The new book and movie in the Hunger Games series, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, released Nov. 17, is currently the No. 1 movie in America.
The story is a prequel to the four existing stories that take fans through the revolution sparked by the 74th and 75th annual Hunger Games, a gameshow in which unwilling tributes from districts in the fictional country of “Panem” are forced to fight to the death in a televised arena. In the story, the districts represent the most impoverished areas of Panem. Tributes are taken from their homes and transported into the country’s capital — the wealthiest part of the country — where the game arena is located.
Maps of Panem shown in the movies seem to imagine the fictional country as a dystopian version of the United States.
The new movie reveals the villain origin story of Coriolanus Snow, president of Panem, assumed mastermind behind the continuation of the Hunger Games and arch-nemesis of main character Katniss Everdeen in the original stories. Fans watch as his young self struggles to decide whether he wants to rebel and seek change or give in to the power that his status as a capital citizen provides during and after the 10th annual Hunger Games show.
As he chooses power, characters echo this phrase: “Snow always lands on top.”
But what happens when the snow melts?
Snow’s image of pristine power he develops by the time of his presidency — well-dressed, eloquently spoken, educated, financially secure — portrays an image that is antithetical to what happens in the arena. This clean-cut presidential leader provides society with order and well-being. This is the reality for citizens in the capital, who get to watch the violence of the Hunger Games as a source of entertainment without ever having to worry about experiencing it.
For citizens in the districts, the reality is much different.
Living in poverty and desperation, they are forced to submit to the capital’s authority. If chosen as a tribute, they must kill to survive or face a spectacle death that will be televised for their country’s evening entertainment. And to their spectators, their desperation for life is something to watch on the edges of their seats. Their death is nothing more than a part of the game.
Throughout the series, fans watch as district citizens are dehumanized, treated like animals in cages.
However, humanizing the tributes was Snow’s plan at the beginning. The prequel show him securing the future of the Hunger Games, which had been losing popularity among capital citizens, by encouraging viewers to care for the tributes (and thus invest more money and attention into the games). In fact, he finds himself caring deeply for the tribute he was assigned to mentor, Lucy-Gray Baird, who won that year’s game. Yet, as time went on, President Snow grew cold.
Real people do, too.
First-world citizens today are constantly exposed to violence on the news, social media and even throughout our daily lives. We keep up with these events because they are tragic, but also because they are a spectacle. Without any threat of danger to our personal lives, brutalities such as the war between Israel and Gaza are interesting to analyze, discuss or debate.
“Many of us can glance at the headline on our phone’s news update notification and then scroll back to our favorite social media platform without a second thought.”
And while most of us care to some degree about the lives affected by these conflicts, our lives do not change as the day-to-day updates reveal the new estimated number of citizen fatalities or the identities of the hostages released. Many of us can glance at the headline on our phone’s news update notification and then scroll back to our favorite social media platform without a second thought.
Like Snow, we have grown cold to the violence and brutality right in front of us. As we finish watching the fictional tributes fight to the death in an arena, perhaps this new film is a timely wake-up call for those of us who find ourselves in the spectator seat amid real-life violence.
Even though the actors are not really dying when their characters die in the movie, our viewing of these cinematic martyrs should elicit a similar dilemma to the one Snow experiences. Will we consider the humanity of the tributes, asking ourselves what to do about the brutalities happening in our own world? Or will we leave the theaters energized by the action and excitement of the arena, eventually returning to our comfortable lives?
When we melt the pristine, clean snow that’s packed into the ground in front of us, we start to see the brutality under our feet, meeting its victims face to face.
Humanizing the war in Gaza
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Israel and Hamas entered a four-day-long truce.
As fighting ceased, Hamas agreed to exchange 50 hostages if Israel delivered 150 jailed Palestinian women and youths to them. It is estimated Hamas captured about 240 hostages and killed 1,200 people when they invaded Israel last month. Israel’s responding retaliatory assaults have killed about 13,000 people.
The temporary truce also has allowed food and other necessities to be supplied to neighborhoods in Gaza, provided by the Egyptian government. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Gaza and the West Bank, people in northern Gaza are experiencing an extreme lack of access to food and clean water due to the war.
Among the three groups of hostages released so far are victims as young as 2 years old and as old as 84.
A number of the hostages who have been released are in need of various forms of medical treatment after being held in captivity. Some are in very serious condition, like 84-year-old survivor Elma Avraham, who was reported to be “fighting for her life” after being freed.
Most of the hostages have been reunited with their families after being freed. However, despite the terms of Israel and Gaza’s agreement requiring that families not be separated during these exchanges, some have been released without their families.
“Will we continue to view this violence and brutality as a spectacle?”
One of these hostages is 13-year-old Hila Rotem Shoshani, who was released Saturday night without her mother, Raya Rotem. Hamas claims they did not know where her mother was at the time of the exchange, but Hila told family the two had been separated just two days before her release.
And the reality of the situation is not limited to the scope of Israel’s geography. It is brutalizing citizens from around the world.
Four-year-old Avigail Idan is an American Israeli citizen recently released from captivity. His parents were murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 despite efforts from President Biden and the United States government to bring the family home safely.
Roni Krivoi, an adult Russian Israeli citizen, also was released along with three Thai nationals over the past few days. Krivoi was released at the request of President Vladimir Putin.
It is possible the truce agreement will be extended, with an additional 24 hours added to the truce by Israel in exchange for every 10 hostages released.
But as hostages remain in captivity, hoping, praying or perhaps begging to be released before the fragile truce agreement ends, will we continue to view this violence and brutality as a spectacle? Or has watching the hostages be released, seeing pictures of their faces as they reunite with their families or simply get the medical attention they need caused the snow to melt before us?
If we have yet to, it is time to recognize the humanity of those murdered or suffering in this real-life war because walking out of the theaters does not end the violence they are enduring.
Mallory Challis is a master of divinity student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She is a former BNG Clemons Fellow.