As I watched Katniss Everdeen fight to the death, I became aware that I could just as well have been a citizen of Panem, watching the Hunger Games on a giant screen, rooting for favorites, desensitized from the film’s artfully-orchestrated-so-as-to-maintain-a-PG-13-rating-but-still-incredibly-disturbing violence.
She goes on to connect the themes of the novel, and to a lesser extent the movie, to some of the overarching themes of Christianity:
As in Christianity, violence in "The Hunger Games" also serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But there’s a difference as well: We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction.
That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object.
So perhaps the great irony revealed by the film is that we are not meant to see it. We’re not intended to watch its violence, because this story, as Gale says, is meant to be protested. Which means that, ironically, "The Hunger Games’ " greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.
I'm still working my way through the first novel, and I'm unlikely to get to the movie any time soon, but this does cause me to reflect a bit on my own media violence consumption: From The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones to Mass Effect, I consume and (via video and role-playing games) participate in a lot of simulated violence. It's never really bothered me on a moral level because I do recognize a distinction between real and simulated violence. And I always go back to the Aristotelian concept of catharsis when all else fails.
But underneath all of that is the very real question: Not "is simulated violence anesthetizing me to real violence," for which the answer is clearly no. But "is reveling in fantastic worlds and narratives anesthetizing me to the real needs and problems of the world I'm living in. And all too often I fear the answer to that is yes.