More on Violence and Holy Week: Breaking Bad, Hunger Games

Rue from the Hunger Games

Rue from the Hunger Games

In response to yesterday’s post:

This was going to be a comment but it’s too long. I want to share a quote from a recent episode of On Being. The ep was The Great Cauldron of Story: Why Fairy Tales Are for Adults Again with a folklorist, Maria Tatar:

Ms. Tippett: I’m just following on some of the things we’ve been talking about also in terms of popular culture. I also do see some very gritty ways right now specific to our time I think. You know, television like The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad or The Hunger Games, you’ve talked about. There’s also this genre where there’s a really intense existential fear. And one of the themes in a lot of these is everything that we think has civilized us is taken away. Right. And that we are brutalized.

Ms. Tatar: Right, right, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And, but I’ve read you feeling concerned also about some of that going to new extremes that might not be good for us.

Ms. Tatar: You know, it’s hard, I don’t like to be the one preaching a sermon. Because I told you about my childhood experience. So I’m always reluctant to sort of be judgmental. But I must admit that Breaking Bad was my breaking point. That is, that there’s some — I remember just seeing — I won’t even describe it. But I thought, OK, that’s just too much for me.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, I feel that way too.

Ms. Tatar: I have to turn that off, yeah. And Hunger Games I was startled by, because to me, the idea of a book about children killing children was just going to an extreme. It was violating a cultural taboo in a way that was difficult for me. But then there, I read the book and I watched the movie and I thought they were sensational and really fascinating. You know, and I didn’t — even though it had crossed a line, Suzanne Collins somehow seemed to have done it in a way that made sense for me. That you know, there seemed to be a real point to that. And you know, I’m not the one who is looking for a lesson. But you know, we do have a new culture.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Tatar: You know, where there’s a lot more is permitted. We don’t protect our children as much as we once did. And I guess, you know, I do worry that children today they can see anything.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, and they know they’re not protected. Right. That’s…

Ms. Tatar: Right, right, right. And…

Ms. Tippett: I mean, here’s something you wrote: “This savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was. And the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who struggle to grow up, we have stories about children to struggle to survive.” But I think that’s a reality people, even children, are aware of.

Ms. Tatar: It is. And I have to say that the minute you go into the protectionist mode and you say, you know, we need to draw a line and it shouldn’t be anything goes, you just get a lot blowback from people who say, oh you know, you don’t give children enough credit. They’re able to navigate this. And also we live in a violent world and therefore children should be, should know that, and all of that. But some of that — I think we haven’t been very thoughtful about figuring out, you know, where is that line? Where do we draw it? What responsibilities do we have as adults? But as I say, I always feel uncomfortable and maybe that’s why we’re not talking about it, because it makes us uncomfortable to be the censors or the editors or the ones who are saying, oh no, oh no, that’s too much.

Ms. Tippett: You know, I remember when my son whose now 14 — I think he was probably 12 or 13 when he was reading and really just inhaling it. And I asked him what it was about? I mean I heard other people tell me what it was about. And the first word that came out of his mouth is, it’s about poverty. You know, that’s not the word other people — I mean it wasn’t about children struggling.

Ms. Tatar: Oh, that’s fascinating.

Ms. Tippett: I mean it was about children struggling, but if this book has him thinking about poverty, well OK.

Ms. Tatar: Oh yeah, because Katniss is — remember when the book starts out she’s skin and bones.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Ms. Tatar: And she’s, you know, she’s living in Panem, the country of bread, where there is no food. And she, you know, she becomes this extraordinary trickster figure, who has to survive in a time of famine and use her wits.


The Holy Week angle, not that there needs to be one, is that Jesus’ story has elements of the trickster as well. But more broadly, I resonate with this exchange, even as I notice that Tippett and Tatar are conflating two things. One, the intensity of those stories as they relate to children. And two, the appropriateness of those stories for children.

And we shouldn’t confuse those two issues. There are spheres for adults and spheres for children. I’ve just noticed that extremely dark stuff (violent or not) is not cathartic or entertaining in the way it once might have been before I started relating to children every day, for many hours a day. The fiction leaks into the non-fiction, and the world looks darker than it really is.

But I’m very interested in other perspectives on this.

7 thoughts on “More on Violence and Holy Week: Breaking Bad, Hunger Games

  1. Cindy B

    When my children were going through grade school and even into high school I had to stop reading murder mysteries. They were just too dark for me. Even fictionalized accounts of unexpected violent death suddenly seemed more devastating to me. It could happen to my kids, my husband.
    Then I found myself shunning the morning news programs. The level of fear that they focus on in an effort to seem compelling was no longer acceptable to me. I went to fewer and fewer violent movies. I just didn’t want to expose myself to that level of darkness. It wasn’t a part of my daily life unless I chose to expose myself to it and so I didn’t. Lord knows, there was enough drama in the every day, non-violent events in the lives of the church and presbytery members. Real life and death packed enough punch.
    But now that my boys are just about through their teens (one more month until my youngest is 20 years old) I have begun to return to my murder mysteries. I watch a few more shows that are darker. Haven’t brought myself to watch Breaking Bad yet, although my young men tell me that I should. Never going to return to “sensationalized” news programming – NPR is enough for me!
    I think that raising children focuses our attention and raises our vulnerability. If we are wise, we will manage our daily diet of what we allow to influence us. Some of those choices may be life-long and others for a season.

  2. Andy Acton

    I agree with you and I like the Tippet interview you shared, very thought provoking. Breaking Bad seems shock and awe for shock and awe sake and there is this glorifying of BB if you look at graphic T-shirts on popular sites like TeeFury and RIP T Apparel…Walter has become this cool anti-hero which he is most certainly not (and I know this without watching the show).

    I do think Suzanne Collins and Hunger games is trying to teach a lesson and make a commentary on current state of affairs and also give a glimpse of a future that is possible if we don’t recognize the destructiveness of violence and using violence as a form of entertainment. Hunger Games doesn’t glorify the violence. There is much pain, heartache and brokenness as a result of character’s decisions. For me, the Hunger Game books are as important for this generation and beyond as much as Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm or Harry Potter. All have a lot to say about the dangers of the powers and principalities, of dehumanization, of what happens when we don’t follow Jesus commandments to love one another and live in true, authentic community.

  3. Trudy

    I found the comments about the Hunger Games interesting. As a librarian I have a different perspective. I read all three books in the series when they first came out.
    I never considered it was about children killing children. I came away with adults have created a world in which we do horrible things to each other and that sometimes it is just about survival.
    You also might be interested to know that the tea party is claiming “the hunger games” as their own because it demonstrates government out of control.
    I know your blog is about Jesus in hidden places. Such as a book written for young adults but claimed by adults.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Well and that’s a whole ‘nother topic, isn’t it? Young adult literature read by adults. (Twilight)

      Something tells me Suzanne Collins would be appalled at her work being co-opted by a political group, especially the Tea Party.

  4. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

    A short exchange on Facebook that I’m adding here because Facebook scrolls away but blogs are forever 😉

    From a friend:
    “Fairy tales are extremely violent and frightening. They reflect the scary world we live in and it has always has been scary. Children see much more violence now? I think not. Read some history. Maybe a certain class of wealthy, privileged children were sheltered from the horrors, but not all children – not even most.”

    And my reply:
    “Well, as a person with a computer writing to people with computers, clearly I’m a person of privilege. We all are here. I own it. It’s baked right in 🙂

    “You’re right that fairy tales are violent. The woman in the interview got a PhD studying Grimms fairy tales. So when she says that these modern stories cross a line that traditional stories don’t, I pay attention. What’s different now?

    “Maybe the structure and underlying morality are the same as they ever were. Maybe the only difference is that now we have the technology to realistically portray Hansel and Gretel’s witch being burned alive in the oven. And even if that’s the only difference, it’s still worth reflecting on.”


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