Better Dead

Today I will open a can of worms.  People who know me personally have no doubt been dreading that sooner or later I would be going here.  Let me first reassure those people that they will not be encountering the same old thing.  Those people are already well aware of the deep, visceral hatred I feel for the Hunger Games series.  But I will not belabor the same old points.  I will not discuss why I find the series morally repugnant, nor my objection to those who inflict it on schoolchildren because it allegedly carries some inspirational message that can apparently only be told by depicting children murdering each other.  Nor will I address the lack of literary merit nor the numerous plot contrivances.  Rather, I will simply address a single, exceptionally improbable plot point that no one else seems to have noticed, one that highlights a very disturbing hypocrisy in our society.

Let’s take the essential premise, which I assume virtually everyone knows by now: twenty-four teenagers, twelve of each gender, are rounded up, sent out into the forest armed with deadly weapons, and told to kill each other until one remains.  This is presented as entertainment, both within the context of the story, and also for the audiences who have made the movie one of the most successful of all time.  Okay, where’s the improbability?

Let’s look at it again:  Twenty-four teens.  Boys and girls.  Alone in the woods.  High on adrenaline.  Not sure they’ll be alive tomorrow.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Simple, the complete and utter absence of anything even remotely sexual.  We are told in the narrative that almost anything goes, but that the corrupt government behind this atrocity found only one point at which to draw the line, when one person engaged in cannibalism.  What about sex?  How strange, and utterly unbelievable, that it never happens, is not so much as even mentioned.

These kids are out to kill each other, and most do it willingly, mercilessly, visciously.  But at no point is there an attempted rape.  And apparently none of the competitors who band together ever engage in sex with each other.  Do you really think Cato never got it on with Glimmer?  And for that matter probably with Clove as well?

Ah, I hear the objection now: Not Clove!  She’s only fifteen, too young to have sex.    Yet she’s not too young to try to torture another girl to death, nor too young to have her head bashed in.  Face it, if this supposed dystopian society were so deranged as to enjoy watching children die, don’t you think they’d enjoy watching them do other things as well?  But no, even evil has its standards, apparently.  I can just see the scene now:

Sociopath 1:  Check out what those two are up to!

Sociopath 2:  Hold on there, Jim, they’re just kids.  That’s not appropriate.

Sociopath 1:  Gosh, you’re right, Ted.  What was I thinking?  Kill them!

The Japanese book and movie Battle Royale, which the author of The Hunger Games was accused of ripping off, acknowledges reality.  One very attractive fifteen-year-old girl uses her sexual wiles to lure several boys to their death, and another boy does indeed attempt to rape one of the girls.  That’s not far-fetched; the idea implied in The Hunger Games – that it wouldn’t happen – is. 

What’s wrong with us?  How did we get to a place where we satisfy our bloodlust by watching children die – and consider it suitable entertainment for our own children – but we dare not have the slightest hint of sex, lest our children get the idea that sex might be okay?  Shouldn’t our concerns take the exact opposite priority?  Shouldn’t we be worried that our children will find violence that much more attractive?  There have been reports of kids coming out of the theater deciding it would be cool to be in the hunger games.  And the current most popular sport among teen girls is archery.  This doesn’t seem to trouble us.  I guess in today’s culture, it’s “Better dead than in bed.”

This is nothing new; for years we have been more comfortable with violence than sex.  This despite the fact that most people would probably consider sex to be a good thing, in the right context, and violence to be a bad thing in any context.  But that’s not the way it plays out.

Let me bring to mind another movie of survival in the wilderness, made quite a few years ago now: The Blue Lagoon.  It tells the story of two children who grow up alone on a desert island.  The most well-known version was actually the third one made.  It features a great deal of nudity, shot artistically and not at all salacious, and most of it involves swimming naked, which is one of the most delightful experiences anyone can have.  Brooke Shields was only fourteen when she made the movie, but used an eighteen-year-old body double for most of the nude scenes.  More remarkable is the fact that, in the first half hour of the film, when the two characters – and the actors portraying them –  are perhaps nine years old, they both briefly appear completely nude.

In its time, it was actually rather charming, but there’s no way such a movie could be made today, at least not in the United States.  Underage nudity?  Unacceptable.  The implication that teens have sexual feelings?  Inexcusable.  But put deadly weapons in their hands and let them hack each other to death, and that’s okay, and even teaches important lessons, starting with, “Violence is an acceptable solution to political oppression.”

There we have it: two different stories of wilderness survival, one that tells a rather uplifting story of love and the beauty of nature, and another that has us cheering when one child kills another and tells us that we are all monsters at heart.

Which would you rather your children were watching?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Better Dead

  1. You have some points and as I said last night, I like a good rant. Perhaps you have taken it too seriously?

    I went down much the same path in this post: http://sryeager.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/is-doing-the-right-thing-only-a-fantasy/ and after reflection, I think it doesn’t really matter. Societies tastes are fickle and change with the times. Mostly, it is a reflection of our current collective mood. You can either rally against it in a quixotic quest, or do what many other greats have done, ignore it and use it to fuel your passion to write your own story destine to change the world for the better.

    • A fanatic is someone who feels strongly about something that doesn’t really matter to the rest of us. He changes from fanatic to visionary only when the rest of us change our minds.

      Am I taking this too seriously? I don’t think the problem is with me. When parents pull their children out of school to see the movie, and schools arrange field trips to do so, all because there’s supposedly some message about opposing tyranny, I think they are the ones taking it too seriously. It’s just a story about children killing each other, and we are lying to ourselves when we say that the appeal isn’t mostly in the violence.

      But my issue in this post was more with the fact that we are more comfortable with violence than with sex. If tastes are indeed fickle, then maybe the pendulum will swing, but I doubt it. Right now people are pushing the limits in terms of violent content, but are sqeamish about sex; do you think we will reach the opposite point? I can use my passion to write my story on my terms (and I am), but if I decided it was time to shake things up and push the limits of sexual content in the YA genre, would I ever have a prayer of seeing print? Or would I be labled a sicko?

      I appreciate your response.

  2. Hey Bob! I think you make a very valid point about sex vs. violence and what we find socially acceptable, and I’ve often thought the same thing.

    I do disagree that Hunger Games is just about children killing each other. I think it’s a draw to the series, and that it’s meant to be shocking. And there’s a meta-point too – why do we find it so difficult to look away when reading the book/watching the movie? I think it’s meant to titillate, to an extent. I don’t think the series was just about tyranny; I thought it had some interesting things to say about propaganda and reality television. And I appreciated the strong, yet flawed female protagonist.

    Would it have been more realistic for sex to be involved in the Arena? I can agree with you – yes, it would have been more realistic. It definitely would have made more sense. Would it have made a better book? Not sure. It might have muddled some of the points the author was trying to make, or it might have made the whole thing more visceral.

    I think if there’s a point you’re trying to make with the sex/violence (and you’re succeeding), then it’s more acceptable. I remember reading some books in elementary and middle school with sex scenes in them. They weren’t at the level of erotica, but there really wasn’t any doubt as to what was going on. They definitely advanced the story.

    Or perhaps people are more conservative nowadays than they were when I was a child.

    • I really believe a major reason why there’s no real sexual content is because it wouldn’t have sold. Indeed, I’ve heard that what little opposition has come from educators etc. is in regards to inappropriate sexual content, and damned if I can figure out what they are referring to. I can only assume it’s how the two leads share a sleeping bag for warmth. I mean, that’s where we’ve come to.

      You’re right that sex wasn’t particularly necessary to what the story is doing, and an author should do whatever she wants, just as I’m still resolving where I want to be in terms of violent content; on the other hand, if indeed the point is to be shocking, why not go there? As I said, it worked for Battle Royale. I might not have noticed if there weren’t the explicit reference to the one past competitor who engaged in canibalism; when I read that I said, “What about rape? How do they feel about that?” But apparently it simply doesn’t exist. Hey, if this dystopian society has somehow gotten rid of rape, it can’t be all bad; how ever we as a society feel about violence in general, I do hope we are all on the same page about sexual violence being the worst of the worst.

      You’re also right that sexual content has been around in the past. I’m recalling a YA novel from the late 80’s called “It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me” that focuses on a seventeen-year-old girl and has sex scenes that are, frankly, graphic. It’s apparently still in print, but imagine a novel being released today that has a moment where the main character celebrates finally having an orgasm. I’m not making this up. Or maybe I’m wrong, and there’s sexual content out there currently as well. Not that it’s something I’m especially advocating, but I can’t help thinking that if I had a daughter (or son), I’d be more comfortable with her reading about a girl taking a shower with her boyfriend than reading about a girl shooting a boy through the neck with an arrow. Maybe that’s just me, and let the objections commence.

      Thanks for the response.

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