“Ave, imperator; morituri te salutant” These words were supposedly the salutation of Roman Gladiators, “We who are about to die salute you.” It is a homage of sorts, a tribute to the mighty State. Two-thousand years ago it was Rome. Today it’s Survivor or American Idol. However you want to cut it up, the outcome is the same. Sure, you get a hero, but the entertainment is watching the pain and suffering; it’s about watching one contestant after the other have their dream, their hope finally put to death. After all, “The Tribe Has Spoken!”
What’s next? In Suzanne Collin’s future world, next is Panem, and the made for TV mega hit, The Hunger Games.
Something good, something true, something beautiful.
“Why not?” I asked.
“All that violence, I skimmed through it,” a very responsible mother confided to me, “and I just think the premise of children killing children is horrible!”
“Fair enough, and if I thought that was the crux of the story I would agree, but I think the book is about something good, something true, and something beautiful.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Love,” I responded, “it’s a story about this dark and painful existence in a world gone wrong — still, there is love, a I Corinthians, chapter 13 kind of love.”
It’s likely that a young person is going to read this book or watch the movie and like it . . . a lot. The question is “why?” A few weeks ago I sat with a group of about twenty-five kids who had read The Hunger Games. They came in on their lunch periodto discuss the book with some adults. Here is what we unpacked:
There is a clear and distinct villain in the story. We talked about violence, oppression, fear, poverty, indulgence, manipulation, and how that the “bad people” in the story put us off. Sure, there is the evil President Snow, but what about all those shallow people who have succumbed to the violence and oppression? The teens had no trouble seeing through to the hollow souls of the citizens of the Capitol. Say, these young kids are pretty smart.
The clear and distinct heroine of the story is Katniss, a wonderfully strong female character whose skills simple and beautiful. These talents represent her relationship with her father. Though this fact was a small offering at the beginning of the book, the students all nodded their approval when a freshman girl said, “I just liked the way Katniss and her dad related.” Her skills were used for sustenance, hunting for food — daily bread. The kids liked the relationship between Katniss and her father. Katniss is awkwardly good with relationships, and that seemed altogether good according the group of kids I talked to. (Every teen can relate to feelings of being socially awkward.)
Truth and Love
The MOMENT OF TRUTH is early in the story. Katniss’ young sister, the delicate Primrose basically receives a death sentence, and the good, true, and beautiful words are cried out, “I volunteer!” She is NOT volunteering to go kill other children; she IS laying down her life for save her sister. In that moment we see a life poured out. It’s sad, but it is beautiful.
We talked about sacrificial love. We discussed giving, serving, helping and caring; the idea of sacrifice was brought up and a student quickly noted how parents work and sacrifice to provide for their children. And the teens talked about the love of Jesus. He too sacrificed much. The Son of God looked at the judgment of the cross, the price to be paid for sin, and those words resounded, “I volunteer!”
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” After all the pretenders and all the fakes have come and gone (the movie did a great job of re-creating a the outward facade of the shallow/lost cosmopolites) , only the Son of God will reign supreme. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, think about all that the Capitol represents. Base entertainment, acquiescence to outward appearance, and selfish indulgence, it’s a world gone bad, fake, and grotesque. “Truth” is what is left after all the facade is pulled away. Katniss is who we hope we can be in the face of all that is wrong. She is an aggressive protector, but it’s hard to interpret her as a violent character.
Teenagers are not put off by the violence; they see that kind of violence everyday in middle schools across America. It’s the violence against every person’s soul (but that another blog).
Katniss is pulled from her world of family and a very stark existence. Welcome to the Capitol where appearance is everything and substance is a rare commodity. Welcome to the real world, except, there is not much that is real. (Do not love the world, neither the things in the world…” I John 2:15) Katniss is introduced to indulgence at the grand level; here is the outcome of a world without truth — a society that is anesthetized by entertainment, food, and appearances (“…for all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” I John 2:16)
Though her world may be stark, we learn that Katniss is rich in what matters most. She is rich in relationship, she is rich in spirit, and she has empathetic capacities that matter in this story. Mostly, she demonstrates selfless love.
There are a hundred other little nuances of The Hunger Games that cause me to reflect on my faith and the virtues of personal identity, character, strength of will, and hope. I have learned this, you might be surprised to learn what you can learn from a teenager and The Hunger Games.
Love seeks what is the best for those we love.