Hunger Games: anti-family or bonding tool?

Is “The Hunger Games” franchise subversively anti-family, or a family bonding tool? So far, many parents seem to be voting with their wallets. “The Hunger Games” movie has now surpassed the $300 million mark in total ticket sales, cleaning up for the third straight week at the box office.

Murray Close/Lionsgate/AP
Is “The Hunger Games” franchise subversively anti-family, or a family bonding tool? Parents debate whether the “The Hunger Games” book series and movie is too thematically dark and violent for children.

Are “The Hunger Games” and its themes of violence and dystopian revolution subversively anti-family? Or, is the popular series actually an opportunity for family bonding, grabbing the attention of kids and adults, alike?

Ruing it or raving about it, parents are very aware of the The Hunger Games as kids ask them to sink money into movie tickets or the book trilogy.

The movie version of the first story in Suzanne Collins’ intense series may be a box office hit, but the more popular the Hunger franchise becomes, the more some parents and educators are questioning whether the books really belong on library shelves.

For the second year in a row, Ms. Collins' work was among the most "challenged" books, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom reported March 8. The association defines a challenge as "a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness."

In last year's list, when just the title book of the trilogy was in the top 10, complaints included "sexually explicit" and "unsuited to age group and violence." Collins herself acknowledged her stories were not for everyone, telling The Associated Press at the time that she had heard "people were concerned about the level of violence in the books. That's not unreasonable. They are violent. It's a war trilogy."

For the new study, which also included sequels "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," the objections were more varied and harsh, including "Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence."

Barbara Jones, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, thinks anticipation for the "Hunger Games" film led to closer criticism of the books.

"For instance, there was complaining about the choice of actors for the film," Jones says. "You had people saying someone was dark-skinned in the book, but not in the film, or dark-skinned in the film and not in the book. In general, a lot more people were aware of the books and that led to more kinds of complaints."

Collins declined comment through spokeswoman Tracy van Straaten of publisher Scholastic Inc. Van Straaten said Scholastic also would have no comment.

On the other hand, tales of parent-child bonding over the books also abound.

Karin Westman is an English professor at Kansas State University who has taught both “The Hunger Games” and its crossover hit cousin, “Harry Potter.” Ms. Westman told The Monitor’s Gloria Goodale in March that, “What is amazing is the power of literature to reach beyond the boundaries that marketing sets up.” Due in part to a broader access to information, and conversation starters, “we are finally reaching a point where it is typical for a book to cross boundaries, rather than for it to be seen as an anomaly.”

With its primal themes of familial loyalty and survival, the trilogy has also proven a powerful story that family members of several generations can relate to together, Ms. Westmin said.

Boston-area mother and marketing executive Lisa Rinkus told The Monitor that she picked up the book to see what her daughter was so excited about. Ms. Rinkus plans to go see the movie with her daughter. Although concerned by the violence depicted in the story, Rinkus said she values the opportunity to talk about important world issues through Collins’ plotlines.

In a text message, Rinkus’ daughter Elizabeth answered her mother’s question about what reading the books together meant. “I think it’s a great thing that you and other parents are reading ‘The Hunger Games’ and are able to see what kinds of things us younger kids are so fascinated and intrigued by,” she texts.

Rinkus noted this was the longest text she’d ever received from her daughter.

So far it seems, many parents may be voting with their wallets. Over the April 6-8 weekend, “The Hunger Games” movie – rated PG-13 – cleaned up at the box office, fending off challengers from romantic comedies and raunchier comedies to maintain its top spot. The first installment of the popular young adult series has now surpassed the $300 million mark in total ticket sales, ranking No. 2, just behind “Avatar,” in the all-time list of non-sequels to reach the impressive benchmark, in the shortest amount of time.

– Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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