Thursday, April 5, 2012
Can't tear themselves away from the Hunger Games
It has taken me a long time to understand why I feel uneasy about my students' fascination with The Hunger Games.
And just in case there are people out there who don't know what I'm talking about, this recent book series and movie is a story set in post-apocalyptic America. The government is totalitarian. Every year the rulers require two teen-aged "tributes" from each of the twelve provinces to report to the capital, be trained, and compete in a duel to the death--last survivor wins. The contest is televised and all citizens are required to watch every episode
--death after gruesome death. For those not directly affected, the contest is enthralling entertainment not unlike that of the Roman Coliseum. It's a captivating event that keeps the nation glued to the screen from one horror to the next. They laugh, cheer, bite their nails, and cry...but they can't stop watching.
Like most post-apocalyptic, totalitarian government, mechanized, dehumanizing literature, it warns against power in the hands of the wrong people; it cautions against win-at-all-cost mentality and it offers hope to those who dare to oppose evil and ban together to set things right.
Still, I was troubled, and I wasn't sure what bothered me about the students' love for this series. After all, I assign reading to them which could be criticized for having questionable content, books like Animal Farm--which is about totalitarian government and Out of the Night, which is about the Holocaust. I don't mind their reading Lord of the Rings or Lords of the Earth or The Longest Day even though those books have their share of violence. I had been hesitant about the value of other books they read, but I could usually pinpoint why.
The Hunger Games, however, looks innocuous, even educational, from the outside, so why this feeling at the pit of my stomach? I've read lots of reviews. A few of them criticize the movie but don't really pinpoint why; most of them are rabidly in favor. Maybe that's what rankles. Rabid anything suggests caution to me.
Why is it so enthralling? Why are my junior-high students so fiercely defensive? Why are they rushing their achievement tests so they can finish the chapter, and refusing to take a restroom break because they have a few pages left? What keeps them glued to the riveting finish? Shouldn't I be glad that they are reading at all? Somehow I'm not. There's that feeling.
I look at the delight, the shivers, the intensity as they read--eyes glued to the book; From the background, I listen to their guarded discussion as they praise the movie and insist they are going to watch it yet again. Why is the tone of their conversation conspiratorial? What is troubling me?
I'm far from reaching the complete answer, but it sickened me yesterday to realize something: As we read Hunger Games, we look at those pampered tyrants in the "capitol"--those wealthy, uncaring, citizens who force children to kill each other so they can enjoy the drama on a screen and we loathe them. But isn't that what we are doing too? Getting pleasure from the adrenaline rush we feel as yet another tribute dies?