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On The Hunger Games: A Response to Kevin Swanson

I guess I never realized just how controversial The Hunger Games really is… until yesterday. After putting some finishing touches on my review and sending it out into the world wide web, a good friend referred me to Kevin Swanson’s take on the film. I was intrigued, to say the least.

I’m all for opposing opinions – and when someone disagrees with me, I appreciate it when they put forward a strong, well-reasoned argument. It causes me to examine my own position and see if it stands the test. But after listenening to Swanson’s argument, I wasn’t impressed with its strength or reason. It fell flat. Very flat.

If you can spare a few minutes of your time, I’d like to explain why I think it fell flat. This isn’t a detailed dressing-down – just an overview, covering the most prominent issues. And if you’re critical of what I’m trying to do here, be ye comforted: I listened to the “lecture” twice, just to make sure I was correctly taking in all he had to say.

Throughout his talk, Swanson (and his daughter, Emily) seem to imply that if, in fact, you do appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games, then something must be wrong with you. You’ve been “sucked in.” You’re a zombie, absorbing the mush of pop culture without a second thought. Wait… what?

This strikes me as a really poor way to argue: it’s sloppy and it’s arrogant. A species of the “if you don’t agree with me, you must be crazy” line of thought. I may not hold the same view as you on a given subject, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I have no good reasons for my own position.

More than once, Swanson reminds us how terrible it is that “little boys and girls” across the country are watching The Hunger Games and drinking it all in.

They’re enjoying the popcorn, they’re enjoying the pop, and they’re not thinking that they’re turning into Nazis.

*cough* Um, apart from the obvious stretch in logic here (Nazis? seriously?), Swanson’s core assumption ignores the fact that there are big boys and girls across the country who are watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, analyzing its themes and ideas, and reaching conclusions based on their analyses.

I know. I’m one of those “big kids.”

I also take issue with Swanson’s flippant dismissal of self-defense as a morally justifiable action. It’s actually a bit unsettling, to tell the truth.

According to this logic, if I’m assaulted on the street, I’m not allowed to use lethal force to defend myself. The “right thing” for me to do is just stand there and take it. Similarly, if my wife is assaulted, she must refrain from using any life-threatening measures against her attacker. If that means she’s raped, tortured, and her brains are then shot out, so be it.

Needless to say, I find this idea supremely loony. I’m not interested in starting an in-depth debate on the subject, but I think the evidence (biblical or otherwise) in favor of self-defense is strong and plentiful. Far more so than Swanson acknowledges.

Swanson’s intolerant view of self-defense is what leads him to brand Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games, a full-fledged murderer. Why? Because on more than one occasion, she defends her life (or the life of a loved one) by using lethal force against her assailant. That, says Mr. Swanson, is a brazen violation of the Sixth Commandment. I’m not so sure.

Swanson also dishes up one of the worst, most illogical comparisons I’ve encountered in a long time. Seriously. It’s a humdinger.

At one point in the story, Katniss is chased by four “career tributes” (i.e. trained killers). Unable to fight or outrun them, she clambers up a tree. The tributes decide to play along, and promptly pitch their camp around Katniss’ refuge. They know she’ll have to come down sooner or later, and when she does, they’ll be waiting.

Hours later, Katniss’ pursuers are fast asleep, confident that she can’t escape without waking them up. That’s when she catches sight of the giant wasp nest hanging a few branches above her. She cuts it down with her survival knife… and sends it plummeting into the midst of the tributes below. Three of them run like heck. The fourth is stung to death.

Swanson dubs this “one of the most horrific murders” he’s ever seen in a film. Not only that, but he then proceeds to draw a comparison between it and a Bible story.

Remember 1 Samuel 26? King Saul is after David (again), trying to kill him (again). In the midst of this madcap chase, Saul encamps on the hill of Hachilah and lies down to sleep. David’s men see this, and urge their leader to take advantage of it. “Kill him in his sleep,” they say. But David refrains from doing so.

Swanson tries to compare this to Katniss’ situation. According to him, what she should’ve done is… well, we’re not actually sure what she should’ve done. But killing wasn’t on the list. David had an opportunity to eliminate his enemy the same way Katniss did. He restrained himself. Katniss should’ve done the same.

The comparison and conclusion look good on the surface, but it falls apart under scrutiny. Just take a look at the actual passage: David refused to kill Saul, not because he had moral qualms about killing in self-defense, but because Saul was God’s anointed.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Sam. 26:9-11)

I don’t think those tributes were anointed in any way, shape, or form.

At some point in his talk, Swanson labels Katniss a “potty-mouth.” And it was at this point that I laughed. Out loud. Not in derision, but in complete disbelief. You’ve got to be kdding me, I thought. A potty-mouth? Really?

Consider: in one or two scenes, Katniss says “damn” and “hell” to express her frustration. She may also exclaim “God” once or twice (though I don’t remember her doing so). Now, I’m not excusing such talk, but come on – does that really make her a potty-mouth?

Think about the connotations. A potty-mouth generally refers to someone whose speech is characterized profanity and vulgar language. Richard Pryor probably qualifies, but I don’t see how Katniss Everdeen does.

If you’re going to be sloppy and exaggeratory in your choice of words and epithets, don’t be surprised when I get suspicious of anything else you might have to say on a given subject.

Another thing Swanson repeatedly fails to do is distinguish between the descriptive and the prescriptive. If you’re not sure what I mean, think about this: George Orwell’s 1984 is descriptive. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is prescriptive. If I don’t acknowledge the difference between the two, I’ll wind up believing that Orwell was as big an advocate of communism as Marx was.

Crazy stuff, right? But that’s pretty much what Swanson does when examining The Hunger Games. Using the logic that he does, it’s no surprise he winds up dismissing it altogether.

As I wrap this up, there’s one more thing I’d like to address, and it has to do with the conversation between Mr. Swanson and his daughter, Emily, who participates in the recording.

Maybe “participate” is too strong a word.

Swanson is supposedly co-reviewing the film with his daughter. But over the course of their half-hour recording, she contributes very little to the conversation. In fact, I don’t think the review would’ve ended up much different if she had just kept quiet altogether. Her Dad did 95% of the talking. No offense to either of them, but it reminded me of a one-sided conversation… with a parrot in the background.

Emily tells us several times that the only reason she wasn’t “drawn in” was because her Dad came along. To which I say, If these problems with the film do exist, why can’t you see them? You’re able to watch the film but unable to discern its messages? Seems like a fishy combination to me.

I’ll quote an excerpt from one of my mother’s posts, as it concerns this very subject:

When our children are little, we shield them from much of the ugliness, the sin of this world. It’s our job not to let a 7 year old view content meant for a 17 year old. We ground them in the truth of the Word and the seeds of discernment grow ever so slowly. We can’t preview every exposure, every book, every movie, every conversation they overhear. The goal is to equip them to stand fast and stay faithful, long after we’re six feet under and unable to whisper cautions in their ears.

If we had an 8-year-old watching this film (bogus, I know, but humor me), then I would understand his inability to discern the themes and ideas. But Emily isn’t an 8-year-old. She seems to be over the age of 13, but the lack of discernment is as big an issue as ever. Without her Dad, it sounds like she wouldn’t know what to think of the movie.

This leads me to conclude that 1) she’s not been trained to think biblically for herself or 2) her Dad doesn’t trust her to think biblically for herself. Either way, there’s a problem. At that age, you should at least be making an effort to consider what you believe and why you believe it. She seems content to let her Dad do that for her.

Needless to say, I appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games. Is it perfect? No. Does it tout a distinctly Christian worldview? No. There are problems with it, and I’m more than ready to acknowledge that. We should exercise discernment with it the way we should with all literature.

That said, I think the story is challenging, thought-provoking, and rich – well-worth the time of mature Christian readers. My advice: chew the meat, spit out the bones. There’s a lot more meat than bone there, anyway.