Backward Messages

The straight story on influences that turn teens violent.

Beth Winegarner

Beth Winegarner
SAN FRANCISCO, California, United States
March 05
At Backward Messages, Beth Winegarner gives you the straight story on all the influences you’ve been told will turn your teen violent: the occult, violent video games, heavy-metal music, and more. Winegarner is a San Francisco author, journalist, and mom writing a book for parents on the most controversial teen influences and why they’re a healthy part of growing up.

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APRIL 12, 2012 5:19PM

Are “The Hunger Games” sacrifices Satanic?

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Are the themes of child sacrifice in The Hunger Games enough to label it “occult/Satanic?” Some groups think so.

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has earned many accolades, and is one of the best-selling young-adult book series since Harry Potter. This week, news broke that the books garnered a different type of honor in 2011: they’re among of the most-challenged library books in America.

Challenges happen anytime someone would like to request that a book be removed from public libraries. (Banning is when they actually are removed.) In this case, individuals and groups challenged The Hunger Games books on several grounds: “unsuited to age group and violence,” “anti-ethnic; anti-family,” and “occult/satanic,” earning the series the #3 spot in the 2011 top-10 list (which also includes Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and many recent releases.)

The Wall Street Journal caused a ruckus last year when it published a piece by Meghan Cox Gurdon decrying the violent state of young-adult fiction, including The Hunger Games.

We spend a lot of time here at Backward Messages examining what types of content are appropriate for kids, particularly in the context of video games. There’s plenty of evidence that such fiction does not harm kids, and that in general young people are good about recognizing the difference between fiction and reality. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in last year’s ruling on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, had this to say about violent content in kids’ fiction:

California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. Id., at 95. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. Id., at 54.

High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey of Homer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls. 1909) (“Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame”). In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. Canto XXI, pp. 187–189 (A. Mandelbaum transl. Bantam Classic ed. 1982). And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children while marooned on an island. W. Golding, Lord of the Flies 208–209 (1997 ed.).

Are Lord of the Flies and The Odyssey still taught in classrooms? Is The Hunger Games more violent or offensive?

Actually, all this is beside the point I wanted to make, which is that I had to think long and hard before I figured out what about The Hunger Games would qualify as “occult” or “Satanic.” Finally, I realized they must be talking about the competition itself, and the requirement that each district (potentially) sacrifice a boy and a girl each year, some as young as 12.

Given that Abrahamic religions have been responsible for some pretty horrific tales of infanticide, child sacrifice, and fratricide, it’s tricky business calling a book “occult” or “Satanic” if it contains those themes — particularly since no occult or Satanic faiths practice human sacrifice, particularly child sacrifice.

Some may recall the religious furor over Harry Potter, which Catholics recently rescinded. Hopefully, those who challenge The Hunger Games for its themes — which also, by the way, painfully illuminate a number of pending problems in our society — will eventually come around as well. A series that’s getting more teens reading — and reading about ideas and possibilities that really matter — shouldn’t be challenged; it should be celebrated.

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Who specifically has been categorizing The Hunger Games as satanic?