Girl in the War: The Hunger Games and Violence for Children

My Facebook friend RP pointed the way tothis repulsive piece in Slate about how, just how on earth, we will ever explain to anyone younger than 40 that the world sucks:

ThatMockingjay will eventually become a movie is one of the safest bets in Hollywood. WithHunger Games, Lionsgate is hoping to unleash the next great young adult movie franchise, filling the void left by the $7 billionHarry Potter series, andTwilight, which has already earned $2 billion and wraps up with a final film this fall. The studio (which also produced theTwilightfilms) has already announced its plan to render the book trilogy as four movies. At some point, then, the producers are going to have to figure out how to make the depressing and chaotic finale into a film (or films) with broad appeal and a PG-13 rating. How will the producers satisfy Collins’ 20 million or so readers, along with millions more curious newcomers, with what is essentially a war movie, and, more troubling, an unmitigated bummer?

Children, naturally, beingnotoriouslysheltered from violence. Children who would never everendanger each other for the sport of the rich. Children whose deaths areso much more moral, because at least we don’t televise them for our entertainment.

Mr. A and I hit a midnight screening of the film, unable to wait for a sedate daylight matinee, and so we were the oldest people in the sold-out theater not toting a minivan full of teenagers. When the opening credits rolled the cheers about busted the roof off, and these were young women, girls primarily, packed six deep in the popcorn line.

They were leaning forward in their seats for a story about a young woman their own age who takes an entire political system designed to dehumanize and punish, and tells everyone involved in creating it to go right to hell. To take all their neuroses and all their needs and all the ways they’ve made young people something for their own amusement, and shove it up their privileged, entitled, arrogant asses.

The imagery was terribly violent and upsetting: the Reaping, with its deliberate echoes of draft boards and concentration camps; the fighting, filmed like a contemporary war documentary in nausea-inducing shaky-cam verité. Teenagers with their necks snapped, teenagers with knife wounds, shot through with arrows, blown up in explosions, turning on one another. Overcome with fury, weeping with fear, singing out in laughter in even the direst of straits. One of the most upsetting scenes in the entire film is, of course, about an act of kindness, because it’s so alien amidst all this.

Forget any parallels to Occupy, though they’re there. Just think about how adults talk about teenagers generally. Just think about the drumbeats for every war that ever was: How “we” in the person of some 18-year-old who signed up because college is a forlon hope or to feed his family or to get out of some burned-out hellhole must defeat “the enemy” and how the minute one of those actual 18-year-olds saysif it sounds so awesome to you let’s switch places, they become that enemy themselves. It’s not too much of a stretch, from there to here.

Who fights our wars? Who signs up for our armies, full of pride about representing their countries? Who dies in the bombings, who is blasted to pieces by mines? Who runs the drugs? Who packs the crates and ships them off to blow a crater in someone else’s life? Who comes home burned, broken, sorrowing, scared of his own shadow? Who comes home in a box, the flag draped over it intended to give some kind of comfort?

We’re fighting two wars in this country right now, do we really think it’s so strange a thing, a story about the aftershocks of conflict and the effects on those who had least to give and most to lose? A story about the sacrifice of the young and innocent, about what happens when people become abstractions amidst The Rules?

Do we really think that will be so hard to understand?


8 thoughts on “Girl in the War: The Hunger Games and Violence for Children

  1. Maybe I got it wrong, but I thought the emphasis was on how the books-into-movies could get a PG-13 rating. Obviously kids read the books so they’re hardly sheltered from the extreme violence of the subject. (I agree that no one needs to tell kids that the world is a dangerous and illogical place.) But the Slate piece seems to be about how to “tone down” the violence to get a PG-13 rating otherwise kids won’t actually be able to get into the theatre to see the movies based on books they’ve already read.

  2. From the ages of 5 through 12, I lived knowing missiles flew overhead. At age 15, my father was taken hostage by Iraqi soldiers. At 16, I discovered my house had been looted and parts of it burned. When I (rarely) vocalize this to people here, my words are met with disbelief. I want to slap them; do they know how many children grow up like this than not?
    Also, my parents didn’t care about movie ratings for us. Reality is just that. We’d find out anyway. Why not now and more openly?
    Our sheltered youth. But, they’re not, right? Not really.

  3. I was going to connect “Children who would never ever endanger each other…” with Lord of the Flies. But Maitri’s post highlights the hypocrisy far more pointedly than I ever could.

  4. But the Slate piece seems to be about how to “tone down” the violence to get a PG-13 rating otherwise kids won’t actually be able to get into the theatre to see the movies based on books they’ve already read.
    The irony of print v. film. Sex scenes that are routine in books read by the most placid and bluestockinged housewives would rate “R” or “NC-17” if transferred to film. They don’t raise an eyebrow, though.
    Violence in the Hunger Game books, if transferred to the screen, would block many of the readers of the books from the films.
    What’s most interesting, though, is how thoroughly subversive the theme of the book is. Not just that war is hell, but that children are used as human tools by adults. Katniss never quite knows what’s going on, AND THAT’S ON PURPOSE! Nobody tells her what they are planning BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT HER TO KNOW!
    And she has given up all hope of the future, thanks to her father’s death and her Mom’s catatonia and the hell of the Hunger Games, but mostly thanks to adults WHO HAVE FUCKED IT ALL UP FOR TWO GENERATIONS BEFORE SHE EVEN GOT HERE!
    And then there is the whole story of Panem as Rome, and the districts as the Empire Rome exploits; and about history repeating itself in the same bloody cycle, over and over and over again…
    But it’s a kid’s book, and we must protect them from the violence we create by not letting them know how normal it is, lest they finally refuse to participate. Just like Katniss would. If she was given the chance.

  5. Off topic but where are my ferrets – it’s Friday and I need them.
    Thank you.

  6. Rmj, agreed that it’s a subversive series. But if anyone thinks kids will earn not to trust adults because of this movie – as opposed to the abundance of evidence they can see all around them – well, those are the ones living in a fantasy land.

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