Friday, March 23, 2012

'The Hunger Games': An Opportunity for the Gospel

Today marks the premiere of the latest movie to create a massive buzz and anticipation. Your local movie theaters will be packed, with people waiting in line for hours--even days--to see the movie. Some of you reading this may be among those waiting in line this evening, or already.

The movie, yet another film based on a wildly-popular book series, is "The Hunger Games."

Sadly, too often Christians see the premieres of popular moves as nothing more than an opportunity for entertainment, instead of seeing such premieres as an opportunity for evangelism. And yes, evangelism can happen even as you stand in line for the movie.

My daughter, Marissa (B.A. in English and pursing her Masters in Library Sciences [proud papa moment]), has read all three books in the "The Hunger Games" series. Since I have not read the books and will likely not see the movie, Marissa was kind enough to write up a quick, unedited summary of the movie, for her dad.
"The Hunger Games" is the first book in a trilogy of the same name, written for young adult readers by Suzanne Collins and published in 2008. Collins came up with the story while channel-surfing between a reality-show competition where teens compete for the audience's favor and footage of the war in Iraq.

The most basic plot summary of the story is this: in a post-apocalyptic North America (and we never learn what causes this apocalypse; just that it involved world-wide continent shifting, earthquakes, other natural disasters, and devastation), now called Panem, the evil Capitol rules over 12 Districts. Each District is responsible for a different export (District 3 is technology [electronics], District 7 is lumber and paper, District 12 is coal mining, etc.). There were originally 13 Districts, but District 13 attempted to rebel against the Capitol and was obliterated for its efforts. As punishment for the rebellion, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games every year, in which each District must provide one boy and one girl "tribute," between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete with other District's tributes in a televised fight to the death.

The book "The Hunger Games" is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl from the poor District 12. When her younger sister Prim is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, saving her sister from certain death. The rest of the book covers Katniss' journey to the Capitol and her efforts to win the Games. Another key player in this story is Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from District 12.

The tribute (or in this case, tributes) who wins the Hunger Games is given a nice home in what's called the Victor Village in their home District, as well as a monetary reward. One of the things the Capitol does to oppress the people of the Districts is limiting their food supply. Hunting is illegal and most of the people in the poorer Districts die from starvation, while residents of the Capitol live in horrible excess, ignorant of the Districts' misfortune. If a tribute wins the Games, the monetary reward basically assures them that they will never have to worry about starving to death, because they'll have enough money to buy food instead of living off what little the Capitol provides.

The Hunger Games themselves are the Capitol's way of keeping the people of the Districts in line, because "look at what we (the Capitol) are doing to your children to punish you. Your children are paying the price for your rebellion, so don't do it again." The books themselves deal with several issues, such as poverty, oppression, the effect of war on others, and the downfall of power. It is also a commentary on our current society's gluttony for televised reality-show competitions and our current society's growing lack of empathy for one another. Essentially, look, this is how callous we can become. The violence in the book is not glorified, but shown as horrible and wrong.

In the later books, Katniss becomes a symbol of rebellion known as the Mockingjay (a hybrid of a mockingbird and a Capitol-created mutant bird called a jabberjay). She is put forth as a beacon of hope for the Districts, that if she could stand up to the Capitol by refusing to kill Peeta in the Games, then the Districts can stand up against the wrongness of the system as well. In this respect, she's put forth as a savior-figure. She is far from a perfect character, however; she is selfish and even uses Peeta's love for her during the Games in order to get them much-needed supplies from sponsors. So, in that respect, in an open-air, you could say that unlike the savior-figure of Katniss, who is sinful and selfish, Christ is the perfect savior-figure, the true Savior in fact.

The books, and the movie, are not for children or even for young teen readers, in my opinion. The thematic material and the violence (which is not glorified, but is still described) are too mature for anyone except older teen readers and adults. It's gritty, but offers glimmers of hope in the selfless acts of characters who put their own lives at risk to save the people they love.
Here are some suggestions (tracting, trivia, and transitions) for evangelism outside of movie theaters.

Tracting

Suggested Tracts: 180 Business Card; Trillion Dollar Bill; Giant Money

Each of these tracts are very easy to distribute, especially to those waiting in line to see a movie. You can say something like: "Here's a free, online movie with more than 2.5 million views on YouTube" (180 Business Card). Or, "Please do not try to spend this in the theater, no matter how expense the popcorn is" (money tracts).

Trivia

If you use trivia in your open-air preaching, you can find numerous "The Hunger Games"-related trivia in Google. You may have to take a few quizzes in order to obtain the answers.

Transitions

1. The main character of the movie (Katniss) is willing to sacrifice her life so that her sister may live (see John 3:16; John 15:13; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

2. The movie is, about a post-apocalyptic America in which many people are hungry and thirsty and starve to death (see Matthew 6:25-34; John 4:7-15; Revelation 7:13-17; Revelation 22:12-17).

3. The movie is a commentary on our current society's gluttony for televised reality-show competitions and our current society's growing lack of empathy for one another (see Proverbs 23:19-21; Galatians 5:16-21; James 4:1-4).