Unless you happen to live under a proverbial cultural rock, you have probably heard of the addictive Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Those of you living above rocks and haven’t read the books: they are good, read them.
Under rock dwellers, here’s the premise: In the presumed future something horrible has happened to the U.S. that it is now split up into 12 (or maybe 13, wink wink) Districts ruled by the shallow, wealthy, and eager for entertainment Capital. Each District is responsible for creating or growing a commodity, like electronics or grain, for the whole country to use. The hard part is that there’s not always enough food within and between the districts. To solve the problem the Capital “reaps” a boy and girl from each District and forces them to fight all the other kids to death in an arena. These Hunger Games are televised and eagerly watched every year and the winner gets extra food for their District. The books portray the unfairness and cruelty of the Capital’s regime as well as providing an interesting commentary on reality TV and the uncomfortable pleasure of voyeurism.
I’ve been thinking about this because if you didn’t know, I’m starting a new job in a week as a YA librarian. As part of my new job I need to create programs for teens. I would love to do a Hunger Games program and have been searching the Interwebs for ideas. The books are extremely popular – because it’s a good story, well written, and the main character Katniss Everdeen is a freaking badass – and, as is now inevitable with a popular YA novel, the first movie is coming out in March. One of the program ideas I found has teens “tracking” each other around the library and then shooting them with Nerf guns. Really.
This makes me a bit uncomfortable. The books are violent but I think that the violence serves a purpose for the story: it highlights the violence and desperation that humans are capable of and the depravity of the Capital. It also makes for a great survival story. I don’t think that reading violent books is going to make readers go out and be violent but is the violence something that should be celebrated by having teens track down other teens? I’m not sure – it might be a little too close to the book for me. Yet, Richard Kearney says in his book, On Stories, that people really can tell the difference between stories and real life:
“The rules of poetic license are generally understood by people sitting in a darkening cinema or theatre, opening the pages of a novel in a room, or listening to someone in a cafe or pub begin a story with the words, ‘I tell you no lie . . . (which in Ireland means the opposite). The bottom line, as the judge in the New York court ruling on Joyce’s Ulysses said, is that, ‘no one was ever raped by a book’. To suggest otherwise is not only to underestimate ordinary people’s intelligence, but grossly to insult those who experience real violence in in the real world.”
So, I am being lame and the teens really aren’t going to want to shoot each other in real life or am I right to be nervous? I guess I just don’t know about to approach a Hunger Games program since so much of the first two books are about the games and killing people. Or the ideas I come up with are really, really not cool. Like maybe we could use the Hunger Games as a jumping off point and discuss our culture’s current fascination with reality TV, how that “reality” is not really real, and the ramifications of our desire for the entertainment quality of news, journalism, and the suffering of others. Seriously, in the books, people watch teens die for fun and profit! How can you not want to discuss this?!
Any thoughts? Or I guess we can just try to make mockingjay pins out of gold foil…
And finally, may the odds be ever in your favor!