I try not to read other people's work when I'm invested in a manuscript. It throws off my concentration, sometimes makes me doubt the direction I'm going in my own work, and I constantly stress that an idea, a thought, a line from the piece I'm reading will inadvertently enter my subconscious and find it's way into my piece. As a result, I missed many great books written during the last eight years, so I'm probably one of the last people on earth to read "The Hunger Games."
Like most of the literate universe, I loved it, and hated it, at the same time. The concept and action riveted me and captured my attention during a five-hour flight. I didn't even hear the flight attendant come by for my beverage order or her snack offerings. At the same time, the concept and action disturbed me greatly. Perhaps it's the mother-thing. This book pushed every one of my maternal buttons with a sledgehammer.
I read through a host of reviews of the book on Goodreads, and I noticed that among the complaints listed was the simplistic writing style of the author. I beg to differ. Part of what made the topic and delivery so disturbing for me was Suzanne Collins's tepid matter-of-factness in regards to how life and death, want and plenty, civility and barbarism, were manipulated by the Capital.
I found that particularly chilling.
I've also heard several religious and philosophical arguments ensue over this book as commentators throw out broad questions regarding the its underlying message. Does it have a political agenda, illustrating the dangers of a too-large and too-powerful national government? Is it a commentary on the numbing effect violent media can have on ostensibly civilized people? Is it a warning about about what can happen when faith and religiosity are removed from a society? I'd love to ask Suzanne Collins to spill the beans on her own message.
The creepiness of this book breaks down to two major issues: the idea of a government that oppresses and then brutalizes its people to remind them of its unbridled power; and the idea that a citizenry could not only accept this concept, but actually turn it into a sport where bets are made and warriors are sponsored. Rome was guilty of both atrocities. Could it happen again? Is something equally vile happening anywhere right now? Headlines tell us it is in some totalitarian nations. Could it happen here? Some fear any erosion of freedom and liberty as a step towards a darkness from which we fought wars to save other nations.
The issue of a people who descend into such practices is more worrisome, requiring us to evaluate some of the more disturbing societal changes in our own day and sphere. Lately, so many child-kidnappings and mother-abductions have occurred that they appear to be appearing on our TVs and computers almost daily. Do we even notice any more? Or do we offer a few tsk tsks and hurry on to check our email. Are we becoming numb?
One theme of "The Hunger Games" was the idea that when everyone was safe, when they weren't hacking someone or being hacked, the audience would grow bored and a new dangerous element would be introduced. Does emotional numbness cause people to seek extremes because anything less bores them? What of publicized cage-fighting where men are penned up together so they can beat one another to a pulp? What does that say about our sensibilities?
On a less physically dangerous level, I remember the first time I saw an ad for the show "Jackass." I was absolutely stunned that anyone would set themselves up to be injured for fun. And I'd love to know how many clips from "America's Funniest Home Videos" resulted in an injury before the victim decided to post their accident on TV for money and attention. And what of all the televised courtroom dramas like Judge Judy, or the medical shows like Dr. OZ where people flaunt their most personal matters publicly, or the shameless talk shows where people appear to share their sometimes disgustingly vile personal secrets? Don't we already debase ourselves and others for entertainment? It's a slippery slope.
So here's to "The Hunger Games" and all the other dystopian novels that scare the beejeebers out of us. As brilliant as I think the book was, I'll be interested to see the impact this dystopian craze will have on a generation gorging themselves on books that depict a dying world where a few ruthless leaders oppress the masses. There is a glut of them on the market now. Some say that craze has peaked. I guess only time will tell if "The Hunger Games" movie mania will make readers hungry for more.