Hungerstruck: Understanding the Attraction of The Hunger Games for Children and Youth

On Twitter the other day I noticed that someone had posted that The Hunger Games = Truman Show + Predator + Saved by the Bell. While I am not exactly sure how Screetch fits into that equation I think that it is fairly safe to say that the series has captured the attention of young people. I think that there are a couple of compelling reasons why.

I do not claim to be an expert on The Hunger Games. I am not regularly out training with a bow and arrow. I am not practicing camouflaging myself into local surroundings or learning survival skills in my backyard. I am blatantly too old to be concerned with such things as it applies to fictional books/movies (or at least that is what I’d like you to believe).

As a matter of fact, I haven’t even read The Hunger Games books. I have only seen the movie and observed the behaviors of kids in my youth group who are interested in these things. But simple observations can provide volumes of insight. So here are few of mine.

The Hunger Games are Indeed Like a lot of other Books/Movies – but the Series Still Matters
I have already mentioned the Truman Show and the Predator and there are a lot of dystopian movies (and books) out there that the Hunger Games echo similar themes from. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Running Man comes to mind. Battle Royal, Lord of the Flies have consistently been mentioned. I see some similarities between the movie Logan’s Run and the film. There are obvious references to a cadre of literature/film that emulate Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The list goes on and on depending how far you want to reach. The point is that there really isn’t anything new in this flick – it is just spun in a new way. But just because it reuses themes doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t matter. To kids and youth that are just discovering these in their lives – this is fresh material. And fresh material in the hands of a new generation with a technologically altered world-view equals potential innovation. The retelling of timeless concepts of the human condition in meaningful ways has meaning for all.

Kids and Youth (and Young Adults) are Looking for Something to Believe In
At one dramatic and intentionally moving scene in the movie the primary character Katniss Everdeen raises her hand and gives the viewing audience the District 12 (her homeland) hand sign which consists of pressing the three middle fingers of her hand to her lips and then holding them out to the person, or people, that she wants to show respect to. In this particular scene she is paying tribute to another participant from another district. Now, the ultimate goal of Hunger Games for the participants is supposed to be survival. It is a last person standing, fight to the death. But in this instance in the movie Katniss shows solidarity with the fallen victim of another District with this hand gesture, sparking riots in that District against the larger tyrannical government. Admittedly it is a fairly compelling scene in the film. What moved me more though was that a young boy, who was maybe six or seven years old sitting in front of my wife and I – upon seeing this gesture – raised his hand in the theater and emulated the sign. A powerful symbol both of the power of imagery, the need to connect, the compassion of a child, and the desire to believe in community before individualism as symbolized by a lone little hand of solidarity in the theater. It is obvious that our children feel increasingly alone in life and thus they relate to the “everyone for themselves” mentality of the film and the world we live in. Deep down I think that they seek loyalty but they just don’t experience the consistency of people whom they feel they can trust.

Kids and Youth (and Young Adults) are Inherently Concerned with Tyranny
Many young people today often express to me how they feel caged in their current social system. Numerous youth have expressed to me how they can envision the environment of The Hunger Games becoming a reality in their own lives. Think about that statement for a minute and then consider what kind of world are we modeling for our children?

Vast Inequalities and Injustices are a Major Concern of Children, Youth and Young Adults
Young people are masters of sensing hypocrisy. They may not always understand the specific nuances of situations clearly but they tend to astutely be able to identify when people are being mistreated. The Hunger Games plays to this strength of the younger culture putting blatant emphasis on economic and social inequalities, attempting to artistically draw parallels between the fictional and the actual.

Children and Youth Growingly feel as though they must Parent Themselves because their Parents are Failing to Do So
In the movie Katniss Everdeen has a quick heart-to-heart with her mother before she is whisked off to the Hunger Games – essentially indicating that her mom will now have to actually take care of her younger daughter Prim in Katniss’ absence. Numerous Kids and Youth have both expressed to me directly that they often feel like they are now raising themselves. I have been told by youth that their mom or dad is more “like a friend than a parent” to them or that alternatively that their parents “only care about themselves”. This only adds to our children’s sense of isolation and quickly removes any sense of innocence that they might have had the privilege of having in childhood. Youth increasingly feel like they must rely on their peers for support. Such failures by parents, society, and in my opinion – the church universal – have created a systematic weakening of our societal structure and community values.

The Opportunity for the Church
The observations that I have noted above provide an opportunity for the church universal to serve children, youth and young adults by simply observing carefully, listening to their concerns and consistently being present for/with them. I am convinced that the younger generation wants such interaction but we as adults simply fail to make such time for them, to share in their lives and to grow with them as questions organically arise. The Hunger Games at a very minimum allow us a renewed glimpse of the needs that our young folks have. The question is how will we work together as adults to help to provide for the legitimate things in life that they really hunger for?