Hunger and Insomnia

Further ruminations on The Hunger Games. I don’t know why I’m motivated to write about this at length, other than the fact that my mind tends to wander when I’m jet-lagged and wide-awake at 3am in Germany.

At right is a very cool unofficial map of Panem created by David Arvizu.

I saw a Fox News article today featuring parents who were wringing their hands over the violence portrayed in the Hunger Games movie. Paraphrasing: “Oh, dear. Should I take my ten-year old to see this? All her friends are going.”

Once upon a time, Americans were renowned for their homespun common sense.

No longer.

1. A precocious ten-year-old might enjoy the book if read in the company of their parent(s). Anybody who takes a child younger than 13 to see this movie isn’t thinking clearly. As some of the worried parents correctly observed, on-screen violence is different from violence described in a book. The gap between word and imagination creates a buffer for the mind. There’s no similar cushion in a visual image. It’s the difference between a roller coaster ride and an automobile crash.

2. PG-13 does not mean “pretty good for 13-year-olds.” It means “Parents strongly cautioned: some material may not be appropriate for children under 13. Read the whole definition here. Whatever you may think of the MPAA, this rating should be taken seriously. In my opinion, there are very few movies of any sort that ought to be viewed by school-age children without direct parental supervision and plenty of discussion afterward. This goes for books, too. Having trouble getting your kids to talk to you? I guarantee they’ll want to talk at length about this or any other movie if you keep your cool and treat them like thinking beings.

3. Whatever your childrens’ ages, read the book first yourself, and/or read it along with them. It’s a good story, and by the time you’re done, you’ll have a pretty fair idea of whether your particular children will be able to deal with the film version. If they can’t handle it, don’t cave to peer pressure and send them anyway.  Wait a couple of years and watch the DVD together.

4. For those who would ban the book and movie altogether: We live in a violent world. Thousands of very young children, including some in America, are experiencing real violence every day that makes anything offered on the big screen look like tiddlywinks. We don’t want to unnecessarily and prematurely expose our children to extreme violence, but by the same token, anyone who thinks they can isolate their children from the violence in our world is not thinking clearly. It’s on the news, in the street, and on the playground.  The Hunger Games doesn’t glorify violence. The story clearly shows how violence damages everyone involved: the perpetrator, the victim, and the witnesses. Katniss’ example is inspiring—she is thrust into a battle for her life, but in the end, she doesn’t let it take her soul. Even in self-defense, she knows there is a line she must not cross.

5. Older teens can benefit from the themes presented in this story. For young people living in a free society, the idea of tyranny is, thank God, an alien concept. The Hunger Games is an illustration, admittedly speculative and caricatured, of life under a tyrant regime. According to the author, it’s a modernized retelling of the old legend of King Minos, who exacted an annual tribute from his Greek subjects of their young people, whom he then fed to his Minotaur. This is tyranny. There are two classes in a tyranny—the tyrant, with his hangers-on, and everyone else, the slaves. Tyranny must have its own way, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Tyranny will take your children and feed them to its monsters, just to remind you who’s in charge. Tyranny decides where you will live, how you will work, what you can say, and when you will die. Tyranny is easy to accept and difficult to escape. Fighting tyranny will put you and everyone whose life you touch at risk. And, as in the story, tyranny could take root here, in America, with less effort than we care to admit. It’s a timely warning to our next generation.

6. I said yesterday that the violence in this movie didn’t seem to be polarizing and people are mostly giving a pass to this aspect of the story. I could be wrong about that. In the course of casual websurfing, I’ve seen some marked differences of opinion, though the lines aren’t being drawn the way I expected.  Social conservatives are disturbed by the depiction of child-on-child violence and think it’s gratuitous and possibly traumatizing for children. Reference this discussion at Schlock Mercenary in response to a review of the movie by Howard Tayler, a webcomic artist not unfamiliar with violent action. Liberals prefer to frame The Hunger Games as a bold statement against violence, but some are saying the filmmakers didn’t go far enough in making the bloodshed shocking and repulsive. Compare the review at National Public Radio, which accuses them of moral cowardice. It seems violence in the pursuit of pacifism is no vice.

7. Although the mainstream critical reaction has been mostly favorable, the movie geek community is tut-tutting over inconsistencies in the world building. Example: “How can a society with such advanced technology not have cell phones?” Well, civil war has a way of destroying infrastructure, and in a tyranny, or any other centralized government, money dissipates exponentially with distance from the leader’s crib. These folks are also dismayed that we’re not watching more intellectual movies from France and Sweden, with subtitles.

All right, enough already. Maybe there’s an Ingmar Bergman film playing somewhere on TV, though I expect it will have German subtitles.

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