Hunger Games vs. Twilight = Apples vs. Oranges

I doubt many have escaped the relentless buzz surrounding Hunger Games the movie, opening March 23 here in the U.S. – and the increasingly tired comparisons being drawn between this dytopic series and the last blockbuster young adult novel/movie franchise, Twilight.

For clarity’s sake, these are the points these two series have in common.

Hunger Games producer says comparison makes no sense

1) They are both hugely popular book series.

2) They feature a teenage girl and two teenage boys between whom she feels she must choose.

3) Ummmm… yeah. I think that’s about it.

I have explained before why the Twilight Saga has struck such a deep chord among it’s mostly female audience, and it’s all about the love. Some have analyzed The Hunger Games the same way, calling the charismatic hunter Gale the embodiment of Eros (romantic) love and the gentle baker Peeta the representative of Agape (unconditional) love. While I really like that analogy – that is only a minor theme in the series, otherwise we would not keep reading all those pages where neither of the young men are involved.

For those not up to speed, here are the synopsis. In Twilight, human girl Bella Swan finds herself torn between the enigmatic vampire Edward Cullen and the dangerously passionate werewolf Jacob Black. Thematically, her choice is between Edward’s eternal love and Jacob’s unconditional love.

The Hunger Games are set in a future 75 years after America has been destroyed by civil war. The resulting nation is divided into 13 districts ruled with an iron hand by the capitol city called Panum. Each year two teenagers are selected from each district to compete in the Hunger Games as “tributes”. The winner is the one who survives. District residents are required to watch their children die in the arena while residents of the Capitol make lavish bets on their favorites. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her younger sister who had been pulled in the drawing. She leaves behind her younger sister, widowed mother and the handsome Gale, her best friend and hunting partner. The male “tribute” is the baker’s son, Peeta, whom she barely knows. Peeta has always known Katniss and has loved her from afar since childhood. Yet, in order to survive, they will eventually have to see each other as the enemy.

When I read these books the pieces of popular culture that kept coming to mind were not love stories. Twilight was the furthest thing from my mind. They were pieces of literature like Orwell’s 1984, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man in which criminals could earn their freedom by competing to the death through a deadly maze. I was reminded of stories in which violence and resistance defined and refined the characters. In spite of the incredibly violent content, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is decrying the increasingly violent aspects of our culture.

Mennonite pastor Marty Troyer nails the pacifist theme throughout The Hunger Games trilogy in this excellent Pangea Blog post. He explains how Collins drags us through the pain inflicted by Dominant Violence, used by those in power to keep their power. And how the resulting Resistant or Revolutionary Violence can become just as bad. The problem with Resistant Violence, as our heroine Katniss learns, is that it very easily can become Dominant Violence itself.

In fact, the most jarring scenes in the series are when Katniss acts out violently against the powers manipulating her: shooting Coin instead of President Snow and voting for a final Hunger Game featuring the formerly exempt children of the privileged Capital residents.

And it challenges us today. Last summer saw the rise of the 99%, protesting against corporate rule and cultural inequalities. Just this past week the Kony 2012 campaign against a revolutionary fighter whose violence surpasses inhumane, calls for action – but what action is most appropriate? The strength of peaceful resistance has been on my mind lately since reading Blessed are the Peacemakers by Daniel Buttry. This collection of biographies demonstrates exactly how dangerous intentional peacemaking can be, but how very worth the sacrifice and difficult choices can be in the end.

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