Today as I sat reading in the kitchen here at my friends’ home, I began to hear a strange sound. It was a high, repeating squeak which sounded very nearby. After a few seconds of listening to this odd sound, I finally got up and went to investigate. I didn’t have to go far. As I looked out the window to where the sound was coming from, I saw their cat, sitting on the ledge outside. In its jaws it held a baby rabbit, no bigger than a mouse, which was crying. It couldn’t have been more than a few days old, and now it was caught in the jaws of the cat, who acted very nonchalant, in typical housecat style. I called out, and my friends both came hurrying over to see what was the trouble. Once they had both identified their cat with the doomed baby rabbit, they quickly lost interest, saying there wasn’t much which could be done for it, and both left me alone again to contemplate the inevitable end of the rabbit. Not long after, the cat jumped down from the ledge, rabbit in tow, and I heard no more sounds of suffering.
Nature has its own laws, we all know this. We have all grown up with the idea of ‘the strongest survive,’ Darwinism 101 in junior high school. My rational mind knew there was no real way to help that baby rabbit from its doom. But yet. My heart went out to that poor, suffering, small creature, crying for its mother or somebody to save it, to no avail. The cat must have killed it, or else it would leave it to slowly die somewhere in the garden. I couldn’t very well blame the cat for its killer tendency, it was simply acting from its instincts. Still, I didn’t like that cat capturing the poor baby rabbit! After reading children’s stories like Beatrix Potter to three daughters over the years, I couldn’t help but simply wish that life, even in the wilds of a Wisconsin garden, could be more humane. Humane nature, by definition, is meaningless. There is no such thing. So why does some part of my soul long for violence to be eradicated from all the living beings on this earth, the animals as well as the human beings?
My twelve year old daughter read, and loved, The Hunger Games books this past year. Somehow the story gripped her young soul, and she resonated with the heroine and main characters. This past weekend she wanted to go to see the film, now playing in town. She invited me to go with her and her sister to see it. At first I said yes, mostly just as a way to be with her after being apart for most of the year. Then I spoke with my friend, who had just seen it with her teenage sons. She told me how violent the film was, and how it had disturbed her for days to see images of young people killing each other. Knowing how adverse I am to watching any images of violence (real or imagined), she recommended that I opt out from seeing this film. Then a series of conversations ensued between both of my daughters and me, and then also with my friend, her sons, and the three of us. It was very revealing to hear these young people’s’ views on violence in the world, how desensitized everybody is becoming to it, and how dangerous the times we are living in actually are. They are quite aware of what the government and its media are doing to everyone, including the young people. But instead of sounding fearful and worried about the situation like I am, they were simply matter-of-fact and resolute. Even my twelve year old was adamant that she had to see the film, as all of her friends had already done. She promised me it would not scare her, that she had seen a lot of scary movies already with her best friend, and she knew none of it was real. Quite a mature attitude for a twelve year old, I am impressed with her.
But I am disheartened and sad that these young people have to be exposed to such violent, repressive stories, sold to them in the name of entertainment. From what I have heard, The Hunger Games sounds like a modern version of the Gladiators’ games in ancient Rome. Then warriors were made to fight each other to the death, while the crowds watched and apparently enjoyed seeing all the blood and gore. Over two thousand years later, the viewing of violent fighting to the death is once again popular as a spectator sport. What does this say about us human beings?
Go into any library or bookstore, to the fiction section, and pull out some books from the shelves at random. Flip through the pages. Chances are good you will find descriptions of people bleeding, hurting themselves or someone else, or some equally violent act involving the destruction of human beings in one form or another. It seems nearly impossible to shelter our children from such stories and images, they are simply too prevalent. I personally lament this fact, that our children are growing up in a world full of violence and the worship of violence. What has happened to us humans to allow it, to give permission, to stop protecting the young and helpless, the innocent? Why do we no longer seem to value and revere life itself?
Is it possible to reverse this trend of blood lust and love of violence, and to again teach our children to revere life and do everything possible to preserve and protect it? Not to repress, but to hold sacred every living thing: human, animal and plant. How can we as a society find the courage and strength to fight these forces of destruction, and embrace Life again? To see its fragility and vulnerability as something beautiful and precious, something absolutely worth saving? To stop wanting to dominate and control, manipulate and abuse, and instead to see the value of the preservation of life? I see this as the essential core issue now on Earth.
There was little I could have done today to save that baby rabbit from its fate. But I for one, refuse to view the world and our children’s future as something inevitable, something over which we have no say. We do have something to say, and there has never been a greater need to say it. Do we want our world to become like The Hunger Games in reality? Who wants to live in a world like that? The future is not yet written, or rather, there are many possible variations of the future already written. It is up to all of us to create the future of the Earth. What story will you choose?
Related excerpt from The Mirror:
Dr Lucy Pearson, lecturer in children’s literature at Newcastle University, explains…
The Hunger Games is an extremely well-constructed and dramatic novel. It addresses questions which are particularly relevant to children who have grown up during a time when there has been the Iraq war, a resurgence in terrorism, social unrest – and the heyday of reality TV.
It is also a commentary on the way we consume coverage of real-life violent events in a way that can be quite voyeuristic – and quite removed from the fact that it’s real people who are suffering.
For example, watching war footage on the news – particularly footage shot in countries culturally very different to our own – there is a sense people feel sad about the suffering they are witnessing, but that’s also quite far removed from reality. They don’t necessarily feel that connection.
At the same time, we are sending young men and women to war zones to fight and potentially kill other young men and women.
When author Suzanne Collins wrote it she said her initial impetus came from flicking from a reality TV show over to war coverage.
The violence in the movie at least asks relevant questions. It’s also important not to underestimate the degree to which quite extreme levels of violence are a part of children’s real-life experience.