession with plastic surgery and outlandish clothing and hairstyles. One of the most likeable characters in the book and the movie is the stylist Cinna, particularly because he uses his talents to empower his charge. My 14-year-old son and I both read the books and saw the movie together. We have had some wonderful discussions on the issues you mention. (His older sister refuses to join in the craze due to the "kids killing kids" story.)

Ben said...

Is part of the draw to the books and movie the fact that there is a strong female character who does not look like a typical teenage girl we see portrayed on tv shows, movies or in music? She is strong, self-assured, not worried about her looks, or what the boys think. She is also an "underdog" as the gamesmaker calls her, and "everyone loves an underdog" as he says.

The unfortunate part is that all of the violence in the movie is wrapped up in a "game." It is portrayed like any other game or sport; this game just has severe consequences for losing.

JP said...

I'll be interested in your take after you've read the series. Most people I've talked to (mostly teens) don't like the last book. I won't spoil it for you, but I think the way it all ends brings a new perspective on the first story. The Hunger Games is about postmodern philosophy lived out consistently; where right and wrong are baseless and situational, where survival of the fittest is no longer mere scientific theory, where, in the end, there are no explanations. There are no good guys. All is chaos. I think it is a great commentary on the emerging culture. And the fact that readers/viewers are disturbed by it should give us some hope. Down deep, in our God-given consciences, we know that there is truth and an Author of truth.

Here's a post I wrote last week over on our family blog:

I appreciate all you do, Walt.

Brandon said...

One of the most resonating parts of the book for me was the questions it raised about privilege/economic oppression and my complicity in it. I think if people in America were being honest with ourselves we would have to identify ourselves much more with the people of the capital then the people of the districts.

I love that the book is exposing teens/tweens to ideas of justice, propaganda (the sequels even more) and subversion. It's about the need to change systems and the realization of just how hard things are to change when you don't have any power.

Travis Deans said...

Hey Walt,

I just posted this on facebook - my take on it all:

Took Judy to see The Hunger Games last night - couldn't help but notice there were several instances of laying down one's life to save someone else's - reminded me of Jesus. I didn't think it was a movie about 'kids killing kids' as I've read in several places. I think it was a movie about choosing to do the right thing when someone's trying to force you to do something wrong. We need more examples of how to live rightly in an evil world.