By Eugene C. Scott
The recent near riots on “Black Friday” prove once again truth is at least as twisted as fiction.
In her Young Adult novel “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins invented a science fiction world in which television is used to manipulate and control people (Far fetched, I know). Through fiction, Collins explores the power and danger of a self-serving media in control of information.
Panem is a country where the wealthy province called the Capitol rules the other eleven districts through media promoted fear and manipulation. The height of this manipulation are the yearly nationally televised “Hunger Games.” These Games are simultaneously revered, hated, loved, and feared by the population of Panem. The Games consist of the ruling elite choosing one 12-18 year-old boy and girl from each district who must then enter a fantastic, futuristic arena created by the Capitol and there fight to the death. The sole survivor is then further manipulated for the Capitol’s purposes. Omniscient TV cameras promote and exploit every bloody detail and death of the Games.
In a previous blog I asked the question, “What if ‘The Hunger Games’ Were True?” The media hype before Black Friday and the simultaneous delight and shock over people trampling, pummeling, and pepper spraying each other during Black Friday suggests in an eerie way they are.
Lest you think I’m overreacting, notice how the media promotes the Black Friday shopping frenzy and then in the name of ratings run clip after clip of the hysteria they helped cause. These alarming newscasts are then surrounded by commercials for the very products we have been sent out to beat each other up to purchase. Worse yet, during Christmas most news hours will contain one story–or more–decrying the state of our economy and not so subtle pleas for us to save the economy by buying more. Again, this “news” story will be sponsored by products we can’t live without. Try sitting down in front of your TV this Christmas season and count how many “news” stories are really nothing more than commercials.
Our media may be more subtle and less overtly evil than in Panem. Yet, Collins says she got the idea for “The Hunger Games” in part from TV. She was channel surfing between a reality show and war footage late one night. She says, “I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way.”
Blurred and unsettling indeed. And our blurring of reality is destructive in more ways than people punching each other over “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”
Our free fall into rampant consumerism is not just the fault of the media, however. Most often we are willingly duped. We want to need the latest 60 inch flat screen iPod. At its core Collins’ “Hunger Games” is about complacency, about uncritically believing what you see and hear on TV, what those in control of information tell you. We have been told and many (most?) have come to believe we are defined by what we purchase. And we need to buy these things that define us on Black Friday, or at least before Christmas.
It’s ironic that we have transformed Christmas–of all holidays–into the main engine behind this consumerist lie. Because the truth of Christmas is the death knell to consumerism. The truth of Christmas is that God came to be among us, born as a naked baby who owned nothing and yet had everything to give. And God did this not because of our purchasing power. But because in our need–products can’t fill–God still loved us.
Collins’ novel does not point to this ultimate truth. But it certainly pushes us to strive for more than the game we are being sold on the big screen.
Last year Eugene C. Scott bought himself a really expensive Christmas present. It was cool but did not satisfy or define him. This year he will happily settle for much less. Eugene pastors the Neighborhood Church which is preparing for Christmas through an Advent series called “The Gift of Christmas Presence.”