Monday, July 9, 2012

The Hunger Games - Perspectives from a Parent

I'm Sue, co-host of Anomaly Supplemental and Anomalous Musings writer and editor.  The latest installment of Anomaly is a roundtable discussion of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (book and film).  It was the first time that our entire staff - co-host and staff writer alike - was able to join in a discussion.  The opinions were varied, but everyone had something constructive to add.  You can find the show notes, steaming audio, download, and subscription links here.  Thank you, as always, for listening and reading.

A few weeks ago, Jen invited Australian writer and podcaster Stefan Sawynok, who also happens to be a friend of our show and a father to three Anomalies, to write a guest post for Anomalous Musings.  A week later, he sent his review of The Hunger Games, and we decided to hold on to it until our roundtable episode was released.  In his post below, he not only gives his personal thoughts on the movie, but also the reactions of his three young daughters.

My name is Stefan and I am the father to three Anomalies, I work with an artist Anomaly and I write about Anomalies. So I hope that by some process of alien DNA replication, that makes me an [honorary] Anomaly. This year has been a strange and challenging one for me. On a personal level, it’s been pretty much as hard a time as I have faced in many years, and that has flowed on to work and creative activities to create new stresses. However, every cloud has a silver lining and if there is one for me it has been the way in which I have been reminded that the eyes of children and teens see things differently than mine - and that, as a parent, is easy to forget.

I was first reminded of this when I took my three Anomalies (Phoenix, Raven and Kiarra) to the Doctor Who spectacular, which is a live performance of the music from Doctor Who, and the experience led me to take far more notice of the way my children react to things - not that I have ever been a hands-off parent, but when you are busy with life as an income earner, parent, and writer, it’s easy to overlook some details.

Enter The Hunger Games. Now, for those who haven’t seen this you can breathe a sigh of relief: There are no spoilers here. For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games is a series of novels set in the not-too-distant future in North America, after what I can presume is a second Civil War. In this case, the victors choose to keep control by forcing each of the remaining cities, referred to as “districts,” to hand over two children to participate in a death match tournament with only one survivor.

So, knowing that in advance (I was forewarned by Phoenix), I took my girls to see it at a late-night session. For the record, Phoenix is 17, Raven is 14, and Kiarra is 12. This movie is rated “M” (15+) and I thought more than twice about taking both Raven and Kiarra. Raven, I allowed on the grounds that, of the three, she has the most sense of when to look away and can see the rights and wrongs of things. Kiarra is an older 12-year-old who has already experienced the “arena” first hand at karate tournaments where there have been parents yelling stupid things like “Kill them!” or “Smash them!”. In other words, she knows as well as anyone what adults can do to their children.

Having said that, I am really of two minds as to the wisdom of it. I am not a soft parent. I do not shield my children from much because I want them to learn not to be afraid of the world but not to be blind to what it can be. They have seen violent films and, let’s face it, Harry Potter is violent, but we talk about it. It’s not seen as entertainment; We discuss what happens and how we feel about it. This movie, however, pushed that to an extreme.

Phoenix, as the oldest, has read the book series and knew what was coming. She has her own views on it and identifies with the lead character, Katniss, a young woman navigating a horrible world and trying to both survive and bring about change. She sees what is happening as wrong, but is more focused on the personal story of Katniss than the big picture.

Raven is the same, to a degree - she identifies with the lead character but sees the wrong over the personal circumstance. Like me, she was not okay with kids killing each other and was really put off by it. On the flip side, she said it was a really good movie because it showed that kids can survive even in a world where the adults have lost the plot.

Kiarra also identified with the lead character but, as someone who has been in an arena fight of sorts, was busy strategizing how the kids could survive and was concerned that no one had a defense against weapons or used unarmed combat techniques. That’s the karate training kicking in. In other words, of the four of us, I think she got what it was like for the kids in the arena, and she has the strongest survival instincts. She didn’t see a problem so much with the depiction of the adults other than her strong belief that they should be taken down.

None of them questioned how the world got that way. They saw the struggle and, each in their own way, identified with the desperation of the kids involved. I was the opposite. I was sitting there the whole time thinking, “How the hell could humans ever be like this?”

Now, I haven’t read the books, but this is one of those rare instances where, having seen a movie, I have to read the books. I need to know why - why, after 2000 years of learning - would anybody choose this way to keep control? There is a part of me that is hoping that, within the book, I can find that flaw, that reason that says, “No way, this can never ever happen, we are bigger than this.”

Then I turned on my twitter feed for The Hunger Games and saw words like “cool” and “awesome” and my heart sank a little. This movie places the audience in the position of those in the Capital, watching the violence from a safe distance and cheering on the combatants. What I will say is that, during the movie, there was not a sound in the audience - a mark of the fact that the filmmakers give you little to cheer about. So, I am hoping that by “cool” and “awesome”, they meant “great cinematography.”

Here is my quandary: If the movie depicted 24 adults chucked into an arena, I would be okay with it - no problem at all. Here, however, it’s 24 children. For me, that’s a step too far. I think that, beneath the movie, there is a basic human instinct; we like to watch the fight and we like the hope that comes when someone beats the odds. My kids are ok with it because they can put themselves in that situation and see how they would survive. Me, I am thinking about the instances in recent years where kids have killed at schools or similar, and the devastation that creates in a community. The idea that kids would kill each other for anyone’s entertainment is pretty hard to stomach.

It’s a fine line. For example, if two of the kids in the movie had a graphic sex scene, there would be uproar. Our reaction is horror and grief of the highest magnitude. Yet in that instance, no one dies. And kids have been having sex unbeknownst to their parents forever, even at inappropriate ages. Kids killing each other doesn’t happen as often, thankfully. In this movie, kids kill each other graphically and, be in no doubt, there is no shying away from the violence. And when we use words like “awesome,” I have a problem with that as a double standard. I will say the movie is brilliant, but not “cool” or “awesome.”

It’s not meant to be. Moralizing over, I do not expect anyone, let alone everyone, to share my views. Let me be clear, this is a BRILLIANT film, executed expertly with the best performances Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland have given in a long, long time. There is no mustache twirling here - the evil that is portrayed is very believable. The movie does not, in any way, glorify violence or try to justify it. Even as I found it horrible, the fact is that my hat goes off to the filmmakers - they did an unbelievable job making this. Also, I am okay with the marketing of this film, though I think that they could have been more upfront with the violence, although their trailer makes it pretty clear that kids will die.

All I ask is this: Please, if you go to watch this film, don’t be part of the audience that says, “It’s not real, so I am off the hook.” The fact is that, somewhere in the world, the carnage of the arena is happening in some form. You should have a strong opinion on it, even if you don’t agree with me. This is not a film where the filmmakers walk away from the subject, nor should we.

Finally, if your kids younger than 18 are going to see it, go with them, please, even if that’s not “cool.” On the way home, we had a vibrant discussion with all opinions welcome. It was educational for them and for me. I allowed them to form their own opinions and they know mine. In fact, we are about to podcast about it and, if you want to hear what they thought, you can check out the latest Highway to Mars podcast. I will try to pick a lighter topic for my next posting, the girls and I are going to watch Flash Gordon this week, so I am suspecting there might be more giggles involved.

Martian Out.

Stefan Sawynok
Anomalous Guest Author
Martian Creative
Subscribe to Anomaly on iTunes


Sarah said...

Really awesome post, Stefan! You make many excellent points. I have had that discussion with my husband before about the violence thing and how strange that double standard is with graphic sex and graphic violence, the only thing I can put it down to is that we do know that kids are having sex earlier and earlier and it happens a lot, it feels more like a reality so we take it seriously, but kids killing kids doesn't happen *as* often and so we do kind of look at it as a 'fictional' thing and therefore don't take it that seriously as a people.

I've gone back and forth on the whole kids in the arena thing, but I do definitely think that the author was trying to make it a cautionary tale as to what can happen when people are irresponsible and that ultimately the children do end up paying for irresponsible adults in the end; the only thing I wonder is if this book should more have been marketed to adults then and not as much to children, because I do worry that the target audience will not take it seriously and won't understand what the message really is. I know a couple young girls who've read the books and seen the movie and I wonder if they are old enough to really grasp the implications and really grasp how dire and how awful this situation is beyond 'how cool' it 'seems' on the outside, but I also don't think the movie glamorizes it in any way which is definitely good. I think ironically i've met more adults who've said dumb things like "oh I wish I was in the Hunger Games" then I've met kids who've said it!!! I do definitely think talking it through with your kid is the best thing, like you've done, getting a feel for what they're thinking on the story. I think too many parents think "oh it's aimed for kids their age so it's fine..." and just leave it at that, not realizing how important it is for a parent to be there 'guiding' and asking questions. Because all of our minds work so differently, especially when we are young and one young person might read those books and grasp the severity but one young person might read them and only see 'how cool' it is because there's a disconnect and it might even lead to something really bad.
It's just so important for parents to be involved in their kids lives, and I applaud you for being so involved in your girls lives!:)

Michele said...

This post was amazing! Thanks for sharing your experience and for deciding to bring your children to see it and also be able to share their thoughts with you and each other.
I actually felt very similar to you in my reaction to the movie. My sister (who is 22) and I were discussing it and we thought it was ironic that we as the audience simply by viewing were becoming participants in this world. We were behaving like the Capitol in a way by passively watching and observing these children kill each other.
Thanks again for sharing your views, it's wonderful to hear from a father of Anomalies of his own who genuinely takes an interest in their ideas, feelings and thoughts!