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?