The psychological truth behind the 'Hunger Games'

The Hunger Games, which now ranks as the most successful movie released during March—ever—adds to the toxic psychological forces it identifies, rather than reducing them.

In the movie, which takes place in a world given over to bloody entertainment, the government chooses young people to fight each other to the death on a reality television show.  The writer of the film, Suzanne Collins, has stated she came up with the story while channel surfing first past news on the Iraq War, then past senseless, entertainment-driven reality TV shows.  The mingling of those two messages, through one medium, seemed potentially harmful.

The trouble is that, rather than opposing the media forces that jam such disparate messages together, The Hunger Games embraces that toxic synergy.  It is an entertainment product of complete fiction and great potency, given its intense level of fantasy and violence.  As such, it only conveys young people closer to “expressing” in a virtual format their powerful and primitive instincts (potentially kindling their desire to truly express such instincts) while conveying them further from their daily realities and a little further still from their real selves.

The Hunger Games is like a film that claims to sensitize young people to the dangers of drugs and unprotected sex by casting good-looking, scantily-clad teenagers shooting up heroin constantly, then getting naked and making love in scene after scene, while supposedly starring in a new television show that is produced by maniacal, manipulative adults.  For young minds, the images of kids getting high and having unprotected sex would be likely to completely eclipse the underlying cautionary message.

There really isn’t any risk that a nation anytime soon will choose to broadcast a murder competition between teens.  This is no documentary, nor is it a fictional work loosely based on reality.  So no one who sees the film is really going to come out of it intent on short-circuiting a cabal designed to prey upon the young via reality TV.  Almost no one will emerge from a theater swearing off shows like the Keeping Up With the Kardashians, or Jersey Shore because they are produced by adults happy enough to make a buck off of stupefying teenagers.  They are more likely to come out of theaters having shed some measure of the healthy psychological defenses (which are, luckily, partly reinforced by socialization) that keep them at a distance from their violent impulses.  And they are likely to come out more confused than ever why extreme violence would ever result in real-world suffering or a real war would require true sacrifice.

Other than entertaining millions and millions of teenagers and making millions and millions of dollars, the net result of The Hunger Games is likely to be:

1) Females will be further distanced from their traditional feminine characteristics that (sadly, some wrongly insist) suggested they were not being real “girls” if they were extremely physically violent.

2) Young teens and many pre-teens will be awakened to the fact that they are capable of extreme violence, given the right set of circumstances.

3) A few psychologically vulnerable teens—who would have come to no good anyhow—may be inspired to replicate the film’s violence.

That’s about it.  But, hey, I didn’t much go for Harry Potter wrenching kids into a realm of wizards and demons, spells and incantations, when we’ve got real life lessons to teach them—and seem to be failing rather miserably at that.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at