Killing children and teenagers in literature and film has become something of a national pastime. It wasn’t always that way, and it seems the profitable trend won’t roll back anytime soon. Why do we, and especially the kids who flock to films like “The Hunger Games,” “The Maze Runner” and the newly released “Insurgent,” embrace the wholesale and often exceedingly gruesome murder of youngsters to such a degree?
Not that long ago, when you were just a tyke and still afraid of the monsters living under your bed or the bad guys you saw murdering adults on TV, all you had to do was cry out and your mother or father (assuming, hopefully, you had somewhat attentive parents) would come and reassure you that it was all in your imagination or just pretend.
While those slain children and tweens in “The Hunger Games” are dispatched in a fictional world, and the actors portraying them will most likely pop up in another flick or television program soon, I sometimes wonder if the nature of the parent/child conversations concerning the nature of violence in entertainment has changed over the years with the introduction of the gleeful cinematic massacre of teenagers.
Child: “Mom, they hacked and speared those kids to death in ‘The Hunger Games.'”
Mother: “Don’t worry about that, baby. Those people are actors. It’s just make-believe. We’ve talked about this before.
Child: “Oh, so nothing like that happens to children in the real world, right?”
Mother: “Uh …”
Mom has an interesting choice here. She can lie her ass off and gloss over the hundreds of thousands of homicidal child soldiers performing horrendous acts of violence on a daily basis the world over, as well as the ghastly crimes and murders committed against children in conflict zones, and sometimes even near home … or she can tell her impressionable charge the truth about how brutal humanity can be at times and scar her cherub for life, ensuring many sleepless nights. Tough call.
Used to be when this topic came up, it was often about cowboys and Indians or maybe stormtroopers. While the violence rained down upon the original inhabitants of the Americas is rife with dodgy history and morality, a kid who sees settlers and Navajos going at it on television — or stormtroopers blasted away in a “Star Wars” film — probably feels some historical and fictional separation from those killings. I suspect that the hard violence wrought upon families in The “Divergent” Series hits a little closer to home.
Yet these books and films do exceptionally well. Apparently kids and teenagers really enjoy watching murder and violence happen to characters that, in some ways, resemble themselves. It’s understandable, especially with a book or film that pumps you full of adrenaline and makes you desperate to find out what happens next. Does this lead to more real violence among youth or is it merely a reflection of the world we live in? While admittedly I’m not an avid consumer of YA fiction (although I’ve read a few), my guess is that it’s probably a little bit of both. Regardless, as long as it brings in the bucks, kids are going to continue to be slaughtered — most likely in offensively big numbers — in our fictional worlds.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.