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The Hunger Games And Youth Culture

Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games (books and movie)

Summary

The year 2012 saw something that could be called Hunger Games mania. The movie of the first book premiered at midnight March 23rd and grossed higher than any other non-sequel film ($19.7 million and over the weekend brought in $155 million!). The trilogy of what are being called dystopian young adult novels were published in 2008 (Hunger Games), 2009 (Catching Fire) and 2010 (Mockingjay). The series is dystopian, the opposite of utopian, because they look forward to an unjust apocalyptic age—after the destruction of North America and world as we know it. Collins’ work may also be seen as postmodern both because life operates without certain moral constraints and in the way it weaves together disparate themes.

According to Publisher’s Weekly (Vol. 255, Issue 23, 9June08), author Suzanne Collins was intrigued as a kid by the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king named Minos. King Minos lived on a lovely island called Crete. King Minos had a powerful navy, a beautiful daughter, and a really big palace. Still, now and then King Minos grew bored. He took his navy and attacked Athens, a town on the other side of the sea.

In desperation, the king of Athens offered King Minos a deal. If Minos would leave Athens alone, Athens would send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to Crete every nine years to be eaten by the Minotaur.

So begins the children’s story of Athenian Prince Theseus and the Minotaur (http://greece.mrdonn.org/theseus.html) accessed 21Mar’12.

As a child, Suzanne Collins was intrigued by this story of child sacrifice. Later in her adult life, she was TV channel surfing. From a rather nasty, youthful competitive reality show she turned to scenes of youthful soldiers engaged in the invasion of Iraq. The myth, virtual reality show, and sensational invasion blurred together in her imagination—giving us a clue to postmodern art. Media overload, with ironies and paradoxes suggest a need for postmodern pastiche. A mixing and matching of disparate images and themes appear in youthful fashions, graffiti, hip-hop and other music, novels and films. And for an underlying theme: youth overcoming savage exploitation through creative strength and courage.

Author Collins says her books tackle “Issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war, among others.”

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine finds in Hunger Games “… something pertinent, the mission to define yourself in a world that’s spinning off its moral axis.”

Young and older are trying to find meaning for their own lives in an economic, political or social world without moral foundations or just social structures.

Finding the meaning of life and our personal identities is a universal quest. In today’s world of media over-load and mixed messages, no one image or story seems adequate. Old-school modern thinkers are slower to pick up on the reason for the popularity of songs (rap especially) and images (crosses and sexual images in a celebrities picture) put together on the bodies or in the stories of a postmodern age.

Harry Potter suffered the loss of parents and social capital experienced by increasing numbers in these times. But with secret power, he and his friends are able to surmount the odds against them. Bella in theTwilight series is lured into the world of the undead by a world unable to satisfy her youthful needs and desires.

We are introduced to Katniss as she forages to survive in the shambles of civilization we’ve left her. This 16-year-old heroine struggles to protect the weak and the downtrodden, to stand up to oppressors, to believe in her own power to make a difference.

A world rife with terrorism and random shootings, yet with contrary stories of generosity and heroism, is the contemporary context of Hunger Games. It is strikingly appealing to young and old forced to find meaning in the confusion of it all.

Youth leader, Chris Troy writes:

Hunger Games is sweeping NYC like nothing I’ve ever seen. I see many reading its books, and I discussed it with one young African-American woman who described it as ‘a survival, love and family story all in one.’ She liked the idea of a warrior female.

The movie is selling out in theaters at all hours…. It’s a captivating story. I think it speaks to the frustration of the young who feel pushed to conform… and their feeling that those in charge want to extinguish their hope in life by imposing rules that don’t make sense to them. They perceive the rules as inhuman.

The movie’s heroine breaks the mold by not only surviving, but doing it on her own terms. She uses her sex to manipulate situations… not in a weak manner but from a position of strength. I suspect girls on the margins may see this as supporting their attempts to do whatever they need to do for survival. A very interesting movie.”

The film and the books are not without controversy. Parents wonder if the film is too violent for their kids, and a feminist complains that the heroine is still trying to please others.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. When did you first hear about Hunger Games? What were your first reactions to the books—and then the movie? Have those reactions changed?
2. What reservations about Hunger Games have you heard about, or do you have?
3. Do the reasons for the great appeal of this series given here make sense to you?
4. What do you see as the significance of this popular trilogy and film?
5. At what age do you think the movie would be appropriate?
6. How do you think a youth group or religious organization might discuss these books and movies?

Implications

1. There is something significant behind any media frenzy that should be studied by parents, teachers, youth leaders and all who care about youth.
2. Popular culture both surveys and critiques the mores of society in many ways. Its copies and satires can suggest important need for reform.
3. People of faith find in the dramas of popular culture reflections of a great divine drama—which offers both judgment and hope.

Dean Borgman
© 2017 CYS

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