thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: The Erasure of Violence from The Hunger Games

In dystopian literature, Hunger Games, PG-13 Ratings, violence on March 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Melissa S.

When it became public knowledge that the film adaptation of The Hunger Games was earning a PG-13 rating, I spent a lot of time speculating about how the film would accomplish scenes such as Rue’s death or Cato’s battle with the muttations. These violent battle scenes would certainly have to be limited, sanitized, or changed in order to avoid an R rating. The only way I could imagine such scenes taking place was off-screen; this would allow the emotional impact of the scenes to remain but limit the blood and gore we saw as an audience. When I saw the film this weekend, what surprised me was how the film went a different route: sanitizing, downplaying, even erasing the violence from these scenes so that they felt more like typical action movie fodder. Instead of being slowly eaten by muttations throughout a torturous night, Cato suffers for only a few seconds before Katniss gets a shot off and ends his life. And instead of being skewered by a giant spear while cowering in a net, Rue is killed by a lethal yet tiny blade while Katniss exchanges fire with the District 1 tribute. As a result, neither death had nearly as much emotional impact on me as it did when I read the book. I felt sadness or relief, but not revulsion, horror, or outrage. My muted emotional response had me thinking about the use of violence in this novel, one of the savviest I’ve read about how the media manipulates emotions in order to achieve certain political effects.

The Hunger Games novels won my heart for many reasons, but one of the major ones was their super-smart critique of how cultural narratives can be used to exercise political control: get the population thinking about competition, beauty, and star-crossed love, and they will never protest the deaths of their children. One of the uncomfortable things about reading the books is that readers are forced to identity not only with the children in the Games but also with the Capitol audience. We the readers, no less than the rapt audiences of Panem, are being held at the edge of our seats by the potential love between Peeta and Katniss…and by the violent deaths that wipe out one tribute after another. Does the self-reflexive awareness fostered by the novel excuse the way we too ride an emotional rollercoaster with these characters? One of the things that I felt the movie adaptation lacked was the moral discomfort of recognizing one’s own similarity to the Capitol viewers. On the one hand, erasing the violence from the Games can alleviate some of that guilt: we aren’t like those viewers, because we don’t crave the same level of gore and suffering in our television entertainment. We can be entertained with PG-13 fiction, thank you very much – none of that live battle-to-the-death stuff. But on the other hand, erasing the violence from the Games makes us less self-critical of our own positionality with regards to media consumption. Because Rue’s death is sanitary in the film adaptation, I am spared the visceral bodily reactions that challenge the boundary between fiction and reality – the empathetic cringes that make me recognize that I too am a body consuming media in a world where entertainment thrives off of depicting violence.

Chatter on the Internet re: The Hunger Games’s PG-13 rating has focused on whether this rating was just for money or whether this rating is actually too safe for the level of gore the film provides. However, I’m more interested in thinking about how the erasure of violence necessary to procure this rating dampened some of the uncomfortable political work that these novels did by making us recognize our own bodily participation in intertwined systems of media consumption and political violence.

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  1. I really love this post … And, particularly the ways in which the absence of violence allows us, as viewers, to distance ourselves from the Capitol folks. We can be disgusted by them without being disgusted with our own engagement in watching the spectacular violence. But, I’m also curious about the effect of that absence of violence (which I definitely understand as part of the PG-13 rating) as I feel like there might be something interesting to say there although I’m not sure what it is yet. When I walked out of the theater I thought about the ways earlier censorship prohibited onscreen violence and so how an absence might allow space to imagine or nod at (without representing) more horrific violence while adhering to certain constraints. I too expected more violence but remain somewhat intrigued by the choice not to showcase it … I don’t really know, but I really like the way you talk about the adaptation in regards to violence here …

  2. [...] subsequent feminization. Such defense of The Hunger Games won’t be necessary since (as also noted by Melissa) the filmmakers circumvented such criticism by eliminating the primary female voice [...]

  3. I like your thoughts on violence here. Most of the people I have talked to felt like the movie was much less violent than the book, but I watched the movie first and then read the book, so the effect was much different. I actually felt like the movie was more violent (except for the scenes you mention, and Cato’s death specifically) especially the opening act at the Cornucopia. Perhaps this was because I hadn’t already imagined what the violence looked like, I’m not sure. Interestingly enough, I think the kind of voyeuristic identification with the Capitol you are pointing to was stronger in the movie as well, as we are limited to Katniss’s perspective in the books, making it difficult, I think, to move beyond that first-person perspective. Anyway, lots of good stuff here, and some really nice coverage of The Hunger Games on the blog.

  4. [...] already been written on GLG about The Hunger Games movie. (For example: here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here.) But re-watching The Hunger Games, I began thinking about how the film connects [...]

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