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Katie van Schaijik

What The Hunger Games miss

Apr. 20 at 10:17am

Having forcefully expressed my strong opinions about The Hunger Games in a lively facebook exhange with friend and film critic, Babara Nicolosi, it seemed like maybe a good idea to actually see the movie.  So, I went last week with son, Max, and cousin's son, John Paul.  Both boys had read and loved the books.  

My bottom-line take-away is two-fold: The movie far surpassed my worst anticipatory criticisms.  I don't think Catholic parents need worry about their teens seeing it. On the contrary, it's got lots of stuff for important conversations.  Still, fundamentally, I come down with Mark Steyn's assessment

It seems to me there is something empty about the Hunger Games. In the end the stakes aren’t big enough for it to quite work. There’s nothing primal at stake in the Hunger Games, in part because I assume the author doesn’t subscribe to any particular transcendent meaning to life. I think there is a kind of absence of that in the book.

The movie is not without its good points: [spoiler alert!]

- Evil and violence are in no way glamorized; they are shown to be hideous.  Viewers effortlessly grasp that the plight of the people of the districts is not just tragic, but profoundly wrong.  It's not okay for one class of people to subdue another, using them as slaves.

- There is nothing admirable about life in the Capitol.  Its tastes are ghastly.  Its material riches are portrayed as seductive, but empty (and worse than empty) in comparison with real goods, like friendship and simple human kindness. (My son thought the filmmakers had maybe even gone too far in this respect.  In his imagination, the inhabitants of the Capitol are superficial and tasteless, but not disgusting.  In the movie they're definitely disgusting.)

- The only meaningful relationships to be found in the film are among those suffering in the districts.  The people of the Capitol seem to be cut off by their dessicated moral condition from the very possibility of love and friendship.  Though no one would choose to live in the material deprivation of the districts, we recognize intuitively that it's a better fate than the spiritual atrophy and vacuity of the Capitol.

- Early in the action, the protagonist, Katniss, offers herself in place of her younger sister, who had been chosen to be among the 24 "tributes" who fight to the death until only one remains.  It is a heroic act of love and self-sacrifice, calling to Christian minds the familiar verse, "There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

- And scattered throughout are moments of tenderness, compassion, generosity, self-denial and insight.  Meanwhile, lust plays no role. (How rare and refreshing is that in a movie made for teens?!)  When Prue, who had saved Katniss's life, is killed, Katniss surrounds her body with flowers in reverent ritual.  The essential antidote to totalitarianism is neatly summed up in the implicit personalism of Peeta's declaration, "I want them to know they don't own me."  And later, he demonstrates his unhesitating readiness to die rather than kill Katniss.

- I was grateful that the violence was presented with some discretion.  The gore is minimized.  Who can bear to see children killing children?

But for all that, I still say something key is missing.  As Mark Steyn put it, there is no indication that the author subscribes to any vision of a transcendent meaning to human life.  The drama takes place on a temporal scale.  There are no absolutes.  There are no intimations of immortality, no suggestion of the promise of justice in eternity.

To see what I mean, watch (or imagine) it a second time, assuming there is no God and no eternity.  Note that nothing changes.  The movie has exactly the same dimensions, makes exactly the same sense it made before.  No more, no less.

Though the characters are engaged in mortal combat, and confronted with supreme moral challenges, none appears to have any thought of God or the possibility of an afterlife.  That human life is surrounded by the supernatural and that our acts and choices may have consequences more ultimate than death seems not to occur even to the most sensitive and self-giving characters. 

Consider further:

- There is no Moses or Gandhi or Havel or Yoda-like figure anywhere in the districts.  No one among the adults whose sufferings and moral reflection have led to wisdom about the nature of evil and oppression and the possibility of moral victory.  The only alternatives offered are hopeless, inhuman subjection or violent rebellion.  (The moral decency and sweetness of characters like Peeta and Prue is real, but seems to come from nowhere and point to nothing beyond itself.)

- There's no in-breaking of the Divine.  Conscience is reduced to the best judgment nice people can come up with in terrible circumstances, rather than Supreme and Fearful Commanding Authority really found there, in universal human experience.  

- No one prays, even in rudimentary supplication. There are no acts of worship.

- The natural beauty that surrounds the bleak world of the districts and the sterile, garish Capitol lends contrast, but no real depth dimension.  It helps the characters recognize the ugliness of their present life and speaks of the possibility of a better earthly existence.  But doesn't tell of the glory of God.  It doesn't communicate the divine, as nature in reality does (to those whose hearts are open.)  Consider, by way of contrast, the role of nature and its relation to the various characters in the beautiful Iranian movie, The Color of Paradise.  

Can anyone think of an example of great literature that is similiarly bereft of the divine?  I can't.

This lack renders the drama unreal in a rather problematic way.  In truth, the "breath of the eternal" (to borrow Kierkegaard's phrase) animates the ethical sphere, and all great human drama, real and fictional. When it's left out, the inescapable impression is that the author is asserting—or perhaps unintentionally insinuating—something definite, namely this: the question of God need not enter the picture.  It's irrelevant.

I have a smaller point of criticism, too. I was annoyed by the passivity of Peeta.  Typically of Hollywood lately, masculine virtues are emodied in the female protagonist, and feminine virtues in the male. I hate that.

And one other thing: All the vicious characters are white, and all the black characters are good.


 

Devra Torres

Katie, this was very, very helpful for this mother who's let her daughter read the books but was waffling about letting her see the movie.  I still haven't done either, but have heard the objection that the Divine seems to be totally absent, and the reply that this is intentional, or at least not necessarily a flaw, because it makes it clear how empty a non-Christian--as opposed to even a post-Christian or residually Christian--societey would be.

But I guess that's enough pearls of wisdom from someone who has neither read nor seen what she's criticizing.  I almost feel as if I already have, what with all the insights from people whose judgment I admire--yours, Mark Steyn's, Al Kresta's, Fr. Barron's....

#1 - Apr. 20 at 10:32am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

A priest on facebook disagrees with me.  He says this:

Katie, it seems to me, misses the point I criticizing the movie for its lack of the Transcendent. That's the point--here is the bleak and soulless culture that results when the Divine is totally absent from a society. 
But my objection isn't to an author's trying to depict a society without the transcendent.  It's rather that she depicts the moral life without it.  That's what strikes me as unreal.  

#2 - Apr. 20 at 4:31pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Thanks for this insightful review, Katie. Though I haven't seen it yet, makes me think it would be worth seeing.

In a way (and who knows if anything like this was intentional?), the portrayal of what could be (should be?) seen as an epic struggle of good vs. evil in a context devoid of any manifestation of the human interest in and desire for a transcendent realm of values, has to end up making this far less powerful than it could have been.

We know through faith, experience, the gathered wisdom of the Church and holy souls over the centuries passed down to us, that God created man with a natural desire in his soul for supernatural significance as the ultimate context for life. And He wove hidden, though still-discernable, signs of a transcendent telos throughout creation. To portray a human society that has no recognition of this is to display, in a sense, a very low sort of life. It is to depict human life in a manner that is devoid of something fundamentally and essentially human and natural to it--this natural inclination to apprehend nature and human life as embedded with signs that point above and beyond itself.

#3 - Apr. 20 at 4:32pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Scott Johnston, Apr. 20 at 3:32pm

Thanks for this insightful review, Katie. Though I haven't seen it yet, makes me think it would be worth seeing.

Be sure to let me know what you think if you do, Scott.  I'm by no means totally sure I'm right here. 

#4 - Apr. 20 at 4:41pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

But my objection isn't to an author's trying to depict a society without the transcendent.  It's rather that she depicts the moral life without it.  That's what strikes me as unreal.

This view makes sense to me. It's one thing for a whole culture, generally speaking and on the marcro level, to be distancing itself from it's rootedness in the transcendent. It is quite another for every individual person within a larger culture, as individuals, to have no yearning for the transcendent. The former is sad and greatly-to-be worked against. The latter is simply unreal and inhuman.

As cultures, broadly speaking, lose contact with their eternally oriented yearnings, there will always be individual persons within cultures who still retain it. And this is because it's simply part of every human nature at the level of the individual as created by God. It's the most natural thing in the world to come forth from the womb, and looking up at the stars, become convicted of some awesome spiritual greatness beyond them that somehow must have something to do with human life here below. To portray otherwise is highly unreal.

#5 - Apr. 20 at 4:56pm | quote

 

Stephen Granderson

I just saw The Hunger Games today, and my impression was that, while the movie made some good points, it seemed to be lacking an overall moral drive which would have made it a really good movie.  The movie shows evil and inhuman treatment of people, and a society that has gone terribly wrong, but it doesn't present any particular idea of why it's wrong, or what can be done to fix it.  The main characters succeed in resisting the evil society, but the movie never says why they are different from the others.

There Be Dragons, despite its flaws, succeeded in that respect.  It clearly showed how a society that tried to reject God went wrong, and why Josemaria resisted it.  When a man says, referring to the injustices and cruelties of the revolutionaries, that, "You can't make an omelete without breaking some eggs," Josemaria replies, "No!  Life is not an omelete, and men are not eggs!"  Such scenes show what is really at stake at such times, and what we should be fighting for.  That was what The Hunger Games never made clear. 

#6 - Apr. 21 at 9:52pm | quote

 

freckles

Katie - I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter, but was troubled by your closing statement, usually a place reserved for an important or vital point: "And one other thing: All the vicious characters are white, and all the black characters are good."   

I don't think you intend to express that it should be the opposite or something like that, but it belittles the rest of what you're saying by it's inaccuracy.  First off, Thresh is a ruthless competitor, although he does spare a moment of mercy on Katniss.  The only other two persons of color were Rue and Cinna, the latter of the two being more of an actor pick than any book-led requirement.  That leaves exactly two black people in the entire cast of characters, who happened to be from a district that was more than likely predominately black based on the author's description.

So because there were two black people, and one is young and sweeter and therefore good, you have painted the entire story as somehow pitting black against white?  It makes no sense to include this in your critique. 

#7 - Apr. 22 at 12:30pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Thanks for commenting, Freckles.  I meant that last line as more of a P.S. than a closing statement.  

I had supposed that problem could be put down to Hollywood's special brand of affirmative action, not the book.

Not having read the book, I know Thresh only by what the movie shows, namely that he doesn't kill Katniss when he could have, out of gratitude for her treatment of Prue.  That's a rather high moral achievement in the circumstances.  Also, Prue is portrayed as more than sweet.  She attains a level of goodness and self-sacrifice that in real life belongs only to the saints.  That Katniss hallows her body after death reinforces the impression.  Then, consider the contrast between Cinna and the Woody Harrelson character (whose name I forget.)  The former is mature, thoughtful, composed, sophisticated, and wise, while the latter is gross, crude, dissipated, and cynical.

It's not a major deal, but it's annoying.  Not as bad, though, as Hollywood's habit of portraying homosexual characters sympathetically, and Republicans as spiritually hollow moneylusters.  Its depiction of the religious right is almost invariably of bigoted, ugly, sexually repressed ignoramouses.

Don't think it's not on purpose.

#8 - Apr. 22 at 1:28pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Stephen Granderson, Apr. 21 at 8:52pm

There Be Dragons, despite its flaws, succeeded in that respect.  It clearly showed how a society that tried to reject God went wrong, and why Josemaria resisted it.

This point probably wants a separate thread, but since you bring it up, I think I should say that I disliked There Be Dragons intensely.  

I found it maddening that the two real story lines were completely undeveloped, while the line that was developed was fictitious and too artificial and sentimentalized to be convincing.  (What, not enough drama in the Spanish Civil War?  Not enough interesting material in the life of Escriva? You have to resort to a fake forgiveness story?)

I also find it worse than deplorable that the movie portrayed the communists as heroic and high-minded idealists, while the fascists were evil personified. It's false, dishonest, and manipulative. 

I can't understand how Opus Dei can let itself be associated in any way with such bogostiy.

#9 - Apr. 22 at 2:04pm | quote

 

freckles

well, fwiw, the actor portraying cinna is half-black, half-white, and still, they only account for 3 total characters in a movie of many, many more!

they stayed true to the book is all, and i have to say i'm surprised at how big a deal the race of characters has been.  it's quite bigoted and ugly, as you might say. 

#10 - Apr. 22 at 2:06pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Not intending to spin this off too far on a tangent, but I wanted to let you know, Katie, I totally agree regarding There Be Dragons. It was quite awful, on many levels. The sheer lack of the lead character's ability to generate in the audience (well, me, at least) any sense of identification on any basic human level, was amazingly bad. I had no emotional investment at all in the lead character. He was an empty, shallow, one-dimensional character about whom I didn't really care nor could I relate to in any significant way. Not a good way to make a compelling film. (I don't even recall the character's name)

#11 - Apr. 22 at 2:18pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

well, fwiw, the actor portraying cinna is half-black, half-white, 

Obama is half-black, half-white and yet anyone who criticizes him deemed a racist.

and still, they only account for 3 total characters in a movie of many, many more!

That's the point.  While (as in life) the white characters run the whole moral gamut from vicious to vacuous to cynical to courageous to kind and good, the only three black characters are all portrayed as superior beings.  

they stayed true to the book is all, and i have to say i'm surprised at how big a deal the race of characters has been.  it's quite bigoted and ugly, as you might say. 

There's nothing bigoted or ugly in pointing out an instance of Hollywood's racial propagandizing. 

I read recently about the way Communists and Communist sympatherizers in postwar Hollywood instructed screenwriters and actors to portray rich people as snobby, disdainful, lazy and spiritually hollow.  Insofar as they did that with the aim of shaping opinion toward political ends, they were propagandizing and manipulating, not story-telling.

#12 - Apr. 22 at 2:24pm | quote

 

freckles

I guess I just don't understand the kerfuffle.  Were you hoping for more black characters that were also bad?  It just seems like an odd hang-up, and I doubt intentional in the least.  You really think that the author/filmmakers went out of their way to prevent any negative black characters?

#13 - Apr. 22 at 2:29pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

freckles, Apr. 22 at 1:29pm

I guess I just don't understand the kerfuffle.  Were you hoping for more black characters that were also bad?  It just seems like an odd hang-up, and I doubt intentional in the least.  You really think that the author/filmmakers went out of their way to prevent any negative black characters?

 A comment is not a kerfuffle.  Nor is a point of criticism a hangup.  I wasn't "hoping" for anything regarding race.  I just noticed an imbalance that is entirely typical of Hollywood, and of a piece with other elements of its general leftism.  

#14 - Apr. 22 at 2:41pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

 A comment is not a kerfuffle.  Nor is a point of criticism a hangup.

Such an elegant and authoritative take down.  And hopefully the prototype for all us Gen X Catholics in the future.  We've been silenced by the grossly intolerant accusations of Boomers for so long I think all of us need to find our voice and just shut down the idiocy in this same mode. I salute you, Katie!


#15 - Apr. 22 at 2:56pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

I've been thinking about this whole "no God" in Hunger Games thing and have a few musings to share.

Suppose the writer had given the District characters some kind of secret authentic faith to encourage them.  It probably would have looked an awful like Christianity, namely because the writer is reputed to be a Catholic of some kind. And even if she tried to make up a benevolent faith without reference to Jesus, it's amazing how that exercise always ends up looking like Christianity.  (Have you ever tried it?  It was an exercise I put myself through once years ago.)

Given the polarization of the culture,  the book would then probably not have been picked up by Scholastic or any other mainstream young adult publisher.  The book would have been branded as Christian YA lit and then never find the wide audience that the publishers of Harry Potter could bring to it.

I should add that I don't think this has to be a problem in adult fiction.  There are always mainstream books out there tha have some Christian elements in them.  But the YA arena is very tricky. Their bread and butter securers are the public school educators.

#16 - Apr. 22 at 3:04pm | quote

 

freckles

I am not even close to boomer age, and while i commend any and all criticisms, I am puzzled by choosing the hill to die on of race.  Why did I deserve a "takedown" for this, exactly?  As a Catholic woman, I am taught that no race is superior, and to me, this complaint doesn't gel with that.

I hardly consider that idiocy. 

#17 - Apr. 22 at 3:12pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

Next, wouldn't you agree that most of Shakespeare is "godless."  That is to say, the presupposition of Shakespeare's universe is that men are fallen and grace is out there.  But he rarely has characters speak about their faith.  I'm thinking Henry IV, V and VI, Julius Caesar, King Lear, The Tempest. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet have vestiges of religious stuff around the edges but who would claim they are plays in whch God is a big factor?

Then, I was thinking Edith Wharton as a writer who makes very little reference to faith in her novels.  I just finished House of Mirth which is feels like a lovely comedy of letters all the time it is sloping down into a tragedy.  Dickens and Austen also leaves the God stuff mostly out.  As do many of the great American writers of the 19th and 20th Century:  Crane, Poe, Melville, Cooper, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Maugham, etc.  Hawthorne is the exception, of course.  But really, aren't MOST of the great American writers writing without reference to the Divine?   What do you think?

#18 - Apr. 22 at 3:14pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

Feckles - I didn't say your particular comment was idiotic, however, if pressed I might have to conclude that the insinuations that underlie it are.  Even asking a question like that throws into the mix that Katie is operating from some kind of racial bigotry.  I hate that we can't even muse anymore without having to be constantly aware that somewhere someone might take offense at the implications of the reductio ad absurdum of some comment that wasn't the whole point any way.  There is no more benefit of the doubt left here.  The fact that Katie isn't sending money and secret support to white-robed supremicist groups should be obvious.  Why even introduce the suggestion of racist statements when you have all the evidence you need that the person is not actually racist?

#19 - Apr. 22 at 3:22pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

Did I say "Feckles"?  So sorry. I think the evil in me wanted "Feckless."

#20 - Apr. 22 at 3:23pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

Very interesting, Barbara. It makes me wonder if the author might have originally included some sort of faith-like (even if not explicitly Christian) element in the original story idea as you suggested, as an underlying motivation for the characters, and then decided to leave it out for marketing reasons (or was encouraged to do so by editors/agents)?

The movie shows evil and inhuman treatment of people, and a society that has gone terribly wrong, but it doesn't present any particular idea of why it's wrong, or what can be done to fix it.  The main characters succeed in resisting the evil society, but the movie never says why they are different from the others.


This is an excellent observation by Stephen. I have not read the books or seen the movie (I will probably at least see the movie soon). Assuming this description of the film is accurate, it seems to me that Stephen zeros-in here on the key point of significance for considering this work from a moral/ethcial standpoint.


Our increasinly secular and morally troubled culture seems increasingly unable to ground moral norms upon any kind of solid foundation. Maybe this is what you get as a result?

#21 - Apr. 22 at 3:29pm | quote

 

freckles

Barbara, I felt it important because I think when one says something careless, it undercuts their actual effectiveness.  I was respectful, cautious, yet strong of opinion, and your reply indicates you find me idiotic, irresponsible, and accusatory, with an added dose of "clearly this person is a liberal baby boomer in need of my smack."  I find it all very unwarranted and uncharitable, to boot.  You missed my point and went to dastardly places in a vicious manner.  I will say nothing more but congratulations, you verbally eviscerated a Catholic mother who read this in the hopes of learning more guidance for her children's reading choices.  Heck of an accomplishment for this Sunday afternoon.

Katie, I hope you don't concur - it was not my intention to paint you a racist.  That would be truly hateful - I just wanted you to understand the perception your words gave was all.  God bless you and yours.



#22 - Apr. 22 at 3:30pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

And what I mean by "this is what you get," is that our culture still wants to care about morals in some ways. But, if you inhabit the point of view that seems to be dominant in the education world, you certainly can't suggest that commendable moral behavior has any connection to transcendent/divine Truths.

Rather, the sphere of Western education seems to have bought, hook line and sinker, the (now tired) psychological fad leftover from the 60's and 70's that "feelings" are the supreme and most glorious thing about human life. And, this, meaning feelings simply as the phenomena of compelling internal reactions to outside things--in a very superficial and empty kind of way. This approach to feelings at the same time places them on a high pedastal and empties them out into a thin shell of what they are in reality. "Feelings" in this world, are not spoken of with any philosophical depth--no well-reasoned anaylisis that sees them in the light of great Truths about life. They are, merely, experiences of life that delight or sadden us, without much rational explanation.

#23 - Apr. 22 at 3:45pm | quote

 

Karen Hall

I thought the exclusion of "God" was intentional. I assumed the folks had forgotten God long ago and it would take about 12 more books to get them back to that thought. The author is obviously not a secular humanist -- the book is chock full of Christian imagery. It seems to me that the entire world of HG could not exist if anyone still believed in God. Isn't that part of the point? It also seems to me that the folks at the Capitol (who I'd assume would let go of God first) are far sadder and more lost than the folks in the district. To me, that's why they go to such extremes. They have a louder noise they have to block out. 

#24 - Apr. 22 at 4:23pm | quote

 

Stephen Granderson

Hmm...this discussion has gotten a tad confusing.  But I will say, in reply to Barbara, that Shakespeare and Dickens are definitely not "Godless".  Though they don't make faith a central part of their writings, they do make it the basis of their morals.  For instance, whenever Dickens soliloquizes about evil and injustice, or about mercy and truth, he always bases it on the divine standard.  "Shall you decide what men shall live and what men shall die?  It may be that, in the sight of God, you are far less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child," says the Spirit of Christmas Present.  This quote beautifully summarizes what the point of The Hunger Games could have been if the author had based the character's actions on some sort of faith in a divine standard.  And Barbara is right in saying that such a faith would inevitably resemble Christianity.

I agree that There Be Dragons wasn't a great movie, but I thought that it did portray the evils of godless communism.  Perhaps it wasn't clear enough that the communists were the ones who were trying to hunt down and kill Josemaria and the other priests during the movie.

#25 - Apr. 22 at 4:32pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

freckles

I felt it important because I think when one says something careless, it undercuts their actual effectiveness. 

Freckles, what I said was not careless.  What makes you judge it careless?  

What Barb wanted to smack down was the suggestion that I'm bigoted and ugly for noticing the imbalanced portrayal of race in the film.  You did suggest that, you know.  Maybe you didn't mean to.  You also suggested that I'm causing a kerfuffle, that I have a hangup, and that I picked race as a hill to die on.  

It's maddening and objectively unjustified.  ( Would it be homophobic to note publicly that virutally all sitcoms apparently must now feature a sympathetic gay character?) I expect Barb has had to deal with quite a lot of this sort of thing in her line of work. 

I mind it only objectively. I mean, I think it's not good that a person be charged with racism for questioning Hollywood's portrayal of race.  Subjectively, I'm not bothered at all.  Like Barbara, I'd like us to develop more robust sensibilities, in service of a more vigorous and fruitful public square.

"If you cannot win on foot, how will you compete against horses?"

#26 - Apr. 22 at 4:38pm | quote

 

Stephen Granderson

I think Barbara makes a good point that the author may have feared that any insinuations of the divine might have gotten the books shelved as religious literature.  The sad thing is that the author may have reasons for such caution, especially with a teen book.  It seems that authors of teen books are allowed to expound on any wild cosmology (like Eragon does), as long as it is not Christian cosmology.  Perhaps this is why a few Christian writers are resorting to writing about Jews or Muslims.  

However, there are two prominent exceptions - the Narnia books and the Lord of the Rings.  This gives me hope that there may be more of a market for Christian-themed fantasy or sci-fi than we think.

#27 - Apr. 22 at 5:07pm | quote

 

Barbara Nicolosi

Freckles -

You missed my point and went to dastardly places in a vicious manner.  

I am sorry if I was too harsh.  I was mainly defending my friend from what seems to me a much more vicious and dastardly insinuation of racism.  Or, if not racism, than of being too stupid to not realize that she was saying things that might sound like racism.

I will say nothing more but congratulations, you verbally eviscerated a Catholic mother 

Oh dear.....  I will say nothiing more except:   Is it worse when the person is a mother?

#28 - Apr. 22 at 5:42pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

There may well be a potential market, but it may also be that the writing industry is populated by agents and editors and publishers who don't accept this sort of writing because it is unpopular among their industry peers? I'm just speculating, but I know that this happens in other fields.

Or, perhaps aspiring authors don't try it because they don't see successful authors doing this who write for YA readers? Don't know.

#29 - Apr. 22 at 5:43pm | quote

 

freckles

Barbara, you cut off my statement.  I was trying to impress upon you my intention when I visited this site.  That is all.  I wasn't looking for your pity as a mother, just that I was visiting here as such.  

And having gone back to read my comments, completely flummoxed as to your visceral reaction as well as Katie's, I think I've found the problem - when I said I was surprised at the reaction concerning the character's race, my sleep-deprived brain didn't make clear that I meant OUTSIDE of Katie's comments.  I have read a lot of this particular controversy in mainstream media.

I stand by what I say.  I don't understand why this needs to be pointed out, and I'm even more confused with it being compared to the inclusion of homosexuality in tv shows.  (it draws some kind of connection between your trouble with positive gay characters and positive black characters)

I also reiterate that I NEVER did, nor implied that Katie was a racist.  I don't know Katie, outside of reading this blog, recommended by a fellow Catholic mom for the purpose of discussing The Hunger Games, as I have young children and also teach them.   

#30 - Apr. 22 at 6:25pm | quote

 

freckles

And with that, I promise to leave your blog alone.  But maybe, just maybe, consider that as a writer on the internet, people will comment and you shouldn't jump to the "clearly you're a liberal sent to tank the Church" place.  i haven't been treated so harshly since commenting on a pro-abort blog about being prolife.

#31 - Apr. 22 at 6:26pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 Freckles, my reaction wasn't visceral.  

freckles, Apr. 22 at 5:25pm

I'm even more confused with it being compared to the inclusion of homosexuality in tv shows.  (it draws some kind of connection between your trouble with positive gay characters and positive black characters)

What in the world do you thinks justifies your assertion that I have trouble with positive black characters?  

What I object to is not positive black characters, but Hollywood's propagandistic tendencies when it comes to race issues, which are not unsimiliar to its propagandistic tendencies when it comes to "gay rights" issues or pro-life issues or environmental issues, or issues related to war.

Sheesh.

#32 - Apr. 22 at 6:56pm | quote

 

freckles

Eegad, my communication skills.  "Trouble with positive gay characters."  falsely being misconstrued as being on the same page with positive black characters.

I meant that it seemed like that.  NOT that you felt that way!  (sorry, I said I was done but I didn't want you to think that!) 

#33 - Apr. 22 at 7:00pm | quote

 

Karen Hall

The book world is VERY compartamentalized. There is the CBA and the ABA and the twain rarely meets. So the author could have been trying to avoid being CBA'd and therefore dismissed by the mainstream. But I like my other theory better.

#34 - Apr. 22 at 7:08pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

freckles, Apr. 22 at 6:00pm

Eegad, my communication skills.  "Trouble with positive gay characters."  falsely being misconstrued as being on the same page with positive black characters.

Apologies gladly accepted.  

But, as to the substantive point, on what basis do you assert that it's false to find a parallel between the way Hollywood treats race issues and the way Hollywood treats others issues, such as "gay rights"?

I mean, if you grant that they propagandize and manipulate there, why would you take it as given that they would never do it on race issues?

#35 - Apr. 22 at 7:13pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 Barbara NicolosiApr. 22 at 2:04pm

Suppose the writer had given the District characters some kind of secret authentic faith to encourage them. 

One of the things I appreciate about Mark Steyn's take is that he points to the author, rather than to the characters.  The impression he gets is that the author appears not to ascribe any transcendent meaning to human life, or to grant that it's "the breath of the eternal," rather than temporal extremities, that makes human situations so dramatic. 

How an author who does ascribe such meaning might get it across imaginatively in this post-Christian day and age, without pandering or prosthelytizying, is a questions for much more talented and creative minds than mine.  

Next, wouldn't you agree that most of Shakespeare is "godless." 

I wouldn't.  The vision that comes through in Shakespeare's canon is not only open to the transcendent, but unmistakeably Christian, even sacramental.  Gloriously so.  Even when he's dealing with pagan gods and characters.

The other authors you mention all draw from and rely on in various ways and degrees from Christian principles and assumptions, even as they may challenge its conventions.

#36 - Apr. 22 at 7:35pm | quote

 

diotima

I have not yet seen the films - but I positively devoured the first two novels and was left with a rare feeling of satisfaction and a vague notion that I might write a blog post about why I found them so satisfying.  Haven't gotten around to that yet.  But as far as the issue of transcendence: precisely what I enjoyed about the work was that it showed how in a post-Christian world, with no established rituals of worship or authority figures, the transcendent still endures in the inviolability of the human person.  In two particular respects this reality seems to be profoundly shown:

1) The protagonists fight not with force or violence, but by art - and a refusal to play the game.  This rising above the infamy and degradation reminds me of Merlau-Ponty's idea of freedom as that which always transcends the world of mere causation.... that can not be violated or taken away.

2) The Bad Guys are all shown as having touches of humanity and vulnerability....and the Good Guys are all shown as having the potential to be bad. So the struggle is not just us vs them, its for the humanity of each soul.

#37 - Apr. 22 at 11:27pm | quote

 

diotima

Totally different from Austen, without whom I can quite happily live a long and jolly life.  In Austen there really is no transcendence, and indeed I find that there is often crass snobbery.  And when one knows of all that was going on in the Regency era, it makes one all the more irate that Austen could just bracket it all out.  Though artistically it may have been a wise choice, Austen's total failure to deal with either religion or sex makes her a snooze-fest, at least for me.  Where would we be, after all, without sex or religion?

#38 - Apr. 22 at 11:30pm | quote

 

diotima

Re. race issue: Thresh doesn't come off as a good guy in the book. He just has his moment of humanity - like everyone else in the story. 

#39 - Apr. 22 at 11:32pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

diotima, Apr. 22 at 10:27pm

But as far as the issue of transcendence: precisely what I enjoyed about the work was that it showed how in a post-Christian world, with no established rituals of worship or authority figures, the transcendent still endures in the inviolability of the human person. 

This is a very interesting thought, and you may be right, diotima.  My response would be 2-fold:

1) Our inviolabilty is intimately bound up with our being related to the divine.  If we lack even a rudimentary sense of the divine, or the immortality of the soul, can we retain a sense of the involability of the person?  That's what seems unreal to me.  I doubt we can.  

2) Our sense of the divine doesn't come primarily through established rituals and authority figures, but through direct experience.  Rituals and authority figures give it definite shape, not being.  

Your points 1 and 2 are strong.  It's true that Katniss and Peta are shown as free and self-standing persons, with a sense of their own dignity and inviolability.  My question is whether persons really CAN have that in such circumstances without any thought of transcendence. 

#40 - Apr. 23 at 9:32am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

diotima, Apr. 22 at 10:30pm

In Austen there really is no transcendence, and indeed I find that there is often crass snobbery.  

I agree on both counts (though I still love the books.) But the scope of the drama in them is totally different.  She's writing about ordinary domestic dramas entirely within the context of cultural Christianity.  Ultimate questions about the meaning of life are not at issue; they've been settled.

In Hunger Games we are down to the primal. 

#41 - Apr. 23 at 9:38am | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

I read The Hunger Games recently, have yet to see the movie, but given Katie's helpful review I am thinking of taking my teenage daughters to it this week, as a prelude to a good conversation about it on the way home. Parents have to pick their strategic entry points through which to introduce their kids reflectively into the world of popular culture, and it seems that this might be such a point for me and my family.

There is no doubt that The Hunger Games gives us a godless world--though one which, as I think Katie notes, borrows the Christian theme of self-sacrifice to drive its plot. In thinking through what Mark Steyn calls its lack of transcendent backdrop, I was reminded of Walker Percy's essay, "Novel-Writing in an Apocalyptic TIme" (from Sign-posts in a Strange Land). Please forgive the extensive quotation (in this and the ensuing com boxes), but I think it's worth it...

"If the novelist's business is, like that of all artists, to tell the truth, even when he is lying, that is, making up a story, he had better tell the truth no matter how odd it is...." 

#42 - Apr. 23 at 1:18pm | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

"...even if the truth is a kind of upside-downness. And if it is the novelist's business to look and see what is there for everyone to see but is nonetheless not seen, and if the novelist is by his very nature a hopeful man--he HAS to be hopeful or he would not bother to write at all--he then sooner or later he must confront the great paradox of the twentieth century: that no other time has been more life-affirming in its pronouncements, self-fulfilling, creative, autonomous, and so on--and more death-dealing in its actions. It is the century of the love of death....

"Everyone admits the atrocities of the century, which we like to think of as horrifying, inexplicable, and occurring at a great remove from us. True, every century has its horrors, but what the novelist notices, peculiar fellow that he is, is that in these strange times people, himself included, seem to experience life most vividly, most immediately, remember places best, on the occasion of war, assassination, hurricanes, and other catastrophes. The real question is seldom asked. It is not: How do we prevent the final war? but: What do we do if we succed?...

#43 - Apr. 23 at 1:23pm | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

"Can man get along without war?"

In bringing Percy into this discussion I am not claiming that Suzanne Collins is bringing Percy's incisive perceptiveness into our culture of death into The Hunger Games. But I think, almost despite herself, she hits upon one of the truths Percy mentions in the passage quoted: that what defines perhaps most of all a culture of death is that in it one often feels only truly, vividly alive when confronted by the sudden finality of horrific death.

Isn't this where Katniss Everdeen finds courage, friendship, loyalty, and love: when gruesome death approaches both for her and those she holds most dear? A death, moreover, that is dealt out by a Capitol that is grotesquely "life-affirming" in its pronouncements?

The Hunger Games then, I take it, is a twisted cry for life--a life that can only be vividly experienced, paradoxically, within the sick reality TV set of the Games. To this small but significant extent, The Hunger Games gropes desperately for the transcendent, for that which can survive the soul-annihilating existence of the Capitol. And I think this is the key to why kids are flocking to see it. 

 

#44 - Apr. 23 at 1:39pm | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

I must respectfully disagree, however, with Katie's and Diotima's conclusions about Jane Austen. True, religion and faith are not among Austen's most prominent themes, though what it means to be a clergyman does play a significant role in Mansfield Park. And as for the class snobbery objection, I don't think such an objection can survive a consideration of the way in which Pride and Prejudice serves as an argument against the class prejudices of Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mr. Collins. It is also worth saying that the existence of social classes does not necessarily entail the existence of snobbery. The finale of Emma leaves the social hierarchy in place, while also upholding benevolence to all one's neighbors and tenants, no matter how humble. 

#45 - Apr. 23 at 1:48pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Love that Percy passage!  Thanks, Daniel.  You remind me to take my copy of Signposts off my shelves and give it another good read.

About Jane Austen, I should qualify my earlier comment.  Her novels lack transcendence in the sense that they're not dealing with it directly.  The drama takes place on the temporal plane, with little reference to God or the afterlife, etc.  But, to my reading, it isn't missing from her work in the way it seems to me to be missing in The Hunger Games.  Jane Austen's world is discrete about the divine, but plainly open to it.  Her vision of human life and human excellence makes sense only on the presumption of absolutes, and ultimate justice.

I do think there's some snobbishness there, though.  It's not the worst and most crass kind—the kind that some of her characters exhibit, viz., the kind that puts all emphasis on status and money.  But she is rather hard on others, I think.  She expresses a lot of contempt for unrefined and unintelligent people, for instance.

#46 - Apr. 23 at 2:43pm | quote

 

Max Schadenfreude

 

freckles, Apr. 22 at 5:26pm

And with that, I promise to leave your blog alone.  But maybe, just maybe, consider that as a writer on the internet, people will comment and you shouldn't jump to the "clearly you're a liberal sent to tank the Church" place.  i haven't been treated so harshly since commenting on a pro-abort blog about being prolife.

 The Horror.  The Horror.

#47 - Apr. 23 at 5:17pm | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

Katie, I totally agree with your description of the relationship of Austen's fiction to transcendence in the second paragraph of your last comment. About the snobbish point...I'd like to talk about specific examples. Her comic contempt is never aimed at the unrefined and unintelligent except insofar as these are moral defects, rather than merely natural characteristics. I'm thinking of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, for example, who is portrayed as stupid in a sense, but it's a moral stupidity that is being criticized, I believe, an intellectual and moral vanity that makes him oily and dense.  

#48 - Apr. 23 at 9:06pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

 

Daniel McInerny, Apr. 23 at 8:06pm

Her comic contempt is never aimed at the unrefined and unintelligent except insofar as these are moral defects, rather than merely natural characteristics. I'm thinking of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, for example, who is portrayed as stupid in a sense, but it's a moral stupidity that is being criticized, I believe, an intellectual and moral vanity that makes him oily and dense.  

There's a subjective element in the judgment, I realize.  It's something I've felt more as the years go by: that there's something merciless, almost cruel, in the way she plays up the faults of others, making them objects of scorn and derision.  I can't shake the feeling that she was having her revenge on people of her acquaintance.

I think even moral defects call for some tenderness and mercy, don't you?  I'm hoping God won't be too hard on mine.

#49 - Apr. 23 at 9:25pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I'll mention concretes, since you asked for them.  I'm thinking of Liz's mother in Pride and Prejudice, and her husband's view of her. I'm thinking of Emma's father, who cares about nothing and no one but himself and his food. Then there's that decent man, whose name I foget, in Sense and Sensibility, who is likewise married to a terribly silly woman.  (The one in whose home Marianne falls ill.)  He can hardly hide his disdain for his own wife. There's Anne's sister, Mary (I think), in Persuasion.  

Austen seems particularly hard on female characters.  So few of them seem to measure up to her standards.  So many of them are empty, selfish, vain, uneducated, ill-judging, etc.  They serve well to highlight the excellences of the protagonists, but I start to feel a little sorry for them after awhile.  

#50 - Apr. 24 at 9:37am | quote

 

Daniel McInerny

Here, in slightly more polished form, is my take on The Hunger Games. I appreciate being part of this discussion, Katie.

#51 - Apr. 26 at 9:05am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Great article, Daniel.  And thanks for linking the Personalist Project.  If you get a chance, I'd love to hear what your daughters thought of the movie, and whether it led to good conversations with them.

#52 - Apr. 26 at 1:49pm | quote

 

Scott Johnston

I just linked to this on FB and thought, there is perhaps some application here on this thread.

Here is a republishing on Catholic Vote, of Whittaker Chambers' review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The relevance, I think, for this discussion is that aspect of Chambers' critique of Rand where he admonishes her for trying to imagine a world in which the realm of the divine has nothing to do with personal human achievement and happiness. He suggests a path down which this trajectory would eventually lead, and shows its similarities with socialism and communism and any essentially atheistic and materialistic worldview.

It doesn't seem from what I gather in this discussion like Collins is trying to promote anything like Rand's militantly atheistic/materialist worldview. (indeed, perhaps the opposite, as someone suggested above, by showing the emptyness and violence of life without a transcendent purpose?).

But it does suggest the question, within the worldview of the Hunger Games, from where do the heros get their moral fiber? For what ultimate purpose do they understand themselves to be revolting against the established system? Why are the Hunger Games heros not like the self-serving "heros" in Atlas Shrugged?

#53 - Apr. 27 at 5:57pm | quote

 

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