Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Epilogue: Returning The Hunger Games

     So, there was no problem returning The Hunger Games at our local Target. The clerk asked, with a note of surprise, “You’re returning The Hunger Games?”

     “Yes,” I said. “The movie is not just about kids killing kids. It actually shows kids killing kids. And it’s PG-13.”

     “PG-13? Wow,” she said, with a start. “That’s definitely the wrong rating.”

     And that was that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hunger for the Games

In the morning men are thrown to the lions and the bears, at noon they are thrown to their spectators. The spectators call for the slayer to be thrown to those who in turn will slay him, and they detain the victor for another butchering…and when the show stops for intermission, “Let’s have men killed meanwhile! Let’s not have nothing going on!”
—Lucius Annæus Seneca, Epistles, vii, 3-5.

Are you not entertained?
—Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator

     This past weekend, the DVD of The Hunger Games went on sale. Having missed the film in theaters, I watched it on Saturday. The film on one level celebrates self-sacrifice, family loyalty, compassion, self-reliance, and a host of other virtues. It also condemns oppression and staging violence for the sake of entertainment. These are strong messages in the film, which is well made in a technical sense. And yet.

     And yet the film depicts murder after murder of children. There are several scenes of this, and some of them are handled obliquely—but not all. Arguably, the most wrenching scene is the most casual. It is done on camera, in full view, with an older boy walking straight up to a younger one and breaking his neck. We’ve been approaching this point for decades, with, for instance, images like the ten-year-old son of Maximus hanging dead in Gladiator, or, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the magical murder of an older teen (played by an actor in his twenties). But now we’ve seen the unseeable. We’ve broken the last taboo. If filmmakers can show a child snapping the neck of another child, in a film rated PG-13, they can show anything.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Politics of Substance

     Although the plan of this project has always been to avoid overtly partisan positions, perhaps some observations on strategy will not be out of bounds. The choice by Mr. Romney of Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate will prove vastly reassuring to fiscal conservatives. For those who see our basket of fiscal problems as the greatest present danger to the republic, Ryan is the cure. It is instructive that the Democrats are chuckling with glee over the choice. They seem genuinely unaware of our impending fiscal disaster (or is theirs the willful blindness of partisans?). Their excitement comes from an inability to see the need of the country as a whole; rather, they view all policy through the windowpane of political group expediency. Through that glass, the choice of Ryan looks inexpressibly stupid. He might bring a certain number of Catholic voters, but Catholics are often more loyal to party than to faith. He might bring Wisconsin, but Florida is far more important in the Electoral College calculus. Most of all, his budget plan is rich in disentitling specifics. It appears to curtail the benefits of almost every political group, every special interest, all of whom will join against their common opponent and vote for the Democrats. Or so predicts the Democrats’ political analysis.