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Is The Hunger Games Suitable for Children?

Is The Hunger Games Suitable for Children?

There is a movie in wide release this weekend, its called The Hunger Games. Maybe you have heard of it?

The film, based upon Suzanne Collins’s insanely popular book trilogy (around 30 million copies in print) depicting a post-war dystopian nation of Panem and the ruling class’s sadistic notion of entertainment at the expense of the younger generation, has caught fire among the imagination of teenagers and YA (Young Adult) fiction enthusiasts everywhere. The long awaiting film adaptation was released yesterday and will no doubt make a bazillion dollars before Monday rolls around. But this narrative doesn’t follow the lines of the chaste romantic mystery that was the Twilight franchise, nor does it delve into the magical sorcery that was the Harry Potter series. No, this is a narrative having to do with kids hunting and killing other kids for sport – no doubt this may be a difficult one to stomach for some easily offended parents.

As I mentioned above, the story of The Hunger Games takes place in the war-torn nation of Panem (presumably the United States after a tremendous civil war). The nation is ruled by an oppressive and totalitarian 1% in the Capitol, and keeps the defeated 99% impoverished and subjugated. The fictional nation of Panem is divided into twelve districts, and as a means of encouraging a not-so-friendly competition between the districts, the powers that be require each district to send one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in The Hunger Games, an annual fight to the death on live television. A sort of mortal combat meets elimination reality TV meets an Olympics for the unapologetically sadistic. The teen victor of this competition gets, as a reward for his/her trials, a life of relative ease and is left free of poverty and starvation, hence the name The Hunger Games.

A pretty compelling set up for a narrative that follows our protagonist teen hero Katniss on a journey into a ceaselessly violent realm. This is the sticking point that is likely to disturb parents. The violence is intense and without equivocation. It is like Lord of the Flies, better armed and fueled by energy drinks. But to be sure, it is not nearly as hyper-violent, nihilistic and unrepentant as the Japanese film Battle Royale (released in 2000), which followed a comparable narrative to The Hunger Games without the camp and melodrama. And to be sure, what teens all over the country are currently watching on multiplex screens this weekend is a mere pale reflection of what is currently going on in places like the Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are being kidnapped and forced to live out the remainder of their short lives as soldiers in a unending war-torn reality. But this is not an issue of degrees; as everyone knows there are always worse things to watch and worse realities to avoid exposing your children.

So what to do about the issue at hand? Whether to allow, or at least give your blessing to, your child to pay $10 to be brought into the decidedly violent world of The Hunger Games? This is a world where a girl is kidnapped, forced into slavery, and has her tongue cut out as punishment for hunting, and twelve children die in an hour, by violence generally described as “hacking” (decidedly not the sort of “hacking” your children might be doing online). Is it worth mounting a parental battle against such entertainment, at risk of alienating your children? Are there other virtues to the story that override the gratuitous violence in the film? Are you going to let the Hunger Games begin?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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10:40AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

It depends on the child, and the reality is that the violence is not gratuitous at all. It shows what happens if you allow a tyranny to hold freedom hostage and force people to do things against their will, much like what is happening in the world now. Seen from this perspective, it can be a great teaching tool, especially the warning that it could happen here as well. Thanks.

5:16PM PST on Dec 19, 2013

Have not seen the movie yet, but based on the book content, the movie is not really suitable for children in my opinion. Thank you for posing this question.

5:14PM PST on Dec 19, 2013

I haven't seen the movie, a little too mainstream Hollywood for my taste, but I really don't know if one should let their child watch it, given its content. I think it probably depends on the child, and the parents. Also, if your kid is anything like I was, from the age of 12 and up, if they want to see it, they're going to see it, whether you know it or not, especially if their friends saw it. Sorry to say, but I remember being a hardheaded kid only too well.

5:02PM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Thank you.

5:01PM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Thank you.

3:58AM PDT on Oct 8, 2012

Good luck parents!

10:35AM PDT on Apr 12, 2012

Actually its an amazing series of books. I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to, since they always seem to botch good literature. It is a imaginative social experiment that makes kids wonder and think and imagine a world that COULD be, a world we should try to prevent. Much like The Giver series, or Animal Farm, and the like

10:16AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

I think seeing violence has a negative effect on people of all ages and helps innure them to the reality of it, making it seem more 'okay' with every viewing.

9:59PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Allow them. It doesn't glorify violence.

7:36AM PDT on Mar 31, 2012

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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