Help! My child has been reaped
Millions of children are already possessed by The Hunger Games trilogy, now the first movie is on its way. Has children’s media become too addictive - and too violent?
By Carol Lloyd
As a premise for a children’s book, it may be the most perverse ever. Each year on “Reaping Day,” kids between 12 and 18 are drafted by lottery to participate in a reality TV show that the entire dystopian world of Panem is obliged to watch. Two chosen children from each district are whisked away to the Capitol, where they’re coiffed and styled into iconic eye candy, coached toward mediagenic self-revelation, and finally dropped into an arena mined with natural disasters and scarce resources to play “the game”: killing each another. The winner? The last child alive.
Violent? Definitely. Allegorical and deeply meaningful? Depends on whom you ask. One thing not in dispute is that The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, which has been translated into 26 languages and has more than 26 million copies in print, is a recipe for addictive reading, not to mention bonanza profits. (Advanced tickets for the movie of the first book, to be released March 23, have already sold out, trumping sales for the Twilight series.)
The Hunger Games is just the latest triumph of blood and gore to hit the children’s literary market. In recent years, the rabid passion for zombies, vampires, and wizards has added countless rows to the growing library of kiddy crack lit. We all want our children to be great bookworms, but as I watched my sixth grade daughter descend into virtual-mayhem mania, I had my misgivings.
For weeks after my daughter finished the books, she behaved like a “muttation” roaming the arena — a man-mutated creature programmed with diabolical intentions. Snarling at her family’s attempts at normal communication, she’d retire to her room where we could hear her chortling in her own private Panem, re-reading compulsively, reliving lines, “STUPID, Katniss, that was so STUPID!” In public, she remained possessed, muttering ad nauseam apropo of nothing: “Oh my God, Haymitch! How could you?!”
Turns out she’s not alone. One fellow Hunger Games fan compared the book to the “cocaine of literature,” contending that it should come with a warning. Novelnovice.com, a website dedicated to showcasing young adult literature, is one of several sites chronicling “Post-Panem Depression” with symptoms such as trouble concentrating, flashbacks, irritability, and tendency to re-read certain passages.
Sickened by the concept of the Hunger Games, I was nevertheless eager to keep the lines of communication open with my budding tween (the only line suddenly available). So I broke down and read the books. The result was a weird cocktail of pleasure and discomfort. Collins has a knack for the deft image, the comic plot twist, and her portrait of Katniss — the young huntress who volunteers for the Hunger Games to protect her little sister Prim — shimmers with contradictions that make her both an ideal action hero and an excellent everyteen: strong yet confused, emotional yet guarded, courageous yet as my daughter puts it: "a dork." Even so, I had to squint through a lot of the violence — which included the heroine pawing through the warm chunks of flesh of her recently departed friend, a young man slowly being mauled by wolves, and kill scenes like the following:
“The boy from District 1 dies before he can pull out the spear. My arrow drives deeply into the center of his neck. He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood.”
When I informed my daughter that I wasn’t a fan of such scenes, her eyes shone with renewed zeal: “You don’t like the violence, Mommy? You really don’t like it?” Suddenly my sensitive child seemed a lot less sensitive for her reading experience.
Next page: Is all reading good reading?