Is our lust for violence leading us to Hunger Games?


punchedThe “Hunger Games” story is based on a theme similar to those in the “Escape from New York” and “Running Man” stories that suggest that man will eventually regress back to our primal state where we will once again enjoy the pinnacle of violence in gladiator-style games.  Those that make such claims state that our insatiable lust for violence is exhibited by the fact that we don’t so much enjoy the hockey of the NHL anymore, as much as we enjoy the fights that occasionally break out; the crashes in NASCAR, as opposed to the race; and the hits in the NFL and boxing, as opposed to their strategies.  Some have claimed that the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) occurred as a result of too much strategy in boxing and not enough violence.  They state that those traditionally popular sporting events no longer feed our insatiable lust for violence, and that we have progressed to the point where we only enjoy the violent incidents that occur in these sports, and that this is one of the reasons that ESPN has succeeded on such a large scale.  If it’s true that our insatiable lust for violence is progressing, is our society on a trajectory to gladiator-style “Hunger Games”?

An indicator of this progression, some say, was the short-lived, Sunday Night Football pre-game segment called “Jacked Up!” “Jacked Up!” was an ESPN segment that focused on the most powerful, bone crushing NFL hits of the week, that had the commentators punctuating each hit with the words “Jacked Up!”

Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman once commented on the “Jacked Up!” segment, writing that ESPN commentators were: “Equivalent to citizens of 17th or 18th Century England enjoying a nice outing at a public hanging. And when the trap is released and the poor guy is hung, they’d all yell, “Jacked Up!”{2}

Some would say that it’s vital to correct the course we’re on by canceling segments like “Jacked Up!” that celebrate brutal hits, that we start placing rules on all hits in football, and that a school district in the “Live Free or Die” state New Hampshire legislates against dodge ball, “because of bullying concerns.”{1} It’s vital that we do these things, they say, so that we can correct the current course we’re on and make moves towards making our society a kinder and gentler one.

The theme of the “Hunger Games” story is that to prevent war, we must provide society some degree of violence.  The theme is that we (the society in the movie) need to satiate the need for violence, so that we may prevent the ultimate form of violence: war. It’s an apt theme to some degree:

“Young people, especially young men, need an outlet for their violent tendencies,” a former teacher of mine once said. “And football is the best outlet I’ve ever seen…Better than wrestling, boxing, or any other contact sport available to young men.”

As legislation and rules attempt to move us to a kinder, gentler society, are we “progressing” away from primal activities such as football?  Are “images of major, bone crunching NFL hits going the way of smoking in airplanes?” as one Rolling Stone writer suggested.  Are the measures we use to ban events that seed bullying, like Dodge ball, going to successfully change the trajectory of our culture so that we stave off an “Escape from New York”, “Hunger Games” style future, or are we incidentally creating one?

Anyone that has been bullied knows that there are some unfortunate supplements it offers a person. Will some bullying result in the lowered self-esteem of the victim, yes it will.  Will it cause some to harm themselves in ways that our society should not condone, yes it will.  Will it introduce some kids to the idea that the world can be an awful, mean place at times, yes it will. But will it prepare them for the awful, mean things adults will do to them in life when they become adults, yes it will. The unfortunate side effect to being bullied is that it usually doesn’t have the same devastating emotional impact the second time around.

If Tom Jones picks on you in second grade, and you survive his mental torture intact, chances are when Pat Thomas bullies you in the third grade the emotional devastation won’t be as severe as that of Tom Jones’, and when you enter the workplace and your boss tells you that you aren’t worth a hill of beans, you’ll have the temerity to bite back on that and become a better employee in the aftermath. When your spouse tells you you’re worthless, or your fellow employees single you out for their torture, you can defeat them with the notion that they’re not as bad as that which Tom Jones inflicted upon you in the second grade. That was humiliating and devastating, but it made you stronger emotionally. It gave you precedent.

There are always going to be some, however, that don’t survive, or become better and stronger, and social commentators always single these people out with the idea that these attempts to change the trajectory of our culture will all be worth it if we can prevent one child from ever having to learn what a frown is.  If you disagree, to any extent, you are called a social Darwinist. Others, social Darwinists if you will, claim that school, and childhood in general, is preparation for adulthood.  You gain a shell in childhood that can serve you throughout your life, you gain an exoskeleton, and a cerebral toughness in this process of socialization. Some incidentally mix these issues when they proclaim that home schooling deprives its subjects of the socialization that traditionally schooled children experience.  Yet, some of these same people will go to unusual lengths to rid schools of any activities “that could seed” bullying.

“You can’t criticize young people,” a friend of mine told me when talking about the current lot of employees working under him. “They’re so soft and tender that they fall apart at the slightest criticism. They’re shocked that anyone would dare call them out on their performance. It’s like they’ve never been criticized before. It doesn’t matter how venial the criticism is. They fall apart emotionally. We got criticized as young employees, and we mentally told our boss to go jump in the lake and became stronger in the aftermath to prove that we he said about us wasn’t true. I have to be very careful to surround any criticisms I have of these kids with compliments, so I don’t lose them. Is this a recent phenomenon, or am I glamorizing my own toughness as a young person?”

The current course we’re on, that which bans helmet to helmet hits, bans dodge ball, makes all contact sports illegal, and instructs every teacher to avoid any kind of criticism has created a society of young people that currently leads the world in self-esteem, yet ends up scoring very low in Math and Science testing.  Believing that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to is, of course, vital, but what happens to a person that progresses through life with an unmatched belief in their ability with no one telling them that they’re doing it wrong?  Why would they alter their course?  How would they learn from their mistakes, if no one tells them they’re making mistakes?  Are they going to sit around and wait for the world to come to them, and when no one recognizes their genius in the real world what do they do with that anger?

It may never happen that lawyers, legislators, and do gooders make football out and out illegal, but it will almost assuredly be a game we don’t recognize in ten years. The hits that currently occur in the game may go the way of “smoking in airplanes” but is that a good thing? Is it good to make illegal those aspects of life that plant the seeds of bullying, or are we only taking away the outlets for male aggression, and what are the unintended consequences to having all that young, male aggression bottled up and frustrated? Are we progressing toward that primal, “Hunger Game”, gladiator society that worships violence, or a listless, lost generation that sits around waiting for things to happen for them, because they don’t know how to make it happen for themselves, because they’ve never been told that they’re doing it wrong? Are we making a less violent society by taking away those events that generate aggression, or are we only causing more violence by taking away outlets?

A UFC fighter once said, “Some people look at what I do as violent, but I look at it in a different way.  You can call this twisted logic if you want, but I think that I’m teaching my opponent that getting hit is not as bad as he might have thought.  He may lose a few teeth when I hit him, and he may even get knocked out, but something happens to a person when they survive that hit. They get rejuvenated by surviving that which they feared most.  It gives them a new lease on life.”

It is a twisted sort of logic, as the UFC fighter suggested, to say that getting hit, bullied, and criticized can provide a person benefits, but it can’t be denied that most will get tougher in the aftermath.  Some will sink further into the corner, but most will feel rejuvenated by the idea that if they survived that they can survive anything.  Do gooders seek to take all these negative reinforcements away to protect children from experiencing  the same pain and disappointments they experienced in life.

Do gooders don’t get their name by purposely setting out to damage children however.  When they do what they do to end bullying in all schools, it’s an admirable thing that will elicit rounds of applause for nobody is pro-bullying, but it’s what they end up doing to achieve this goal that ends up garnering them a reputation for doing “good things” with no eye to the future or the unintended consequences of their actions.

For a couple generations now movie makers have been predicting a societal trajectory to gladiator games, based upon our current lust for violence, but if we successfully 180 that trajectory will the subjects of all of these anti-bullying measures eventually land in a utopian land of peace and harmony, or will they live in a state of perpetual fear of getting hit, criticized, or bullied where they don’t gain the unfortunate supplements of knowledge that those acts of negative reinforcement can teach us?

{1} http://guyspeed.com/new-hampshire-bans-dodgeball-because-of-bullying-concerns/ {2}http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/writers/dr_z/10/08/drz.mailbag/index.html

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2 thoughts on “Is our lust for violence leading us to Hunger Games?

  1. I try to write every article with the reader in mind. I try to disprove my point as often as I try to prove it. Thank you for recognizing that, and thank you for reading.

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