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Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

I succumbed and took in “The Hunger Games” at the local multiplex  – a greybeard amongst herds of youth.

The screenplay is the first of several based on a popular teenage trilogy surpassing, it is trumpeted, the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Eschewing magic tricks and supernatural themes, it paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic dystopian future where the dominant population relies for its cohesion and control on the scapegoating of 12-18 year olds  from its surrounding subjugated districts (the ancient story of Theseus lives again). The ability to spiel this as “reality show” entertainment keeps the masses hypnotised and subjugated. This futuristic merging of “Gladiator” and “The Truman Show” with its promise of raising unknowns to celebrity status, even though only one out of each season’s 24 will survive, touches on the angst and ambivalence torn between skepticism and idealism that is the ubiquitous mark of adolescence of any generation.

Renee Girard’s ground breaking work on “mimetic theory” came to mind. At the risk of over simplifying his work, his anthropological studies reveal a universal pattern of societies maintaining stability and cohesion through vicarious scapegoating mechanisms. This effectively deals with societies’ inherent violence by using a sacrificial victim as a lightning rod upon which our aggression can be projected. Hence, in just one respect, the sacred and solemn nature of war memorial celebrations and the feting of national heroes.

In “The Hunger Games” when a tribute falls, the crowds gathered around the giant TV screens stand and show respect by raising their arms in a three fingered salute. When some of the competitors salute each other in this way, the games masters are disquieted. This is not how the game is supposed to be played. Subversion of mimetic theory is possible and demonstrated.

What startled me however, was a poignant moment in the screenplay (concerning the character Rue) where the teenagers around me rose as one and offered the three fingered salute. For them, something in this story touched and involved them deeply.

I’m not certain if the device of the salute was intentionally linked to a style of genuflection practiced by the early Christians, where the position of the three fingers is similar to that which begins the sign of the cross.

It is Renee Girard’s contention that the story of the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus on a cross and his subsequent raising up unveils, subverts and renders society’s propensity for scapegoating powerless.  Girard offers an alternative understanding for the role that the cross plays in the Christian story. Jesus taught and demonstrated a way of life that subverted the powers to the extent they needed to silence him. He submitted to his public and humiliating crucifixion. He was raised and his continuing life in his followers exposed the inadequacy and inferiority of society’s violent systems of control. A new way forward was revealed.

Is the Hunger Games a parable for a similar message? Is this why it resonated so emphatically with my cinematic companions?

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