When I was a freshman in high school the second Back to the Future movie hit theaters. I was beyond excited. I loved (and still do) the original film, and was PUMPED about the back to back sequels they had filmed – yes, decades before the Matrix sequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Back to the Future filmed parts two and three simultaneously and then released them six months apart. It was going to be epic.
Then my youth pastor ruined everything.
My dad was the associate pastor at the same church, and the two of them were friends. Anyway, Mark (my youth pastor) went to see Back to the Future II with one of the upper classmen and ended up walking out of the theater he was so offended by it. It was rated PG, but apparently deserved way worse according to him. He was furious over how ‘filthy’ it was. He railed to my dad about how it was ‘straight out of the pit of hell.’ The language, the sexual content, the violence. It was a raunchy, trashy, horrible film that would corrupt anyone who saw it.
So I wasn’t allowed to go.
Eventually I managed to see it, and I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘it’s definitely worse than the first one, but it isn’t THAT bad.’ It just felt like he was making such a big deal over nothing. And besides, a few months later, we were all excited about something else anyway.
That memory is pretty much what has kept me biting my tongue as much as I can over the Hunger Games movie. I find the book and the film deeply concerning. Which is odd because I love stories in that futuristic end of the world scenario; if I can put my finger on it, I think it’s because unlike ‘The Book of Eli,’ ‘Mad Max,’ and other such stories, the Hunger Games was written for kids (in fact, they’ve been surprised by the adult following – they didn’t expect it). A decade ago people were shocked and concerned when J.K. Rowling killed a kid off for the first time in a Harry Potter book. Her body count increased with each book after that, but it doesn’t compare with the level of graphic violence contained in the Hunger Games trilogy – and it dramatically increases with each book. Should this be entertainment for kids?
The disconnect with our young people is who they identify with in the series; Katniss, Peeta, the victims of the over indulgent, wealthy, reality tv addicted dominant culture. Let’s be real. That’s not who our culture and our young people are – we are the villains in this series, but we’re blind to that. The rest of the world is starving while we feast on their labors. There is a strange disconnect where our young people lead a movement to punish Kony for forcing children to be soldiers while entertaining themselves with a story about forced child warfare. ‘It’s just fiction, McNutt. That’s the difference.’ But it doesn’t feel much different than the Roman Colosseum. Two thousand years ago society was entertained by people fighting to the death; today we do the same but with movies and TV. Does it matter if it’s ‘fake’? We celebrate the realism we can achieve and we love seeing it.
But when I say anything, I see the same expression looking back at me that I gave my old youth pastor. It feels like a wasted effort to point out concerns with series. And really, did all the freaking out over Harry Potter do any good years ago? It turns out we didn’t produce a generation of witches and wizards in spite of all the time spent on those books. The bigger goal is challenging young people to ask tough questions about the books and media they are consuming. To actually think about the messages, content, and where it fits (or doesn’t fit) with their faith. They have to learn to see that everything impacts their spiritual life, that there is not some sort of disconnect between Sunday morning at church and Friday night at the movie theater.