July 28, 2012

Israel’s Munich 1972 “Hunger Games” and the Culture of Death

Posted in Judaism, Pop Culture at 10:31 pm by chavalah

“The Hunger Games” movie poster’s visual depiction of the Game’s spectacle

I would like to dedicate this blog entry to the Israeli victims of the 1972 massacre at the Olympic Games in Munich and the American victims of the 2012 “Batman” movie shooting in Aurora, Colo. May their memories be for a blessing.

Quite the time to be a burgeoning Hunger Games fan. With the advent of the 2012 summer Olympics currently ongoing in London, many fan sites are reporting on increased interest in archery (the trainer of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays protagonist Katniss Everdeen in the movie adaptation, is currently an American contestant.) As a Jew, I’m struck by a more ominous connection.

The Olympic Games, unlike the Hunger Games, are not meant to be a death spectacle put on by a despotic government in order to keep their subjects under control. Rather, the Olympic Games are meant to be a way for the globe’s countries to come together in peace and friendly competition. But in 1972 at the summer games in Munich, that ideal was turned on its head when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Forty years later and the International Olympic Committee refuses to give even one minute of silence for what was the most deadly act to ever occur during the Games. Like many of my faith, I am hurt by the lack of consideration and respect that this international body chooses to show the sole Jewish state on the planet and these slain Jewish athletes. In lieu of official recognition, the site JSpace has put up a a virtual memorial to honor these victims of senseless violence. Kudos as well to the London Jewish community and communities across the world who have come together to pay their respects. This, to my mind, exhibits the type of global friendship and camaraderie that is supposed to be evident in the Games.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is all about death. When I told my parents about my growing interest in the series they’d already heard about it due to the media attention of casting children in the movie to die. Though fiction, the premise does have roots in reality—based in part on the historical gladiatorial games of ancient Rome (one need only look to the wording that author Suzanne Collins uses—“tributes,” “arena,” the entire opening ceremony where the children are drawn into the Capitol in chariots where the president thanks them for their sacrifice, etc.) And just a few weeks ago, the United States and the rest of the world got to recoil when the premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” turned into a blood bath in a small town in Colorado. The movie itself, based off of one of the most famous comics franchises of all time, tells of a lethal city prone to several acts of brutal, gangster violence. When the Aurora gunman who killed 12 people and injured 58 more was apprehended by police he allegedly referred to himself as “The Joker,” a villain and sociopath from the series.

Though there is merit in talking about the purveyance of violence in popular entertainment, I hesitate to link “The Hunger Games” in too closely. I’ve been juxtaposing this series with the “Final Destination” series…five movies (so far) where a cast of indistinguishable characters is killed off by death itself. Each movie starts with the protagonist receiving a gory vision of the cast being killed in a bloody accident—a plane crash, a race car explosion, a bridge collapse. After they escape, the rest of the movie is spent slowly killing the survivors off in increasingly sickening ways. The movies don’t ask us to care about these characters as people, or give them any viable chance to alter their fates or gain understanding about the world. It’s all about the spectacle.

Therein lies the difference, imho, between the senselessness of these events, real and fictional, that I’ve outlined above. “The Hunger Games” is a story about the victims. It forces the audience to wake up from the spectacle and actually give thought to the death, injustice and hatred that surrounds us. So if I may offer a third blog post dedication, it is to Suzanne Collins and all the people who helped bring this book and movie franchise to life. Thank you for making us remember.

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