Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Will we play the games of the World? Some reflections on the Hunger Games and the Gospel.

Unless you have been stuck out in the bush somewhere for the last few weeks, you will not doubt be aware of the phenomenon which is The Hunger Games. Three books and one movie which, if not (yet) as big as Harry Potter and Twilight, nevertheless belongs in the same category. The movie had the 3rd biggest opening weekend of all time. So a big deal. When I first saw the trailer, my first reaction was “That’s kinda a sick concept.” But what I quickly realized that this was not a phenomenon which I could ignore. Not if I wanted to be able to speak the language of the young people who I work with, young people who will watch the movie and read the books. These books/ movies are speaking to young people by the millions, so we had better be listening. Only then can we truly speak with anything worth saying. So I read the first book. This post reflects the first book, but not the movie or the rest of the trilogy.

The story tells the experience of Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a futuristic North American nation called Panem, were a rich, powerful and corrupt Capitol cruelly rules over twelve outlying districts. As punishment of a rebellion many years ago, one male and one female teenager form each district is sent as a “tribune” to flight one another to death in the “hunger games,” a televised reality TV show on an epic scale. Katniss volunteers to be a tribune after her younger sister Prim’s name is randomly drawn out at “the reaping.” That’s the premise in a nutshell. But if you are going to watch/read the movies/books, I will warn you now, this will contain spoilers. OK, now that’s said. So where do we go with this story. What does it say to us about our world, young people today, about what it means to be human, about God? One thing I will say for the Author, Suzanne Collins, is that the first book at least is thoughtful and though provoking. It echoes myths and realities’ of the past. It critiques the wrongs of the present. And it warns us about our future. And I think that there popularity says something about young people today. I think that it says that many they are not as superficially as many think. But I digress. As Rod Thompson would say, we must celebrate, critique and confront with grace. So that’s what I will try and do here. Hopefully in a way which is helpful for anyone who can be bothered reading.

On one level, the Hunger Games is a timely critique of many of the wrongs of our consumer driven, obsessive western culture. We live in a world where the few (West) have much, live excessive, wasteful and often trivial lives, while most of the world has very little. I am pretty sure I don’t have to convince many people of this. It is not difficult to see this relationship represented in the book by the relationship between the Capitol, where people have plenty, living lives of fashion and luxury, and the districts, where the people produce of all the goods and food, yet live lives of poverty. While the people of the districts have to break the rules just to put food on the table, the people of the Capitol seem to spend most of their time on hear, cloths and make up and follow the hunger games with the same passion which is commonly associated with a soap operas, not unlike us in the west. The people of the districts are powerless to stand up to the injustice. They are mocked daily by the way which the Capitol enforces its power: its soldiers are called “peacekeepers” and power in the districts is exercised from what are called “justice buildings.” Is this really unlike our world? Where millions are starving around the world, what do we in the west do? We obsess over trivia like fashion and gossip. While people are dying of starvation in Africa, Asia and South America, people in the west and dying of obesity. And while we don’t literally have games where we let kids fight to the death for out entertainment, the reality is that many children live and poverty and do end up dying for the entertainment whims of the west. Sweatshops. Slave labour making our chocolate. So while I still find the whole premise of children fighting to the death as disturbing as the first time I saw the trailer on TV, what is more disturbing the suggestion which the book seems to be subtly hinting at thought out: that maybe our society is more like the society of the Capitol than we would care to admit. Yep, the Hunger games are real for many around the world.