Violence in the Hunger Games

Writing a paper on Globalization calls for a serious study break and tonight I headed to the opening day of the Hunger Games. There are three things that you should know about my movie going experience:

  1. My theater is one block from UCLA and I appeared to be the oldest person in the theatre.
  2. LA is wonderful for diversity. This was the most eclectic group of folks I have watched an opening night movie with since I watched the Waterboy in New York  (1998)
  3. I have intentionally not watched a single preview or read anything about the movie whatsoever. I hate how previews ruin the narrative experience for me.

In short I will simply say this for the movie:

  • It was better than advertised.
  • The DeColonial themes in the first half of the movie were incredible (I will write more about this next week).
  • If you are contemplating going, you should go.

That being said, I left the theatre with three quotes running though my head. The first relates to a scene where a young person (on the badteam) is killed and the crowd I was with … cheered. Now, up to that point violence had been a very bad thing and an unwanted/inevitable element of oppression and Imperial spectacle. I’m not even focusing on the violence against women angle here – just the violence alone. Chris Hedges talk of war movies the same way:

“They turn war into porn. Soldiers and Marines, especially those who have never seen war, buy cases of beer and watch movies like Platoon, movies meant to denounce war, and as they do, they revel in the destructive power of weaponry. The reality of violence is different. Everything formed by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future. It leaves behind nothing but death, grief, and destruction.” –  Death of the Liberal Class (p. 55).

As a Christian I am always amazed by an ever-present paradox.Often in my circles, folks who have air-tight orthodoxy cred and are in complete alignment with the Creedal formulations … have an openness to violence and a willingness for militarism the betrays the very story of the Jesus that they so passionately proclaim.  Then they run into somebody like John Caputo who’s orthodoxy & ontology are surely suspect by who gets Jesus right:

 “The kingdom of God is the rule of weak forces like patience and forgiveness, which, instead of forcibly exacting payment for an offense, release and let go. The kingdom is found whenever war and aggression are met with an offer of peace. The kingdom is a way of living, not in eternity, but in time, a way of living without why, living for the day, like the lilies of the field – figures of weak forces – as opposed to mastering and programming time, calculating the future, containing and managing risk. The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.” -The Weakness of God, p. 15

I think I would rather be with Caputo and get Jesus right than to have the right Christology and miss the whole point with Jesus. The final quote comes from Franz Fannon in the Wretched of the Earth:

 “The starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that only violence pays. For him there is no compromise, no possible coming to terms; colonization and decolonization are simply a question of relative strength. The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means, and that of force first and foremost … (it) will only yield when confronted with greater violence.” (48)

I watched the movie tonight and drove home with these three quotes in my head. What do we do with movies meant to expose the Imperial spectacle of violence and end up glorifying it? Is this a case where the medium is the message and if violence is on a screen it can not communicate the badness of violence but exalts all violence? How do we as Christians navigate the spectacle of violence from our friends watching MMA to our congregants applauding war, electric chairs, drone attacks and torture? What if they have better Christology, Ontololgy, and Creedal subscription than we do … but get the violence question wrong and miss the whole point of Jesus’ life and death? And how do we who occupy the privileged place, the place of power, and the dominant  narrative recognize that violence in support of the hegemonic status quo is not the same as violence against and in revolt of it?  That what is good for the goose is not necessarily what is good for the gander if the goose is the only one armed to the teeth?

 

Post Script: I loved this conversation and am so grateful for the insightful and sincere responses. I am thankful for intelligent exchange without disrespectful or snarky dismissiveness.  As I have watched the conversation evolve, it has become clear that something else is needed in the post. So I want to add it for future clarity.

Empire is a particular formation of government and power and, given its pretence to be global, generates a ‘collective spirit’, an anthropological construction, that allows and approves of certain behaviours, reactions, feelings, and attitudes of the social and political actors, that shapes a certain logic and way of conceiving life, and that imposes and translates itself into values and a hegemonic Weltanschauung (ethos).[1]


[1] Néstor Míguez, Joerg Rieger, and Jung Mo Sung, Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key ( 2009), Kindle Locations 204–207.

 

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25 comments
Stephen
Stephen

Here's my bottom line: Whether or not you agree with the system that leads to this, here is an 18 year old that unhesitatingly slaughters 10 year olds and was in the middle of attempting to kill another person. Is it wrong to be relieved that she was thwarted in her attempt to kill again? No one cheered any deaths in the theater that I was in, so it's harder for me to imagine the context here. And, I'm obviously anti-empire, but I just don't think we are combating empire by policing people's reactions. The girl was a killer and was attempting to kill again. Yes, its a messed up world, but it just strikes me as self-righteous to get mad at kids in a theater for being happy that she was stopped. My concern is that if we try to turn "love your enemies" into a universal rule for all times and places, that we are going to be forced into adopting a self-righteous detachment from real life. Again with the Bin Laden example, just because some people used that situation to spout their jingoistic, nationalistic machismo, doesn't mean that I can't be happy that someone who did such horrible things (mass murder, tarnished the name of Islam, etc.) is now dead.

Stephen
Stephen

I don't disagree that they were all victims, but the problem that I have is more along the lines of reaction policing. It appears to me that you are insisting that the only legitimate reaction to the situation is to feel sympathy and pity for all involved. Whereas I think some anger is justified. Obviously, those kids (who btw were the oldest ones in the competition) were raised into a world where they were taught to revel in killing other children and that's sad. But I just don't think we get anywhere by chastising those who feel solidarity with the kids who are trying to avoid the killing. To me, this is similar to when liberals were getting so self-righteous over the death of Osama Bin Laden. He was a dark, twisted, genocidal f*** and he deserved to die. Anger (and sometimes violence) is sometimes an appropriate response against oppression. Just because the US military did the killing doesn't mean OBL didn't deserve to die.

Brother Fuller
Brother Fuller

Bo, I like you, but I'm too much of a postmodern to think that one dude can "get Jesus right," even if it is John Caputo. The other side of this argument that I think pacifist-Jesus-lovers (and I'm pretty close to being one) leave out far too often when it comes to discussing narrative fiction is that, in my opinion, it takes MUCH LESS mental gymnastics to make a hero of Katniss than it does to make a compassionate God out of many of Jesus' parables, such as some kings, vineyard owners, and party throwers. Is the Jesus really too much of a pacifist to allow a woman to tell a story about a child heroine who uses violence defending herself WHILE Jesus himself will make a hero of a dude who uses violence against another for not wearing the right clothes (Mattew 22)? I wonder how many people in the first cent who heard the parable of the unforgiving servant thought "that guy got what was coming to him" when the king sends him off to be tortured (Matthew 18)? If movies about war and violence are porn, then was Jesus a big distributor of parable porn? Just questions...

Joe Paparone
Joe Paparone

Stephen, I agree with you regarding the complexity, and that not all forms of violence are equal. I still get pumped up watching the final montage of Karate Kid :). But in this particular instance, I felt the film (and the book) were very clear that ALL of the competitors were victims, even the ones who embraced the Games. So in this circumstance, to cheer the death of any of the competitors would be to miss the critique of violence that Collins is after. Cheering the death of ANY of the kids seems more like standing in solidarity with one victim over another, and in the context of this film/novel, that's precisely what the real oppressor, the Capitol, desires.

Stephen
Stephen

Bo, I have to disagree with you on this one. It's somewhat disturbing to me when "christian" ideas of love and non-violence lead us into thinking that all violence is equally horrific. I'm certainly no fan of capital punishment. But I don't think we should try to police people's feelings when they, in solidarity with the victims of oppression, are pleased that someone who mercilessly kills children is themselves killed. Killing a person who can slaughter young children with no hesitation or remorse is not the same thing as that person killing children. Existence in the world is much much too complicated to assume that all forms of violence are equal.

Naomi Passarelli
Naomi Passarelli

Hey Bo, Was really interesting to get the take of people who saw the movie who did not read the book. It was interesting because the book is narrated in the first person. You only ever see Katniss' point of view (main character) and you know her thoughts intimately. The book in no way glorifies violence and is epic in that even the main character, Katniss, eventually acknowledges that she did nothing to save others and only thought of herself. Peeta, another character, eventually is shown as one of the only good people in the series because not only does he refuse to kill but he puts his own needs and life behind that of others in the arena in future books. That being said, having heard your perspective I completely agree that the movie did a poor job of conveying the anti-violence sentiment the book imparts. There was not a single death in the book that had me cheering. It breaks my heart when humans ignore their humanity (and by that I mean the humans we are created to be, like Jesus).

Jimmy
Jimmy

I think Catos speech at the end was important. He recognizes himself as part of a larger, violent system, and though in the end he laments it, he initially embraces it and it leads to his destruction. Anti-violence definitely isn't a theme in these books, but it never glorifies it. I don't think the movie did either, but people still reacted to it as if it did. I think the only way we know how to react against oppression without violence. We would rather skip to the resurrection portion of the Jesus narrative (and perhaps try to make it happen ourselves) without allowing ourselves to die first. With that said: May the odds be ever in your favor!

Joel
Joel

I guess it's just interesting to me that some people I know who normally care about the issues raised in the series have immediately written off The Hunger Games as pabulm because of its association with tween/teen culture. "Odd" was maybe a bad word choice. =)

joe carson
joe carson

Bo, Please consider applying "suffering for righteousness' sake" to this post and the previous one. What can it mean to "suffer for righteousness' sake"? How would the privileged people who read and comment on your posts likely find opportunities to do so? How does such suffering compare/contrast with other types of suffering? What is historical record about it? What does its existence mean for humanity in 2012? etc. Joe

Joel
Joel

I totally get what you're saying. I was surprised when the theater cheered Clove's death--especially for how brutal it was. Having read the books, I could also see how the film was trying to resolve the first leg of the story the way the first book did, but I'm not sure it came across as strongly as it did in the book. That is to say, I think Suzanne Collins would agree with you 100%. Without giving anything away, the trilogy, I think, is making the exact same argument you are. But just like with the anti-war films you mention, there's no guarantee everyone is going to get that. It's probably more likely in our culture that most people won't. I don't know at what point in development we expect human beings to pick up on nuanced, complex arguments against violence in film, but I think The Hunger Games is certainly a weird gray area in that regard given that theaters are full of teens who largely have missed some really important themes of the books and film. It's odd that there are so many blog posts being written out there by adults, such as yours or this from GOOD Magazine: http://www.good.is/post/4-things-the-hunger-games-can-teach-us-about-the-war-on-women/ and at the same time other adults are writing the whole thing off as being the next Twilight because of all the teens they see wearing Team Peeta or Team Gale shirts. Not saying that either position is odd, just that it seems odd to have all of them together.

Pete z
Pete z

I take exception to the idea that as a progressive I have don't have awesome christology

Jono Child
Jono Child

Reading Walter Wink: The powers that be, combined with John Howard Yoder really rocked my world. As an individual who grew up in the church his whole life I had never been exposed to thinking about violence, war, the system & our responsibility to love and be just as a means of peace until reading this. This deeply saddened me as most Christians especially young ones like myself are totally oblivious to the system of consumerism and how it functions producing indirect/direct suffering & violence. The inability of the church as a whole to preach and live a Gospel that confronts the system because it values individuals equally and choses to love all, leaves us unable to respond to the question of violence, because we fail firstly understand the depth of what the Gospel and Kingdom have done and are doing. This leaves us as Christians taking part in redemptive violence, war, MMA, oppressive economics without even thinking about the consequences.

Jeffrey Pugh
Jeffrey Pugh

Nice reflections Bo, I was thinking along similar lines when I saw this movie yesterday. I confess, I've not read the books, though it is not hard to anticipate why hope becomes a power later. Just one small observation. Inasmuch as we create the world, we have allowed the myth of redemptive violence to become part of our communal assumptions. It is what caused the cheering in the theater at the death of the "bad" people, not realizing that they too, are also victims of imperial formation/spectacle. I appreciated all these comments, As long as people of faith allow the myth of redemptive violence to shape their narratives they will only contribute to the forces that shape our world in alignment with the powerful's desires. But to throw off that myth would mean we have to look at Scripture (Jewish and Christian) and Jesus with fresh eyes. Hard to do when we exist under a sacred canopy thousands of years in the making.

Will
Will

HUNGER GAMES is about kids murdering each other and got a PG-13. BULLY has kids swearing in it and got an R. F*ck you, MPAA. -Doug Benson

Pastor Nar
Pastor Nar

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! I watched the movie tonight with a group of friends. I went into it without any knowledge of the book, the plot ... nothing. Towards the end of the movie - when Katniss and Peeta considered eating the poisonous berries, I turned to my buddy Ivan and said: "You know, sometimes in order to 'win' we have to refuse to play the game." Thinking about this as I was driving home I amended my thought by adding: "... according to their rules." Just something I'm thinking about.

Steven Carter
Steven Carter

I think my answer is simple to say, but hard to do, as you make a very good point about missing the message of Jesus. My answer is thus; you have to look at the violence to truly see the ramifications that violence can have, but one must do it while simultaneously looking for those non-violent moments that speak more to the love of God then the do the violence of man. For instance, Katniss giving the three finger salute to D11 in honor of Rues death. Rue's life one lived, I would say sacrificially. My final example is how it was LOVE, not violence that saves the main characters. These are things of God woven into the imperfectness of humanity.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Phil, thank you so much for the link and for the thoughtful article. I will add you to my reading list! -Bo

Steven Carter
Steven Carter

I have one question in this back and forth between Bo and Stephen. That question is where in his ministry did Jesus demonstrate that it was Okay to hold onto anger, or to call for the death of someone, anyone? Jesus went so far with his pacifism that he forgave people while he was on the cross even those that called for his death, I am sure that I do not need to actually throw a quote in here. So, my point is, as Christians, those who claim the way of Christ as their religion, is it not the call on us to practice extraordinary forgiveness? Okay, it was two questions.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Stephen, you make one good point and then miss the other point. Yes, feeling solidarity with the kids who are trying to avoid the killing is one thing. The system however is not called into question and the structure is never in danger. This is about empire. OF COURSE the empire wanted Bin Laden killed. That is not what 'liberals' were uncomfortable with. It was the thousands streaming into the street, waving flags and chanting USA USA that made some folks question what narrative was being assumed. Here I quote Néstor Míguez, Joerg Rieger, and Jung Mo Sung, Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key. Kindle Locations 204–207. "Empire is a particular formation of government and power and, given its pretence to be global, generates a ‘collective spirit’, an anthropological construction, that allows and approves of certain behaviours, reactions, feelings, and attitudes of the social and political actors, that shapes a certain logic and way of conceiving life, and that imposes and translates itself into values and a hegemonic Weltanschauung (ethos)." What do you think about that? -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Stephen, Joe said it better than I could have. So let instead ask a couple of questions. - how do you (we) distinguish between those who have been conditioned and groomed into a culture of violence (and thus are victimized as well as victimize)? This young girl who's death was cheered was herself a product (and not just a participant) in this cycle of violence. - The young black man who killed her was shortly killed himself. How does your above opinion account for that perpetuation of the cycle? I doesn't seem to me that it does. - Would you say that 'bad' people then do deserve to be beaten to death? and who decides that? Are you the decider? and how do we identify the evil doers ... er, I mean bad people. I do hope you will respond. -Bo (p.s. I never said all violence was the same)

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

I really like the first half of your response Joel! The second part left me a little confused. If we are all under the narrative canopy of violence, then an adult believer might respond with thoughtful reflection and a youth might participate in consumer purchases in order to brand themselves and identify with one group over another. That doesn't seem odd to me that those two would come out of it. Just my 2cents -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

@JeffreyPugh I agree you 100% and I my move in your direction for use of that vocabulary. Your comment has my mental gears in motion. @JonoChild I had the exact same experience. Wink and Yoder can be powerful gateways for awaking to these realities. @PeteZ I did not say that progressives don't have awesome christology. I said that the knock on Caputo is his Ontology & Christology. If you listened to the Merold Westphal interview or read my post about Caputo or were at the 3D live event we just recorded with Caputo this knock would be familiar to you. So, no need to take exception ;) I was just talking about Caputo (continental, post-modern, post-structural?). I'm not sure I ever used the word progressive. Just for clarity - I am a progressive and have amazingly awesome Christology.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

while I understand what you are saying ... I have to point out that this doesn't happen in a vacuum. Rue is IN that situation because of a spectacle of violence. The factory workers in Dist. 11 are oppressed by that same power. Yes, love is a powerful element of that character and of the movie, but in the bigger picture - the overwhelming presence and demand of violence overpowers any minor theme or sub-plot. -Bo

Steven Carter
Steven Carter

The world is a violent place. The author and by proxy the movie are subsequently violent as a representation of the world we live in. Violence only overpowers a sub-plot if you allow it to be the main focus of your viewing. Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." In regards to our conversation the evil is the totalitarian state, oppression, and violence. If we turn a blind eye to violence and pretend that it does not exist and refuse to examine it then we do nothing and evil wins, for it can continue without being challenged. However, doing something does not require that we return violence with violence, or allow ourselves to turn into something that we are not, as Peeta wishes to prevent at all costs, but at the same time he does not do nothing, he does not pretend that he is not in the situation that he is in, he examines his situation with a critical mind and tries to be himself above all costs. Martian Luther King Jr. did not do nothing, he spoke up and out and called for us to love. Truly, the moral that I took out of the story is one of the power of love. In the end, when we are gone, what we leave behind is our human interactions and the most powerful memories are the ones of Love. Its all about the lens through which we view our interactions that will dictate whether we become part of the screaming mob, just as D1 and D2 did, or if we choose to follow love, be free, and choose "not to play their game . . . according to their rules."

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