The Hunger Games: Battling Through the Cultural Lies

Posted: March 23, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Drama, Thriller
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As the participants of The Hunger Games battle for their lives, we too find ourselves in a war for our culture.  The weapons of our warfare aren’t bows, arrows, knives, or spears, “but [our weapons] have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).  Our young people who read the trilogy and await the big movie opening today are deeply involved in the battle of ideas and beliefs.  So, to help them (and even us adults), let’s consider just a few of the cultural lies that are launched at us throughout this novel-based film.

Cultural Lie #1: The Supremacy of Feminism.  Katniss Everdeen is the heroine of the story.  She is strong, determined, courageous, and sacrificial.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with a girl having these character qualities.  Yet Katniss is also extremely feministic in her attitudes and mindset, as well as deeply hardened emotionally.  This is the feminist ideal.  Modern feminism idolizes strengh, power, independence, intelligence, and success in women (not to mention the distrust of authority and bitterness against men)–all embodied by Katniss.  And, most of the girls that are portrayed as somewhat “feminine” in the story are too soft, weak, or ditzy.

Cultural Lie #2: The Feminization of Men.  The male hero in the book is Peeta Mellark.  Of course, he is greatly overshadowed by Katniss (see point #1).  Even though Peeta is physically strong, he’s also soft, sensitive, and lacks true skills or even intelligence.  This is the typical role reversal that is encouraged in American culture.  Peeta is “carried” most of the game by the gifted and courageous Katniss.  He wouldn’t be alive without her!  And finally, he longs to pursue Katniss as a girlfriend, but lacks the courage.  He is the embodiment of the feminized male.

Cultural Lie #3: The Superiority of Children over Adults.  Continuing a trend that we have seen in TV and movies for most of my lifetime, the children of The Hunger Games are far superior to adults.  This may be seen as acceptable story telling, since the intended audience is adolescents.  But this lack of adults with any real character is yet another piece of cultural propaganda.  Kids always win.  The adult establishment is always corrupt.  This is the formula of The Hunger Games.  We meet the much overdone alcoholic male.  There is also the requisite gay (or at least gay-acting) man.  And loads of controlling adults.  Granted, there are plenty of bad kids in the story too–but they were clearly made that way by adults.

Cultural Lie #4: The Purity of Teenage Romance.  What’s a story without a good romance?  Even in a nearly hopeless battle for your life, there’s time to fall in love!  But what is quickly forgotten is that these are just teenagers–Katniss is only 16 years old.  Yes, I know that’s the mandated age for teenage romance to begin–or at least it was when I was a teen.  But that’s the problem, in my humble opinion.  Our cultural lie is that teenagers should be falling deeply in love and maintaining emotional relationship–even as middle schoolers.  And, in The Hunger Games, we even have an adolescent love triangle to boot!  Teenagers already believe that they are fully equipped to date and invest themselves into physical and emotional relationships.  This story just continues the cultural lie of the innocent purity of teenage romance.

Cultural Lie #5: A World without God.  Finally, what is most striking when you read The Hunger Games is the total lack of reference to God.  There’s not even some sort of “higher power!”  Collins has created a world that is totally naturalistic, making the story even more hopeless and meaningless.  The only entity with godlike power is the Capitol.  It acts in total control of the people.  During the games itself, it is the Capitol that swoops in and helicopters the dead children away like a mystical hand from heaven.  Now Collins may be trying to communicate the horrors of making the State a god with total sovereign power.  Yet there are many who will watch this movie and continue to believe the cultural lie that God really doesn’t exist.  In other words, the Panem of the future is really no different than the world of today.  And we already have too many of our young people living their lives without reference to God.  How sad it is to see stories that only confirm this sort of life–even if it is portrayed as pure misery!

These cultural lies are nothing new.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook them.  Other times they get just plain annoying.  But ALL the time they are strong mind-altering weapons used against our young people.  While many of our teens will enjoy the action and drama of The Hunger Games, use it as an opportunity to battle for a Christian worldview!

  1. Just another example of gratuitous violence in our society.

  2. Doreen says:

    Great commentary!

  3. Kaleb says:

    Adults on the good side really begin to take an important part of things in books 2 and 3.

    The feminism parts also end being reversed as the series progress.

  4. There are good adults in these books, or adults who struggle with sin (the alcoholic mentor who puts aside his alcohol to help the kids). And I disagree with your butch reading of Katniss and sissy reading of Peeta. I would actually encourage older teenage girls to read this trilogy, as Katniss is a positive heroine who discovers she needs other people to survive by the end of the books.

    I totally agree with points #4 and #5. Good thoughts.

    • Kaleb says:

      Yeah, points 4 and 5 are right.

    • John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks for your comments! Just focused on the first book, not the trilogy. Our disagreement on the personalities/actions/attitudes of the characters shows that we all bring some of our own bias into our reading. But a close reading of the first book will bear out that Katniss is the feminist ideal while Peeta is definitely a de-masculinized man. We’ll have to see if they mature past these starting places in the next two movies! Katniss as a postive heroine? Only in the postmodern sense which blurs and obscures good and evil!

  5. I do think an interesting aspect of Katniss’ character is that she is very maternal for all her toughness. She takes care of her mom and sister, adopts Rue, doctors Peeta, etc. I think she also starts to see herself as a woman, learning to accept femininity in certain areas. I don’t disagree with the idea that these books are influenced by feminism, my entire generation is; however I’d say that this Suzanne Collins’ feminism is a softer and more accepting of traditional roles than the mantras women of my mom’s generation heard.

    Also, I agree that Peeta is weaker physically than Katniss but he does all that he can to protect her. He has protected her since kindergarten. He is not rugged like Gale, but he is quite capable during the Games and often selfless. He is the most giving and loving character in the books, and ultimately suffers greatly.

    • John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      More good thinking! Your assessment of the main characters is accurate, yet reflects a nuanced adult perspective. Since the movie/book is marketed to pre-teen girls, I think we need to look at it through their eyes. Unless trained by parents, they will inhale the “bigger picture” of strong female, weak male. They will see the cultural role reversal. “Soft” feminism is still feminism, and Peeta is weak physically, mentally, and emotionally even as he “loves” Katniss. Hopefully, some of our parents will use this movie to have these discussions with their teens!

  6. JoAnna Williams says:

    When I began reading this trilogy, I was thinking is this “Brave New World” for pre-teens? Did anyone else get this feeling? Thank you, Dr. Kwasny, for your comments.

  7. […] 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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