I've been away from the blog for a while, it would seem. There are good reasons for this, and maybe I'll go into it some other time. Right now, I want to get back on track with a reflection on The Hunger Games. I admit to not being on the bandwagon of having read the books before two weeks ago, but at the advice of my friend's daughter, I gave the first book a shot on my trip to visit our seminarians in Rome - long flight, quick read, book finished. I was impressed - it was not as vapid as I thought (I was expecting another Twilight, I think). Now, the books are being rendered as films, and tweens, teens, and everyone else are running to see it. I've not yet been to the theater, but here is something that strikes me about the who story line.
For those who don't know, Hunger Games takes place at least 100 years into the future in a nation called "Panem" - a totalitarian dystopia forged from the wreckage of what was once North America. The central character, Katniss Everdeen, from whose perspective the stories are told, is a sixteen-year-old girl in one of the poorest districts of this nation. There are twelve such districts, each with its own industry that feeds the state, which is centered in the trendy and glitzy Capitol.
The festivities for which the first book is named are an annual event in which a boy and girl from each district are chosen in a lottery to compete. Twenty-four young people, all fighting to the death, while the nation watches on television, to the delight of those in the Capitol. The Hunger Games were devised after a popular uprising that was crushed by the government. As punishment, and as a reminder of the all-powerful rule of the State, each year, the people must watch as their children fight to the death - all for the "entertainment" of the rest of us.
Now, I will hopefully delve deeper into the experience of The Hunger Games with later posts. What I have to say now is this. This frightening future that is painted, like all literature and art, has something to teach us now. It speaks to the fears and struggles of our world and of our young people. The Hunger Games themselves are presented by the "Gamemasters" as a cheerful form of entertainment - a euphemism for the carnage that will inevitably ensue (very similar to, oh, I don't know..."Planned Parenthood"?). These young people - innocent - are sacrificed in order to remind the people that the State is the power and the weak, powerless and poor have now control over their destinies - no choice, no real rights - all for the exultation and comfort of the ruling class.
The sense of nihilism that seems to infect the young protagonists should not surprise anyone. They are, after all, simply cogs in a bigger game that they are not playing. In our own society, we can fall into the same trap - feeling that we are merely rolling along toward an unavoidable future that will value us less and less. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of God or faith in the books (as I have read so far). Where there is no God, there is no hope - and people will cling to anything that offers a potential for security - even at the cost of the dignity of other human life.
Our young people are facing this society with a hunger of their own. They hunger for meaning; they hunger for hope; they hunger for God. This is no game for us. Mother Teresa once said that "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." This is true for individuals and for the State; it is true for the child in the womb as well as the child born into poverty and suffering. We don't get to decide these things - that is, if we believe in a God of love, a God of hope.
It is my practice to pray every day for our young people. The Hunger Games just reinforces that decision all the more.