What to do with Violence in the Hunger Games?

by Bo Sanders

In serious need of a study break, 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, I would recommend it.

That being said, I left the theatre with three quotes running though my head. I also posted at Homebrewed Christianity but wanted to compare notes here.

The first quote relates to a scene where a young person (on the bad team) 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 it?  Can we say 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?

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback … whether you agree with me or not. 

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2 Responses to What to do with Violence in the Hunger Games?

  1. Emily says:

    After watching the movie yesterday, I am also pondering these and related questions.

    It’s disturbing that the audience in your theater cheered on the very violence critiqued by the story. Have the individuals who cheered simply missed the point? Or is there a systemic numbness to (or even glorification of) violence which our popular media inherently creates? My initial thought is that these both are key factors.

    Your reflection also made me think about an article I recently read about Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who plays Katniss in the movie. She described how after her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone she had difficulty landing auditions for more “feminine characters.” So she decided that what she needed to do to keep working in Hollywood was to pose in a provocative photo shoot for Esquire magazine. She attributed landing a role in X-Men:First Class to that photo shoot.

    Hollywood’s systemic sexism and its overriding narrative that women are only valued for their looks and sexual appeal doesn’t mesh well with the narratives of women portrayed in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. Call me cynical, but I think if The Hunger Games was initially written as a screenplay, it wouldn’t have been made into the movie it is because it didn’t fit Hollywood’s lucrative and one-dimensional narrative of women and girls. It was only made into a movie because it was already “proven” to be lucrative by its best-selling book status.

    Perhaps The Hunger Games movie is as strong a critique that can come from an industry in which systemic oppression, sexism, racism, and glorification of violence is not yet undone? I did enjoy the movie, but I believe we need to keep asking these hard questions and engaging these systemic issues further.

  2. ethnicspace says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I referenced it at church yesterday. I think you make several key points and I will look forward to an ongoing dialogue about these issues. -Bo

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