Monday, May 7, 2012

Why The Hunger Games is appropriate reading for children

The Hunger Games has been a global blockbuster and revenue record-breaker. So my wife Shelly and I were curious to see it. Its premise lowers society's respect for life and freedom and shows how this kind of human depravity could be a reality.

But for those of us who have lived life or studied history, we know that kind of depravity isn't a fiction fantasy.
In just the past 100 years, the Turks massacred 1.5 million Armenians, Hitler slaughtered 6 million Jews as well as 17 million other "undesirables," Stalin killed 20 million people and Mao, 65 million citizens.

And even as recently as the Vietnam Era, Pol Pot massacred 800,000 of his fellow Cambodians--20% of the country's entire population. This depravity is no fantasy.
What's more, in The Hunger Games world, there was no hope…no faith…nothing to rely on…no idea of redemption

A friend sent me the above from and I’ve been pondering it for a week. On a personal note, let me say that I was a reluctant Hunger Games reader. My daughter pushed me to read it (not sure why she wants me to realize what she’s reading), it’s on our Kindles and a beloved bestseller to boot. As a parent the concept turned me off: killing children?

Eventually my girl got her way, as happens, and I read the trilogy, in about a day. I love The Hunger Games! As a parent I even love The Hunger Games! Let me tell you why – the story is compelling, fast paced and exciting. The characters are engaging and readers are dropped immediately into life threatening drama and emotional desires. We root for our heroine much as we cringe at the costs of her success.

The Orwellian lurking government isn’t that different from our public school system which must look equally arbitrary and random to the powerless kids who now – outside school – control online worlds and there make consequential decision daily. My children – via iPad and computer – run restaurants and islands, build houses and earn money. They love their school but even I have to admit that books about the past sometimes seem less compelling (why reading is down and media consumption is up among the young, and older). Many schools aren’t as compelling as their private one, and are dictated by lectures, rules and standardized tests. Moreover, school doesn’t necessarily jibe with children’s more urgent life realities, including dealing with human relationships and even in learning (from more compelling and effective sources than our institutional rote hundred year old methods).

Next, I agree with the above author that our children are growing up in a world where – due to the media – they can’t avoid the brutal realities of how horrible and murderous people have been treated in various, even contemporary societies. They see these events going on, as they hear bad words, and must wonder why we lie to them about the related realities. If they only catch mere glimpses, without an honest discussion of the circumstances, then how can we expect them to conceptualize the real meaning of the world’s brutality as they have no context…other than books or movies? The Hunger Games could happen; indeed, it basically did during the age of the gladiators. Stories are more real when they have a historical basis.

Children are powerless and subject to the whims of adults and sometimes other children.

Visions of futuristic, post-apocalyptic worlds were more ubiquitous during the cold war but never really died down (Terminator, Transformers, The Road). Today and still mired in recession and a global rebalancing, many kids in our country doubtless worry daily, as does Katniss, about whether there will be enough food on the table and if they will need to hit the streets and find a job rather than attend college. Can they even afford college or find a job? Lurking always in The Hunger Games is the escapism and denial of most adults, leaving the children to get guidance from those few who see past the government’s political platitudes. Luckily those adults exist though mostly they use the children to achieve their own ends, sometimes deceptively. We all know that would never happen in real life, right?

And, as with my children, the ones in the book can master the “games” and find ways of snatching a temporary victory from a frustrating situation while in the wider world they hold little real power.

I tell my children that in the long run they will always win. Kids leave us generally, not the other way around and the future belongs to the young. How will our society and the public school system adapt to the new realities of younger people who can now find honest answers and build power online, despite what we dictate during school hours and from our temporary perches of power? Like Katniss, they have already escaped into the woods beyond the fence and are forming their own opinions.

Suzanne Collins could have concluded the series with less devastation (I won’t spoil it by expanding my statement). Wow! It’s sad to think that her ending is a happy one for many in countries with governments who haven’t been overthrown (Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, all currently, and I could go on) or in our inner cities. The books work as deep literature. Not only do they craft a compelling and dynamic narrative they also raise serious and important questions about our society and how each child chooses to live and survive in the confusing and powerless reality they face. The world can be a dangerous place. I give The Hunger Games ten stars out of five and think it’s absolutely appropriate for children to read. In fact, those children reading The Hunger Games now are the future leaders of our world and as for Collin’s characters we’ve created a tremendous mess for them to clean up.

Watching the kids around me I am a firm believer that they’re up to it, more so than the generations (including my own) that precede them. This generation is empowered and not taking words or concepts at face value.

I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun
― Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

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