“The Hunger Games” as a mirror? Don’t kid yourself.

This is a response to “The Hunger Games” as a Mirror written on The Truth Seeker Blog.

The blog seems to be based on a statement by actress Jennifer Lawrence and presents The Hunger Games as a mirror to our violent society and the desensitization that comes from our obsession with watching violence as a form of entertainment.

Collins offers the readers/viewers “a terrible kind of mirror,” according to Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the teenage leading role, Katniss. “This is what our society could be like if we become desensitized to trauma and to each other’s pain,” said Lawrence.

In my opinion, the only kind of mirror The Hunger Games offers is the kind that coke heads use to snort lines off of. Allow me to explain…

While Suzanne Collins may have written The Hunger Games to hold a mirror up to society and critique our lust for violence, I think the book and the film’s success may be more a result of the included violence rather than society’s urge for a thought provoking critique. It would seem to me, then, that Collins is profiting off the very thing she is trying to depict as deplorable which places her in a rather precarious position.

Katniss: Bringer of Death

The most common image from the film is sanitized violence. But don’t kid yourself: This teen uses this bow repeatedly to bring bloody death and destruction to other children. The film shows the result of the arrow. Audiences cheer.

Collins gets to basically have it both ways: On the one hand she gets to publicly decry violence for entertainment and those who would profit off of it. On the other hand, she lines her pocketbook as if she were a lanista (Roman term for one who owns, trains, and leases gladiators) from book readers and audiences drawn to theaters to watch that violence in action!

Common Sense Media gave the film a 4 rating on a scale of 0-to-5 for violence, partly because of the scene where the Games first launch. Says CSM’s Betsy Bozdech to EW, “It really is kind of a bloodbath.”

To be fair, here are a few excerpts from the book:

A boy, I think from District 9, reaches the pack at the same time I do and for a brief time we grapple for it and then he coughs, splattering my face with blood.  I stagger back, repulsed by the warm, sticky spray.  Then the boy slips to the ground.  That’s when I see the knife in his back.

And what about this one…

It takes a few moments to find Cato in the dim light, in the blood.  Then the raw hunk of meat that used to be my enemy makes a sound, and I know where his mouth is.  And I think the word he’s trying to say is please.  Pity, not vengeance, sends my arrow flying into his skull.

Our society still has a lust for violence, and I believe this is what draws people to The Hunger Games – not the message Collins claims the books are portraying. Since its open, The Hunger Games has dominated the box office, bringing in $322 million between March 23 and April 13 (according to boxofficemojo.com). In 2011, ten of the top grossing fifteen films were extremely violent films targeted at children or adults: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Fast Five, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Thor, Captain America: The FIrst Avenger, and Kung Fu Panda 2. Of the remaining five, Bridesmaids and The Hangover Part II are filled with crude and often “violent” humor.

I do not believe that the average person in our society “gets” the deeper message of The Hunger Games, and Collins is hypocritical for using and profiting off of depictions of violence as a means of critiquing violence.

Fight Club

THG has just as bloody and violent scenes as these in Fight Club. But for some reason, screen shots of these aren’t available online. Why are they trying to hide the violence?

David Fincher encountered this problem when he adapted Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club into a film in 1999. At its core, the film/book is a critique on the foolish outcomes of adopting a Nietzschean worldview. Fincher called the film a “satire” that isn’t “advocating” the violence contained in it saying, “You know, I was very cautious to say that this Nietzschean uberman is a great idea for high school seniors and college sophomores, but it doesn’t really work in the real world beyond that, you know? And that’s kind of what the movie’s talking about.”

Edward Norton said of the film, “I feel that Fight Club really, in a way … probed into the despair and paralysis that people feel in the face of having inherited this value system out of advertising,” and Brad Pitt was quoted as saying, “Fight Club is a metaphor for the need to push through the walls we put around ourselves and just go for it, so for the first time we can experience the pain.”

While the film’s creators may have had high-brow ideals, society’s reaction to the film was nothing but low-brow. Actual fight clubs sprang up all over the United States among adults, on college campuses, and even among teens and preteens. Several young men, including teenagers, used the film as inspiration to commit senseless acts of violent terrorism designed to mimic events of the film. Palahniuk, Fincher, Norton, and Pitt may have been selling the film because they wanted to hold a mirror to society about the futility and foolishness of violence, but for the most part society bought the film because they hungered for the violence being portrayed.

Photo: Gawker Media

Kyle Shaw, 19, set off a bomb outside a Starbucks inspired by the anarchist “message” of Fight Club. {Gawker Media}

On the subject of young men asking Palahniuk where they could find a fight club in their area he responds, “‘I always felt bad telling them that they didn’t actually exist, that I made them up, but the fact they were looking for them somehow attested to the power of the fiction.”

Little has changed in the past 2000 years. Society’s hunger for violence as sport is still as insatiable as ever. We may have dressed it up by making it “fake” in movies and television, or non-death-causing in real world arena spectaculars such as UFC, the NFL, and the NHL (although these do cause deaths and fantastic injuries), but society still hungers for violence as entertainment. It is intellectually dishonest and entirely hypocritical for people like Suzanne Collins then to “legitimize” depictions of violence by somehow saying that they are a “mirror” on society she is using to show us how depraved and foolish it is to entertain ourselves with violence.

The Hunger Games has earned over $300 million in the box office because it gives audiences a chance to fill the shoes of the depraved individuals depicted who are watching the ‘real’ Hunger Games for entertainment. Don’t kid yourself: The audience isn’t critiquing that sick society: They are participating in an escapist fantasy where they get to bethat society for a few hours.

Look for Hunger Games mock tournaments to hit college campuses soon just like Quiddich tournaments and fight clubs have in the past.

Harry Goldfarb played by Jared Leto {Requiem for a Dream}

Requiem for a Dream depicts the darker sides of substance abuse without forcing the viewer to partake.

When I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, I literally felt like I was a victim of substance abuse like his characters in the film were portrayed. It made me sick to my stomach and I’ll never watch the film again. It also made me understand, without trying them, that the drugs depicted in the film were very bad and ruin lives.

When I saw, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting I certainly gathered from the film that heroin addiction was a terrible thing, but I didn’t feel like I experienced first-hand what heroin addiction was like. Would it make sense, then, to really get the message across that Boyle require everyone who watches his film to also try a hit of heroin? How much worse would it be if the target audience of the film was a bunch of heroin addicts and partaking in the drug was a requirement to watch it?

That is why I think Collins is playing a dangerous game. The society she is holding a mirror up to is one which craves and enjoys watching violence for entertainment. In order to show them how depraved they are (or could be) she offers up violence for entertainment. That is why I say the “mirror” here is like the mirror that a coke addict uses to snort lines off of. It might show their reflection, but it is simultaneously enabling their addiction!

I looked for online polls describing the favorite scenes of Hunger Games. I found one on Yahoo! Answers that had 10 (legitimate) responses, but it told an interesting story.  Seven of them described scenes of death, murder, and suicide. Three of them described the “Cave Kiss” scene. The one voted best answer was:

“When that big black guy smoothered that one girl.”

My suspicion if that if I were to conduct a real-world poll, the results would be similar. People go to the film to see the violent fight scenes and they leave with those as their favorites. The second favorite scene is probably going to be a kiss scene, which also doesn’t support the theory that the film is a mirror to society for our finding entertainment in watching violence.

Collins, don’t you realize that you’re trying to teach a bunch of addicts a lesson by giving them the very thing they are addicted to? Meanwhile non-addicts who are drawn in by the “deeper” concepts of love, liberty, and critiquing society are becoming further desensitized to the violence you are portraying in your books/film. You can’t have it both ways.

Like the lanistas of old, Collins is raking in the cash with one hand while patting herself on the back with the other for supposedly teaching society a high-minded lesson. If it is true that Suzanne Collins is trying to teach us a lesson and/or be critical of a society that entertains itself with violence as a form of entertainment, then she is either a hypocrite or a fool.

  • KMB Dryden

    I don’t think Collins is hypocritical. I think she is an author, doing what authors do. How the public chooses to respond to the truth inherent in the Hunger Games is not her fault or her responsibility, just as it is unfair to blame God for the actions of evil people who misinterpret the Bible. The mere fact that the public would look at such depravity and try to emulate it, rather than be repulsed by it, suggests that we are in a much worse state than we imagine, and actually suggests the need for such mirrors as the Hunger Games.

    Furthermore, violence isn’t the only portrait of our corruption provided in the Hunger Games. Let us not forget our waste. Our vanity. Our mindless need for constant entertainment. Et cetera! The violence was merely the apex of her reproach, because the severity of such perversion cannot be argued. However, not everyone thinks that plastic surgery is a debasement. Not everyone thinks wastefulness is a vice. And not everyone thinks of the mindless diversions surrounding us as a self-inflicted degeneration of our intellect, relationships, and physical & moral health.

    Personally, I loved the Hunger Games Trilogy because of the thought provoking critique it presents of our society; but I have always loved dystopias because of the thought-provoking truth inherent in them.