The Hunger Games: Our Appetite for Reality TV

Posted: March 22, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Drama, Thriller
Tags: , , ,

If you aren’t a middle schooler, you may not realize that The Hunger Games is one of the most anticipated movies of the year.  It is based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling book (first of a trilogy) of the same title.  Watch the trailer below for a preview…

When this “young adult” novel first gained popularity, I was asked to review it in order to evaluate its appropriateness for middle school students.  After reading it, my general conclusion was that The Hunger Games was much more “adult” than “young adult”– not just for the violence, but the intense brutality, deprivation, and tyranny mixed with adult romance.  Even though the book contains much to discuss from a worldview perspective, my concern was that few parents would ever have those conversations with their children.  Now, with the buzz of the opening of the movie, more children than ever will absorb the story.  So parents, If you allow your children or teens to see The Hunger Games, you won’t miss the opportunity to teach them through it!

The Hunger Games  is set in the future, in the nation of Panem (what was once North America), a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the state-like districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.  When Katniss Everdeen, our sixteen year old heroine, steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Without spoiling too much of it for you, the context of the story is really just an extreme reality TV show.  It’s like an episode of Survivor that is actually about surviving!  The Hunger Games are no “games” at all, even though they are treated as such from the “selection show” to the player interviews to its televising practices, etc.  It is truly a prophetic message of where our modern appetite for reality TV may take us someday.

So, why are we so hungry for reality TV?  If you add together sporting events, game shows, and all other self-described reality programming, they make up a clear majority of what’s on television every day.  Then, there are also all of the programs that talk about these reality shows.  Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, was recently asked a question concerning our obsession with this particular genre.  Here’s her answer:

Well, they’re often set up as games and, like sporting events, there’s an interest in seeing who wins. The contestants are usually unknown, which makes them relatable. Sometimes they have very talented people performing.  Then there’s the voyeuristic thrill—watching people being humiliated, or brought to tears, or suffering physically—which I find very disturbing. There’s also the potential for desensitizing the audience, so that when they see real tragedy playing out on, say, the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.

Collins makes some good observations.  Human beings have always loved being spectators of sports and games.  We love cultivating our rivalries (see my post on The Prestige).  We are intrigued by skills and abilities we do not possess.  We long to be entertained.

But while these may be general human characteristics and desires, they also may reflect our sin nature more than the image of God.  Our “interest in seeing who wins” may demonstrate a longing for ultimate victory in Christ; or it may also be a sign of our tendency towards prideful self-gratification.  Our desire to “relate” to contestants can point to our being created by God for relationships; or it can also be an indicator of our avoidance of true relationships.  Our penchant to watch talented people perform can reflect our longing for beauty and giftedness; or it can easily just be a jealous coveting of others’ skills.

Collins’ last two points are especially disconcerting, yet extremely accurate.  The voyeuristic thrill of Reality TV fuels much of our modern appetite.  We would rather watch other people suffer (especially our “enemies”) than deal with and rise above our own suffering.  With apologies to our NASCAR friends, how many people watch racing mainly for the crashes?  Or hockey for the fights?  Or football for the big hits?  Or Survivor-type shows for the smack-down and humiliation?  Our sinful natures long to see others suffer or even just embarrass themselves.  Yet God calls us to be people of mercy and compassion!  We should be distressed at human suffering, not energized and excited by it!

Finally, Collins speaks to the desensitization of the audience.  To paraphrase our good friend Emilio, it is amazing that we decry violence in the movies, yet say little about 350 pound men destroying each other for the “love of the game.”  That’s desensitization.  And, we all know that “reality shows” are more show than reality, getting the viewer involved in staged stories at the expense of true reality.  So while we lament all the “suffering” of our reality stars, we ignore the suffering going on with real people all over the world–especially other Christians!

Our appetite for the typical degradation of Reality TV can be an idolatrous substitute for what God calls us to: A true hunger and thirst for righteousness!

  1. Cindy says:

    I really appreciated this review. The paragraph on all the contrasts of it might be a longing for ultimate victory in Christ; or it may also be a sign of prideful self-gratification…..etc was helpful. You had several contrasts in there. That paragraph really spoke to “why” we are drawn to something and our ability to deceive ourselves that it’s something else other than our sinful nature. The heart is deceitful as the Bible says and even early on we learn to “trick” our own motives. Our children can learn so early the “buzz” words to cover up the real reasons they want to do something….as can adults. This gave me lot to think on. Thanks!

  2. “Then there’s the voyeuristic thrill—watching people being humiliated, or brought to tears, or suffering physically—which I find very disturbing”
    This coming from the author! I too find it very disturbing. I appreciate the candor with which you approach the movies and the biblical perspective that you present in reviewing them. Thank you for allowing the Lord to work through you in this way.

    • John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for the comment! All of us here at Reel Thinking work hard, by God’s grace, to put the lens of Scripture to the movies. Thanks again!

  3. […] more into the fray we go.  If you haven’t read the two other reviews yet, please look at post one and post two first, since this one will build on those […]

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