#30- The Hunger Games and the Culture of Death
I went to a late showing of the box office hit The Hunger Games Friday night. I haven’t read the books yet, but I thought the movie was fantastic. The characters were realistic and well-acted, the background of the nation and the Games was given subtly without distracting from the story at hand, and a violent plot was carried out with refreshingly little gore. It’s a great film even if, like me, you’re new to the series.
(Caution- minor spoilers after the break)
Katniss, our rather badass heroine, volunteers for the Games after her twelve-year-old sister is chosen by lottery to be the female “tribute” for their district. By laying her life on the line to save her sister, Katniss instantly becomes a noble, Christ-like figure. Later in the film, she acts selflessly again toward the male tribute from her district, Peeta. She had only met him once before the games, when he “carelessly” tossed a loaf of bread that was meant to feed his pigs over where she could take it instead. Whether because of that minor act of kindness, or his recently-disclosed romantic feelings toward her, or simply her conviction that no more lives should go to waste, Katniss risks her life to come out of hiding in order to get Peeta life-saving medicine. She also protects and cooperates with another tribute, Rue, despite the fact that in the end, only one of the two of them would be allowed to survive. Katniss seems to have no qualms killing those who are clearly intending to kill her, which she does using her skills as a hunter, but she does not revel in the fight and gloat over the weak the way a pack of highly-trained tributes do. In a bold final move, when only she and Peeta remain, they risk their lives a final time to force the head of the Hunger Games into violating its one famous rule: of the 24 tributes, one victor survives.
Katniss is a heroine in several ways: she’s self-reliant, she steps up to the plate when others fail (such as her shell-shocked mother after her father’s death), she earns the respect and admiration of bigwigs and crowds without giving up her personality, and she’s tough yet compassionate. But my personal favorite thing about her is the way (I won’t give it away) that she and Peeta see through and reject the cultural acceptance of the murderous games. No one really faulted them for playing along, and they did so with skill and class, but in the end, they bucked that system and refused to play along any further and cooperate with that culture of death.
Thank God, our culture isn’t quite as depraved as the one portrayed in The Hunger Games. Still, there are warped, corrosive elements in our society that have earned it the nickname “culture of death” in Catholic circles. Things that, though they prick the conscience of anyone who thinks frankly about it, are widely accepted as “the way things work” or “necessary evils.” It’s up to those of us who have the strength borne of knowing God’s infinite love and forgiveness to take a critical eye towards this culture of death. With Katniss and Peeta, we can face the powers that be and refuse to play their rigged and evil games. Zoey wrote passionately this morning about the layers of body image concerns young women face: pressure to be thinner than you are, pressure to seem happy with your body around friends who may be jealous, pressure to look sexy and confident without losing your modesty, etc. Ladies, how much easier would it be to focus on serving God and living well if we truly stopped playing that game? What about the stifling rule that you can’t say something is objectively wrong because it will offend those who do it? Or the accepted fact of Rule 34 (if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it on the internet)– isn’t there something wrong with that? I urge you to take this challenge with me: In the next 24 hours, keep an eye out for one of those “culture of death” rules, something we’re expected to do our not do that prevents us from living fully in God’s love, and don’t play by the rules. I’m posting at midnight, which makes the deadline perfectly clear for me. Today, I have freedom in the Spirit. Today, I follow no rules but God’s. I’ll post at midnight tomorrow and let you know how it goes!