This week I watched a PBS American Experience presentation titled The Freedom Riders. It chronicled the 1961 attempt by Americans to desegregate interstate buses and terminals serving interstate buses. The film primarily consisted of interviews and archival film footage; it was intense and heartbreaking to the point that I had to turn it off the first night over concern that I wouldn’t sleep. The violence perpetrated on Americans by Americans, on humans by humans, on the nonviolent by the violent, is something of which we are too little aware. But the greater story, and one which I have great admiration for, is the courage of the Freedom Riders and others in the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. I marvel at men and women who do not strike back when being beaten to a pulp; who while inside a bus that has been set on fire do not curse and attack their tormentors; I marvel at a group of college students from Fisk University who leave school in the midst of final exams to buttress the nonviolent protest on the brink of defeat – students who go to prison in lieu of playing it safe. What does this have to do with Hunger Games?
I’ve been reading reviews of the movie and book by professing Christians, so far every review I’ve read has endorsed the movie. A theme in all of the reviews is that the movie and book are statements against violence; the idea is that to protest violence you make a movie about violence. This was the same argument I read concerning Pulp Fiction and The Unforgiven. While I did not see Pulp Fiction I did see The Unforgiven; I would not see it again.
The logic that to protest violence one produces a movie with violence would lead us to protest pornography by making a movie with pornography, etc. This thinking also ignores the reality that people do not think critically about what they read and watch. Violence begets violence, and exposure to violence in entertainment desensitizes us to violence, just as exposure to adultery and sex outside of marriage desensitizes us to those sins. Furthermore, let’s not forget that movies are made to make money – they are entertainment; when people are being entertained their cognitive processes are passive.
Christ calls us to be holy as He is holy, He calls us to live pure lives. In my recent series on Purity of Thought and Purity of Word I considered the importance of the words and images we use – profane words and images affect us and to think otherwise is to exalt ourselves and our thinking above God and His Word; as Paul writes in Romans 16: “…I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” We cannot expose ourselves to violence, to sexual images, to profane language in its many forms with impunity.
If we want to protest violence then let us look to examples of violence being perpetrated on the nonviolent, on the saints of history, on Christians suffering and dying for their faith and on behalf of others. If we want to protest violence then let us refrain from endorsing entertainment that is akin to the Roman Coliseum. And if we really want to watch something that shows the hideousness of violence, the hatred that propels violence, and the courage that sustains those who choose to be the objects of violence…well then I recommend PBS’s The Freedom Riders.