Life always seems to demand a sacrifice. From the earliest civilizations, animals and humans alike were slain and offered up to the world for the fertility and perpetuity of the greater society. Every age has its dying god myth, from the Egyptian Osiris to the Christian Jesus Christ. The message seems to be that to live, someone must die. The gift of life is forged in gushes of blood.
It was timely for me to see The Hunger Games, as I am re-reading Homer’s The Iliad, the timeless hallmark of Western literature, a gruesome account of the atrocities of war, greed, and endless human violence. This theme began in pre-history and culminates this weekend in the box office hit The Hunger Games, about a society that demands a yearly battle to the death between teenagers from the 12 outlying districts.
The poor are the lambs on the slab for the decadent elite, the capital known as Panem, where those chosen “tributes” are taken to train for their fight. Panem is a world of color and overstimulation, where the rich aristocrats recline in languid splendor and drink while watching the next generations prepare for slaughter as if they were prepping for summer camp. Desensitization has set in, and with it comes a sort of autism, a freezing out of inner humanity, emotion, and compassion.
With their robotic high aestheticism, they are a nation of Lady Gagas.
Decadence is gluttony of the eye, an overload of image and carnage, upping the ante to satisfy the addictive craving for glittering beauty while banishing the messy turmoil of internal depth and murky reality. The intended victims meet their impending death in high style and blazing light, cheered by their apathetic audience. At least they look pretty.
The parallels and metaphors are clear here, at least to me: we live in an age of gluttony when it comes to our obsession with reality TV, an ever-increasing desperation for a feeling of vicarious experience, voyeurism from our sofas, and the more shocking or outrageous, the better. More, please, we beg from our well-worn seats, stuffing our mouths to match our eyes.
My concern is for the children and teenagers flocking to the theaters in their Hunger Games T-shirts, touting their well-worn copies of the source novels and eating up the savagery. Are they being educated on what they are witnessing? Are the teachers and parents discussing the topics and themes explored in these stories, or simply buying their kids the posters of hunks Peeta and Gabe and kissing their kids goodnight, sleep tight?
I hope, hard, that it’s not the latter.
Oddly, the story seems to reinforce the points it’s making; news people grin from ear to ear over the weekend proclaiming the film’s record-breaking box office receipts. Like the apathetic, decadent hosts in the film, flashing their fake teeth and feathered boas while naming the mounting list of the savaged dead, these talking heads put a pretty face on the carnage, not once acknowledging or attempting to delve deeply into what the material is all about.
Is art imitating life, or life imitating art, or art imitating life imitating art?
You get me?
The Hunger Games possesses some fascinating and timeless human themes. Now it’s up to its devoted audience to properly examine and process them. Otherwise we’re no better than the desensitized robots of Panem, greedily mixing more violence and spectacle in with our popcorn and wine.