Is Black Friday our Non-fiction “Hunger Games”?

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.”

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Is Black Friday our Non-fiction “Hunger Games”?

  1. Georgie-ann

    …and we ALWAYS have a choice — to NOT watch, or to NOT buy — but how many even consider the possibility, much less do it?

    In choosing the “not” options, we open up much greater potential for becoming “authentic” — having/living/making “a life” that is really ours, that comes forth from our own substance/our own being, and allows us to become genuinely co-creative with our Creator. My mind turns to the simplicity of “The Little Drummer Boy” song.

    Living vicariously, constantly observing and imitating the presentations and simulations of others (especially if manipulative, compelling and subtle), can never be satisfying. It is, in fact, allowing a thief to come and feed on our very own life substance.

    Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    But I enjoyed the Wal-Mart video! It reminded me of good-natured chickens (if there is such a thing!) in a barnyard, or grown-ups playing pinata! I was expecting much worse.

    • Georgie:

      I was expecting worse too. I like that image of chickens. There were some where the police came and they got a little scary. Still just watching it made me edgy and nervous. But I don’t like shopping under good conditions. Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        I almost added: … “but you would never see ME there!”

        I usually shop pretty late by habit. It’s more peaceful, and I avoid the crowds. If I happen to go earlier, I find it pretty startling to be getting pushed around in the aisles! And if I lose my train of thought — and especially if I’m hungry — it can easily become an inter-personal or check-out disaster!

        And just imagine the parking lots!

        There’s a saying: “The world is upside down.” Being kept hyped-up and busy-to-the-max during Advent is just one perfect example, and once the season is gone, it’s not the same trying to rewind or make-up for the loss of contemplation/savoring time. This has convinced me, over the years, that these special Christian church seasons really DO have an essence that is important to remain mindful of, (aware-in-a-partaking-manner), throughout. Intentionally slowing down to keep pace with God’s Spirit visiting us in a special way, allows us to be touched in deeper and more significant ways. And as we get older, it seems to be even more precious. God certainly has not abandoned us! But are we abandoning Him?

        (Small wonder, btw, about where all the commercial hoop-la is coming from!)

      • Georgie-ann

        If we intentionally “fast” from “the world’s offerings (clamorings/hype/demands for our attention and gullible cooperation),” we can make a space in our lives to hear from God. If we do not, God’s gentlemanly voice and personal support can easily be drowned out by the invasive rudeness of all the carnival-like posturings and boastings, now going on around us 24/7.

        Our youth are now born into a “world” consisting of derivatives of derivatives, lacking healthy solid communal roots grown in good soil — a veritable “Disneyland on parade” wherever you turn. Since God has not inspired nor created this Disneyland, it is easy to “miss” His influence, to NOT think about Him, to NOT believe in Him. Disneyland seems real, and God seems unreal, to innocent eyes. This is the real poverty — soul poverty. And most “don’t even know what they are missing.”

        I was thinking how “spying out” and analyzing “the enemy,” is not only Biblical, — (spies were sent out ahead in Old Testament times: Numbers 21:32, Deuteronomy 1:19, Joshua 2:1) — but is also considered to be quite normal defensive strategy today in international worldly affairs. However, WE, as passive consumers, do NOT rigorously and seriously investigate and question all the lying prattle and influences to which we’ve been subjected, simply by continually participating in all the hype and offerings, and by turning “a virtual blind eye” to so many of the very subtle and potentially deleterious effects.

        Seriously taking some time to consider what type of personal “fast” (from “the world’s overly voluptuous, overflowing table of consumer distractions”), could be useful and practical in discerning greater clarity, respect and personal connection to God, would be time and focus well-spent during this Advent season — not to prove our “will-power,” or in stoic “personal denial,” but to find, locate, and weed out some of those nasty thorns and thistles that “an enemy has sown” in our lives.

        Matthew 13:25 “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.”

        “His enemy” is “our enemy” too — the very “enemy of our souls.”

        Psalm 143:3 “For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.”

        Lamentations 1:16 “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.”

        Let not the enemy triumph over us. We have a very important role to play in this very real drama: Opening wide the door, to welcome in the true King of our Hearts and Souls. Make way for the King! Long live the King! Great is the Lord! Hallelujah!

      • Georgie: Your Disneyland metaphor and comment is really true and rich. Lots to think about. Thanks, Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        I still remember, with some remaining embarrassment, about an artistic endeavor I was involved in (only briefly! haha) as a young adult — designing very special silk-screened and hand-painted Christmas ornaments for a Christmas sale. The organization was pretty high-end as far as the level of their creations was concerned, a reputation they were very serious about protecting and keeping. I was strictly an amateur/entry-level, inexperienced person being confronted with this challenge/opportunity for the very first time.

        Well,….you’ll never guess “what went wrong!”,…like — NOT in a million years!!!,…

        I had some art class drawing experience under my belt, and had received good comments on my abilities and potential talent, so I wasn’t really expecting to completely “blow it” in designing an animal motif Christmas ornament,…BUT I DID!,…and it taught me a serious lesson that I never would have detected by myself,…ever,…

        Still guessing??,…OK,…then I’ll tell you,…I’ll spill the beans on myself,…what was wrong?,…what did they ALL notice and comment on OUT LOUD in front of EVERYBODY ELSE???,…(much to my embarrassment,…and with not a few condescending, but muffled, snickers???),…. ,…. ,…. ready? ,…. scroll down, please!

        ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

        my animals were ALL smiling!!,….most animals ONLY smile (and have human “personalities”) in cartoons!,…my life experiences had only exposed me and taught me to “know” and observe animals from fantasy stories and cartooned drawings, rather than from real life,…(well,…we DID have live goldfish & beagles — but beagles are not really very normal!),…I was completely substituting a learned and copied “fabrication” (what I like to call “a derivative of a derivative”), that I had been conditioned by, in place of a truer essence of what animals REALLY are like,…and believe me, I had NO CLUE, until it was pointed out to me, that there was all that much difference, at least artistically speaking,…but once my eyes were opened, it was like a real big WOW!, I can tell you! I saw the “artificially constructed”/simulated and fancified world I had been living in, (grew up in), through very different eyes — saw it for “what it was,” and became very committed to digging deeper and getting to some more basic and foundational experiences with “reality”/life/awareness and truth. And this has remained a life-long value and focus … .

        I’m not saying I was some kind of “really bad” person as a result of how I grew up, but I could see very clearly that I had “trusted” in things that were not “as real as real things were” — that were more like smoke, illusions and shifting sands than solid rock. I had missed something very essential about life, very unaware, & it felt very weird — like only hopping around on one foot, and suddenly realizing you were created with two legs to walk around and balance on. … What part of me had been asleep? …

        If you think impressions like this could have been that “influential” and subliminally patterning way back then, when in their cultural infancy, you have NO IDEA how greatly this same culture has since been morphing and maxing-out — (with no sign of self-minimizing or re-grouping) — into an almost obscene extravagance of lifeless and simulated cartoon-fantasmagoric characters, who our kids are supposed to consider “their buddies and their heroes and their role-models and their friends,”…and of course “watch” them a lot on TV, and spend mucho dollars on their plastic lifeless images and electronic games,…and fantasize,…but about what? I do believe the growing soul cannot really thrive, and find its wholesome identity, and become fully what God has designed it to be in this highly artificially activated setting.

        I think we’ve approached a dangerous level now, psychologically and spiritually speaking for the young ones, concerning their well-rounded, healthy development. Closer to nature exposure and experiences, including REAL animals, growing plants, life cycles, nurturing, the miracle of birth, creation, life and so many awesome things to take note of, observe, sense, interact with, and learn from — these things can mirror God’s being, influence and essence to young eyes and hearts. And these things will increase and feed our own life forces internally, whereas plastic, electronic, and such artificial stimuli are ultimately draining, when being the constant default setting. …

        Perhaps some of the “craving” and acting-out behaviors of young teens these days is an outward expression of their growing and gnawing inner poverty. The nutrition of food we eat is one thing, and very important, but soul nutrition is a nurturing reality as well. Our artificially constructed and transmitted culture deprives the soul of its real needs, while offering and hawking endless substitutes and distractions and implied dictates, to gain an addiction-type of connection to our young,…

        The ultimate message and underlying goal of advertising? — (and even our bigger-than-life, super-glossy entertainments?) It is to make the listener/viewer feel “less than”/lacking, small, undesirable and unworthy (by comparison) in their own essence, and “in very great need” of repetitively using or watching all these “fashionable and popular” products in order to be fulfilled and/or competitively worth anything … (& this even more so “to others” than to their own self!). Couldn’t this be a perverse and pervasive form of “selling our own souls?” — & to what? … on what altar?

        The essential self — containing the necessary fundamentals of a healthy “identity” — is devalued and diminished by the glossy over-the-top messages, made to feel its “neediness,” and is never allowed to catch up or thrive or arrive or be fully satisfied, no matter how much it is promised or manages to imbibe and acquire. All satisfaction is fleeting, (fades & rusts!), is elusive and evasive, etc.. The dictates of advertising are designed to change often. Its enchanted victims are chasing a false and alluring rainbow,…but will never catch it,…

        Galatians 3:1 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … ”

        Matthew 6:19 “Do not gather and heap up and store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal.”

        These subliminal messages that surround us are the complete opposite of what God’s Being and His message of Love, acceptance and Fatherhood is to us.

        I don’t really think we can really psychologically “muscle up” enough to completely beat out endless hours of “tuning into false messages” at their own game. We may not fall completely hook-line-and-sinker for the bottomline of what they are pushing, but it will be costly to our souls in some fashion, nonetheless. Something that masks a powerful negative is something to be wary of. Do we become more cynical, or discouraged, or angry, or fearful, or lustful, or just plain tired out, and don’t know why? What is making our children so unsettled and discontented, unhappy?

        Personally, the more of that stuff that I avoid, the better off I am. The more peace and purpose and identity I find “in God,” the more I like it and find even more things to do in this way. I don’t even think the two “vibes” mix-it-up very well, but certainly less of the draining is better.

        For dealing with our culture, I think it would be quite a “challenge leading to discovery” to intentionally minimize the time of letting ourselves be “talked to endlessly” by a million messages a day. Who knows what we would find, but at least we could hear our own selves think for awhile! Maybe we have some good thoughts to discover and own, and maybe God can start getting His messages through as well. Some of that is bound to be an improvement over the “canned stuff,” and how many re-runs can anyone really watch profitably anyway? And aren’t commercials ultimately just a bunch of unsolicited re-runs gone either mind-numbing or irritating? Let’s rescue ourselves, re-possess our value and worth, reclaim our attention and our minds, give our starving hearts and souls time to re-coup, re-evaluate and regenerate. I’m pretty sure God would be so in favor of such a project, that He would even find ways to be very supportive and helpful. (& we need to be sure NOT to let “withdrawal symptoms” discourage us unduly — they would be somewhat expected, but would not last — especially if we fill the time well!)

        With God, we can win this one! We can really begin to make a difference in these passively acquired, acculturated, soul-draining habits — ’cause they’re sure “gettin’ kinda old!”

        Isaiah 50:9 “Behold, the Lord God will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me? Behold, they all will wax old and be worn out as a garment; the moth will eat them up.”

        Selah.

      • What a lesson and a really funny story. We are influenced by this fantasy world we’ve created. In elementary school I was asked to give a report about what I did that summer. I told the class I went with my family to Jellystone. Of course I was making it up because my family had done nothing special but I could not figure out why everyone instantly knew I was lying and why they laughed, until much later. They all knew Yogi Bear’s Jellystone was not a real place.

        I’m not ready to say, however, that this means imagination is a bad thing. Just like all of our physical, intellectual, and emotional gifts from God, imagination is a powerful tool for belief and life, but it can be misused. Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        Eugene: I “feel your pain” on the Jellystone episode! Have you ever seen a smiling camel anywhere?? After my own personal goldfish pets, Cleo (in Walt Disney’s “Pinnochio”) is my favorite goldfish of all! WOW! Whatta personality! Back in the day, these influences didn’t engulf and overwhelm us to the extent they do now. Real goldfish will die (are vulnerable and dependent and stink) if you don’t feed them. They need care, but Cleo is positively immortal and immune — a “super Goldfish” who will never die,…well, because she’s not real, she’s not alive. How can she die? She has sprung from the pen of an artist and electricity keeps her turned on! If I ignore her for 20 years, she’ll still be there. She never ages. And I love her, but she doesn’t care a bit about me really — it’s just a magical illusion. Fun. So, keeping a balance of perspective is important, as well as “keeping it real.” I’m glad I can remember and enjoy Cleo now and then, but I’m really glad to know that God loves me every single second of my life and breath, and will never leave or forsake me: (Cleo would let me down in a second!)

        Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

        Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ”

        I spend my life thinking about and adoring God, not Cleo, or Transformers.

        I love kids. So my young neighbors would like coming over for visits now and then. How sadly and quickly I learned that a child that has only played with plastic things (everything unbreakable) in a modern household, for their whole life, has no clue how to handle glass or delicate parts of an old-fashioned toy, even if you would think from past experience that “they were old enough.” If you’ve only experienced the world you live in as being unbreakable, “safe,” your inanimate playland, how do you learn to be careful, sensitive, teachable — to stop, look & listen — to respect and value and care for life? It’s like we’re raising these poor kids in a padded cell. And let’s not even talk about tragic teenage drivers, and the immature “kings of the road” syndrome.

        Of course “imagination” is pretty much like photographic film — a neutral and kind of “blank slate” until we “program” it. In a very real way, “garbage in garbage out.” We certainly shouldn’t exalt it or consider it trustworthy simply on its own “merits.” Pornography is bad input, but we’re told it is rampant, addictive, and suggestive of many socially undesirable “acting out” results, and certainly it influences the way a person’s imagination works. Some of the “imaginary” violence in video games sounds absolutely callous and heartless. “We are what we eat.” How does the omnivorous consumer of imaginary “highs” know/learn when and where to stop? The Bible tells us:

        Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all diligence,
        For out of it spring the issues of life.”

        Our family is full of boys — boys are one of our (default) specialties! And we “grow ’em up good!” The imagination of a little boy is quite formative and can be very motivating and energizing, but it can also become consumed, “thinking it knows,” co-opted, and may try to willfully override/disregard circumstances that seem to get in its way, “I’m a super-hero. I know all things. I’m invincible.” That might be fun and cute when you’re 5 or 7, but can get pretty ugly (and even dangerous) later on! It is very important to get and keep some steady, caring reality and authority factors involved in there, some reflective truth, true balance and perspective, maybe even a few “brick walls,” — yes they can learn to bridle their energy and show respect and listen and learn from those who’ve already “been there” ahead of them. But they usually won’t figure that out all by themselves.

        I wouldn’t really even mention these things, (to me they just seem pretty obvious), except for the overwhelming social evidence that the “anything goes” mentality has gotten pretty much out of control, with the problem being that real people are really involved and being used and hurt by it. A child is vulnerable to impressions and suggestions, lacks the ability to discern true reality from the imaginary, is easily caught up in whatever is going on, and may never manage to get their feet squarely back on the ground, once their soul has been captivated/captured. Children, unfortunately, are raising children, and I do feel we are responsible for protecting and guiding our youth, personally and as a society.

        My only hope is that God is at work “behind the scenes” with more plans to bring good out of evil, “treasures out of darkness”:

        Isaiah 45:3 “And I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, Who calls you by your name.”

        I’ll skip the “millstone” reference, but I’ll bet you could see it coming!

        (-:

      • Georgie-ann

        edit: ” … inanimate and indestructible playland … “

  2. Great connection. The Hunger Games movie is coming out in March, I’m sure we’ll see our fair share of advertising for that in the coming months.

    PS I find it hard to believe that the bow you bought yourself did not satisfy you. Theology aside, that thing makes you happy. 🙂

    • Michael:

      As you know, I am a man capable of making strange connections between things. Sometimes they even make sense to others. I’m ready to go see the movie.

      You’re right. The Christmas Bow has brought me many hours of enjoyment, several sermon illustrations, hours of humbling teasing, and even a chance at a 6 point bull this last September. Material things are not inconsequential nor incapable of bringing happiness. But as someone wiser than me said, they do tend to rust and fade.

      Eugene

  3. Pingback: The Gift Of Christmas Presence | The Neighborhood Café

  4. Georgie-ann

    One other thing has occurred to me about so much habitual and passive TV watching or gaming, that perhaps Christians would do well to consider:

    Every once in awhile, it occurs to me that we are told we will be rewarded “in Heaven” according to our works here on earth. Or something to that effect. This apparently goes beyond the Salvation blessing and concern, and “puts the ball back in our court,” so to speak.

    With this in mind, how much “reward” do you think would be coming our way for sitting in front of the television?

    Ephesians 6:8 “Knowing that for whatever good anyone does, he will receive his reward from the Lord, whether he is slave or free.”

    Revelation 2:23 ” … And all the assemblies (churches) shall recognize and understand that I am He Who searches minds (the thoughts, feelings, and purposes) and the [inmost] hearts, and I will give to each of you [the reward for what you have done] as your work deserves.”

    Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, and I shall bring My wages and rewards with Me, to repay and render to each one just what his own actions and his own work merit.”

    Matthew 16:27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory (majesty, splendor) of His Father with His angels, and then He will render account and reward every man in accordance with what he has done.”

  5. Pingback: What The Hunger Games Tell Us About Ourselves | The Neighborhood Café

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