I’m weary of being entertained by violence

In these days of The Hunger Games, I am finding I have little appetite for violence in movies, especially when the violence involves children.

Oh, I know The Hunger Games is a fantasy movie based on what everyone tells me is a superbly written trilogy.  I realize the main character in the movie is a teenager, arguably not a child, but arguably not an adult either.

While I’ve not yet read the book by Suzanne Collins, I have read reviews and blogs, which suggest the story is a well-developed metaphor that skewers North American culture (our penchant for war and reality TV shows in particular) and its influence on young people. I have no general complaint against a movie or book that raises such issues.

In fact, normally I would be eager to first read such a book, then impatiently wait to see the movie. If it is the page -turner everyone claims it to be, The Hunger Games is just the sort of book I love, one that keeps me reading well into the night, often with only one eye open as I fight off sleep but need desperately to know what will happen next.

I started to read it, actually, last spring, when several people recommended it. But, for some reason, I couldn’t engage with the fantasy world it portrayed. And I was wary of its anticipated violence.

At the time, I put my disinclination down to the fact I’d just finished a lovely novel, one that caught me by surprise with its plot and restored my faith in humanity’s simple ability for kindness.

Called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, the story, by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows, takes place on a small English island just after the Second World War. It’s funny, full of human idiosyncrasy, yet gives space for the dark shadows of Nazi occupation.

The book’s characters are so interesting I didn’t want them to leave me when I reached the last chapter. I definitely wasn’t ready to take up with a new cast of characters, especially the ones inhabiting the world of the Hunger Games.

A year later, I still don’t want to enter the post-apocalyptic world of Katniss and Peeta. I don’t want to watch them engage in the fight-to-the finish reality game show specifically designed so that teenagers will kill each other.

There is too much of that happening in real life.

There are two heart-wrenching, stomach-turning trials taking place in Ontario courtrooms these days, trials that have eerily similar storylines, even though they are not connected.

In both trials, a man and women are accused of murdering young children. In one case, the accused are teenage girl and an older man. In the other case, both of the accused are young adults.

Both cases are being reported in all their gruesome details by journalists, who are doing the job our society asks them to do: ensure that justice is seen to be done. Journalists are the public’s eyes and ears in a courtroom and, having been there myself at one point in my newspaper career, I appreciate their effort.

Increasingly, though, I am wondering how much detail of a trial the public needs to know in order to be certain that justice is being served.  I have taken to turning off the news when the reports of the trial are made. I skip multiple paragraphs in the newspaper coverage.

Journalists covering the cases will argue that to report every detail of what happens to a victim gives dignity to that person. His or her whole story needs to be told.

But I’m not sure about that. Tell me the story of the person’s life – who she was, what she loved to do, her giftedness. Don’t tell me the brutal details of what was done to her to kill her.  Don’t broadcast the indignities with such graphic penmanship.

I don’t want those images in my mind.

And that’s why I can’t bring myself to see The Hunger Games. I don’t want more violent images taking up space in my head.  I know from experience just how difficult it is erase them.

Violence will not relegate itself to a small space.  By its very nature, it seems to have a capacity to root itself in a person’s mind, doing one of two things: it breeds more violence or it sends up shoots of desensitization.

The more violence I witness, the less it bothers me.

Perhaps this is not true for the majority of people who will watch movies like The Hunger Games or read newspaper reports of murder trials. But it is true for me.

I am not naïve enough to think I can avoid violence. Nor am I a Pollyanna who thinks the world should only be viewed with rose-coloured glasses.

But I am increasingly becoming convinced that I don’t want to be entertained by violence, even if that means I will miss a great movie.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at lmacgibbon@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.

7 thoughts on “I’m weary of being entertained by violence

  1. I appreciate the wisdom of this article and your perspective. Makes me re evaluate my own.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. Interestingly, I have just finished reading the first 2 books of The Hunger Games AND also just read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society! I have decided I do NOT want to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. Seeing the violence is so much more disturbing than reading about it to me. I am not certain I will read the third book of the trilogy… as I read the first two I was so drawn in by the story and the characters that, yes, I began to overlook the violence. These are books that I am not sure I am happy to have read and even more unsure that I should have enjoyed! Thanks for putting some of my same thoughts into words…now I need to think some more about this…

  3. Great article Lynda – I have read all 3 of the Hunger Games and will most likely see it when it comes out to rent. I do agree that the violence is hard to get past, and actually made me very tentative when reccomending others read it. I fell in love with the characters and that is what keeps me drawn to be book.

    As for the Guerney’s Literary and Potato Pie Society I had the same reaction to that book as you. The moment I reached the last page I started the book again because I couldn’t let the characters go.

  4. I read the first Hunger Games. It bothered me a lot- I wanted to love it like all my friends and colleagues seemed to be, but I just couldn’t. It didn’t seem so much like fantasy to me. And I think that is how the author meant it- for it to seem so real that it wakes us up to the fact that it isn’t that far from the truth. When I thought about my aversion to it later, I realized that I had studied child soldiers, the child sex trade, and other similar injustices so much that to read a fictional account of similar pain just wasn’t a good idea for me. For someone who is trying to make a career out of telling real-life stories of the voiceless, it seems impossible for me to love a made-up one, despite the fact that it is incredibly well-written and brilliantly told. So I sympathize, and salute you for not giving in to book-pressure!

  5. Well said. My hesitation is just that, do I want to watch/read about teens fighting each other to the death?
    To be fair, I have not read the Hunger Games, but have several friends who have read the books, watched the movie and love it.
    I appreciate all of your thoughts — those who have & have not read the books.

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