Hunger Games: Art Depicts Life Which Imitates Art?

Hogwarts Professor Freeman posted here earlier this week about the pro-democracy demonstrations in Thailand that have taken on the three finger symbol of resistance featured in the Hunger Games books and films. I wanted to add three notes to this subject.

First, I find this adaptation both unnerving and important. It points simultaneously to the meaning of Ms Collins’ artistry in this trilogy and its potential for use and abuse.

Ms Collins is after a herd of big game in her Panem saga. One of the biggest beast questions she tries to address is the power of media and story in our lives, how story and corporate media fashioning of that story’s screened images shape our understanding of ourselves, life, and the world. Hers is not a pretty picture and the Gamesmakers, although they are largely the servants of the Capitol and District 13 governmental faces of capitalist and statist fascism, are perhaps the greatest villains of the narrative.

The events in Thailand are disturbing, I think, because they reflect how a popular culture consumed country like the country in question so easily takes on the powerful images 0f Catching Fire’s depiction of the Victory Tour’s stop in District 11.

This illustrates Ms Collins’ point about the potential of story to change people’s lives, as the Mockingjay Resistance is stirred by the Katniss and Peeta story as written by Haymitch, Plutarch, and Cinna and then twisted by President Coin to serve her ends. Forgive me for wondering, as we watch the Thai protesters, how long it will be until the images and sacrifices become commercialized and packaged.

Second, I think this is a real possibility because the conversation about the depths of meaning in The Hunger Games has been restricted to the political narrative, and, even in that sphere, to the political narrative of the left. Hollywood has recast the films so the crony capitalist government of President Snow is the black hat and the Gamesmakers are the game changing good guys, at least in potential. The spiritual dimensions of Katniss’ and Peeta’s love story, the essence and heart of the books, are lost.

I felt this most strongly when reading a strident and eloquent criticism of the story’s by a Catholic woman, Ellen Finnigan, active in efforts to combat war and violence.

While there is much in Ms Finnigan’s piece I found bizarre, most notably her assertion that “there really isn’t anything “Christian” about this trilogy,” I think she is speaking from Ms Collins’ Dorothy Day Catholic Worker beliefs much more than Hollywood, the Thai protesters, or even this Hogwarts Professor.

Here are some excerpts to give you a taste of what I mean:

There really isn’t anything “Christian” about this trilogy. (Does being Christlike really mean simply being a more reluctant killer than the next guy?) I do, however, think that, setting aside all questions of authorial intent, which can’t really be known outside of what I stated above, there are some interesting lessons in The Hunger Games that Christians could greatly benefit from acknowledging, but it seems to me that reviewers are so dead set on squeezing any drop of edification out of these stories, identifying any possible way that good works in the story, that they completely miss the far more interesting lesson about how evil works in the story.

The real problem at the heart of the story isn’t the fact that we have a flawed protagonist. I, for one, have no use for superhero movies: I like a character I can relate to. The real problem is that the very things that make Katniss our hero — her love for her family, the loyalty she displays toward them, her willingness to do anything to save them — are the very same things that drive Katniss to participate in the Games: Twice! Her love is ultimately used to manipulate her into participating in outright, abject evil. The unpleasant lesson in this story, one might even say the moral of the story if you want to see it in a certain dark light, is thatevil gets its power from love. And that’s one major reason tyranny can take root.

The full narrative arc of The Hunger Games shows us (again, whether or not intended by the author) that a world deprived of God, with no understanding of holiness, with no knowledge of Christ’s command, with no sense of a purpose to life beyond ensuring the survival of oneself or one’s own group, a world where “the highest moral, heroic thing” is to “protect our own and forge allegiances, and then be fiercely loyal,” is a world where there will naturally be fewer and fewer peacemakers, and more and more Peace Keepers. It will be a world where violence is embraced, not only to defend our own life, but our own family, our own property, our own group, our own allies, our own ideas, our own “interests,” and our own loyalties and allegiances, no matter what. It will be a world where violence begets violence, where violence becomes an infection, and spirals out of control. In other words, it will be our world

Sister Helena Burns writes: “It’s never just about saving one’s self [in The Hunger Games], but often it’s about self-sacrificing to save others.” But that’s not really true. Katniss is a soldier and, like every soldier, she does not really see it as her job to “lay down her life for another” as much as she sees it as her job to make other people lay down theirs (as the adage goes). As the trilogy continues, you will see that more and more people end up having to be sacrificed on the altar of “Katniss’ own”; it’s just that the circle of “her own” gets a little bit bigger throughout the course of the story. Don’t Americans currently justify the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of other human beings on the altar of “our own”? We don’t call it human sacrifice anymore, though. We call it “collateral damage.”

By wrestling with these two extremes — the fictional, god-less world of The Hunger Games where violence is so acceptable it has become a form of entertainment, and our real world in which some Christians have chosen to renounce violence completely in the name of Christ (some might call them “moral heroes”)– students are sure to be awakened and challenged. The class will not offer any easy answers, but it will hopefully introduce a new way of looking at life and will encourage young people to think more deeply about things important, things controversial, things relevant to their own lives. Students will be asked to contemplate and assess the claim made by Fr. McCarthy in Behold the Lamb that “Holiness is the only revolution.” And we will try to figure out, as Haymitch says, “who the real enemy is.”

Please do read the whole thing. I have written the author, sent her links to this site’s Mockingjay exegesis, and hope we can continue this conversation. I believe she is wrong about the Christian content of the series but suspect I have a lot to learn from her work about the pacifist critique of 21st century violence and warfare implicit in the series — even if she believes the story is not making the critique of war I think it is.

And, third and last, as disturbing as I find the Thai demonstrators use of Hunger Games symbolism — their being used by the screened images depiction of this symbolism? — I find it heroic and inspiring compared to the internet fandom’s adaption of the salute and everything Katniss a la the Capitol and the hedonists who watch the movies as the Panem soma eaters watch the Tributes being fed to the Lion-Children in the Hunger Games each year. The Thais are risking their lives for what they believe and adopting a language they know the movie-consumed world will understand and sympathize with, rightly or wrongly. The fandom groups like The Harry Potter Alliance and its Hunger Games equivalents?

I should feel pity but all I can manage is sadness. Are we all as oblivious to the parody of human existence we are living in obedience to our age’s beliefs and the commercial and political uses to which even our best story tellers’ works are put? I hope not — and I am inspired by work like Hunger Games critiquing and showing us pictures of ourselves in satire and resistance to the regime of ideas keeping us shackled in the Cave.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.

Links to articles mentioned in the article and resources:

Life Imitates Art: Thai Demonstrator Adopt Hunger Games Three Finger Salute Louise Freeman

Thai coup protesters have adopted the Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute Hat tip to Ideal James.

Catholics Still Not Catching On with Catching Fire Ellen Finnigan; Hat tip to Rev George

What Catholics Got Wrong With The Hunger Games Ellen Finnigan

Catholics Against Militarism

‘Unlocking Mockingjay: The Spiritual Allegory’ On Katniss as a Soul Seeking Perfection and Iconological Reading

‘Unlocking Mockingjay: ‘The Literary Alchemy’ On Literary Alchemy and Peeta as Postmodern Christ

‘Unlocking Mockingjay: Katniss’ Apotheosis’ On the Alchemical Arena and Katniss’ Perfection in the Inner Sanctuary


  1. Chris Calderon says

    I’ve given this as much thought as I know, based on what I’ve both read.

    If a people truly desires to live a form of culture that is at least in some sense constitutional (like De Toqueville, I don’t think every government need be a carbon copy of American democracy) then here’s hoping it all works out, it’s lofty goal to try and govern oneself.

    However, and here I think I’m really just doing a variation of sorts on the point Mr Granger makes, the thing such people as in Thailand need to be damned sure of is that they can make sure to tell the difference between some form of government that is actually constitutional, and not one that is based on illegal policies which will co-opt their ideals into just another game. Other than that I don’t what could help the situation. Life under tyranny usually means lack of free and valid information, which means finding the truth about things is often down to individual judgment. I don’t know how much any of the protester may know or just think they know, and that may make their task all the more harder, as nothing is self-evident on the surface. All can do, really, is to say be careful out there.

    Yes, that is a very lame conclusion, but i’m not an expert in this sort of thing, and at least I’m willing to admit I ultimately don’t know what the answers are (which is more than anyone will ever get by tuning into any of the 24 hour news networks that deal with this issue).

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