Hunger Games! Hunger Games!
The haunting futuristic world with the attractive young heroes—also known as Hunger Games—is everywhere we look in the days leading up to the March 23 debut. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm gave a series of lectures to a couple hundred high school students this week and asked: “Anyone here going to see Hunger Games?” The whoosh of rising hands was audible.
This week, ReadTheSpirit is running a wide range of viewpoints on this blockbuster:
Faith-and-film critic Ed McNulty writes about the many dystopias Hollywood has produced.
For this story, we asked Twilight expert Jane Wells to write about the distinction between the super-popular Twilight franchise and this series of novels and films that many adults are just discovering.
A Different Message
By Jane Wells
I doubt many have escaped the relentless buzz surrounding Hunger Games the movie, opening March 23 here in the U.S. At the very least you’ve probably been exposed to the television ads featuring teenagers with weapons, a lot of fire and grownups with strange-colored hair. And, if you pay any attention at all to the relentless noise produced by the Hollywood hype machine, you’ve heard comparisons made between The Hunger Games and Twilight, as if setting up for some Battle Royal/Rumble in the Jungle.
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN TWILIGHT AND HUNGER GAMES
For clarity’s sake, these are the points these two series have in common.
1) They both started as popular book series written for young adults, but both have enjoyed a huge crossover audience.
2) They feature a teenage girl and two teenage boys between whom she feels she must choose.
3) Ummmm… yeah. I think that’s about it.
WHAT ARE THE BASIC STORY LINES?
TWILIGHT AT A GLANCE: In the four-book Twilight Saga, modern-day human girl Bella Swan finds herself torn between the enigmatic vampire Edward Cullen and the dangerously passionate werewolf Jacob Black. Thematically, her choice is between Edward’s eternal love and Jacob’s unconditional love. And for four books, Bella, Edward and Jacob work out their futures. Side themes include loyalty and family.
Why has the Twilight Saga struck such a deep chord among its mostly female audience? It’s all about the love. Some have analyzed The Hunger Games the same way, calling the charismatic hunter Gale Hawthorn the embodiment of Eros (romantic) love and the gentle baker Peeta Mellark the representative of Agape (unconditional) love. While I do like that analogy—love is a very minor theme in the series, otherwise we would not keep reading the hundreds of pages where neither of the young men is involved.
HUNGER GAMES AT A GLANCE: The Hunger Games books are set in a dystopic future, 75 years after America has been destroyed by civil war. The resulting nation is divided into 13 districts ruled with an iron hand by the capitol city called Panem. Each year two teenagers are selected from each district to compete in the Hunger Games as “tributes.” The winner is the one who survives. District residents are required to watch their children die in the arena while residents of Panem make lavish bets on their favorites. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister who had been pulled in the drawing. She leaves behind her sister, widowed mother and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner. The male “tribute” is the baker’s son, Peeta, whom she barely knows. Peeta, however, knows Katniss and has loved her from afar since childhood. Yet in order to survive they will have to see each other as enemies.
When I read the Hunger Games series, the pieces of popular culture that kept coming to mind were not love stories. Twilight was the furthest thing from my mind. They were pieces of literature like Orwell’s 1984, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, in which criminals could earn their freedom by competing to the death through a deadly maze. I was reminded of stories in which violence and resistance defined and refined the characters.
Care to read more about dystopias in Hollywood movies? Check out faith-and-film critic Edward McNulty’s overview of famous films sharing this theme.
WHAT WAS SUZANNE COLLINS THINKING IN HUNGER GAMES?
Popular culture inspired author Suzanne Collins to write these stories. “I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me,” she said in an interview with Powell’s Books. “One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”
Mennonite pastor Marty Troyer nails the pacifist theme throughout The Hunger Games trilogy in this excellent Pangea Blog post. He explains how Collins drags us through the pain inflicted by Dominant Violence, used by those in power to keep their power. And how the resulting Resistant or Revolutionary Violence can become just as bad. The problem with Resistant Violence, as our heroine Katniss learns, is that it very easily can become Dominant Violence itself.
In fact, the most jarring scenes in the series are when Katniss acts out violently against the powers manipulating her: shooting Coin instead of President Snow and voting for a final Hunger Game featuring the formerly exempt children of the privileged Capital residents.
HUNGER GAMES AND TODAY’S HEADLINES
We don’t have to look far to find real-life echoes of these themes. Last summer, we saw the rise of The 99%, protesting against corporate rule and cultural inequalities. Just this past week the Kony 2012 campaign against a revolutionary fighter whose violence surpasses inhumane, became a cultural phenomenon of its own calling for action.
But what action is most appropriate in the face of violence? The strength of peaceful resistance has been on my mind lately since reading Blessed are the Peacemakers by Daniel Buttry. This collection of biographies demonstrates exactly how dangerous intentional peacemaking can be, but how very worth the sacrifice and difficult choices can be in the end. Some of the biographies are well known and have been made into movies themselves, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But others, the many stories of ordinary people who made a difference, also deserve to be remembered and emulated as well.
I will let you know later this week what I think of the movie, but I’m hoping the take-home lesson of both the book series and the movie will be that violence begets violence. Waging peace is much harder, but so much more worth it in the end.
Care to read Jane Wells’ book on spiritual themes in Twilight? It’s called Glitter in the Sun and is guaranteed to spark lively discussion in small groups, especially since a new Twilight movie debuts later this year. Plan ahead for a spring, summer or fall series in your congregation with Jane, Twilight and Glitter.
Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?
Jimmy Carter is among the dozens of global peacemakers profiled in ReadTheSpirit’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” by Daniel Butty. The book is a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities. Like Carter, Buttry is a Baptist who works on peacemaking projects around the world.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.