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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 7:03 am | Mostly Cloudy 43º

 
 
 

Tim Durnin: When People Become Things — A Dangerous Path to Travel

Reading The Hunger Games with my daughters has opened the door for conversations about important themes

“Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to … to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

My daughters and I are reading The Hunger Games trilogy together. This is in advance of the release of the first movie in the series, which will premiere March 23. Both girls pleaded and bargained for tickets to the 12:01 a.m. showing. I conceded; it is a powerful story.

There are some important themes that emerge in the books. These are themes that are not simply contained within a fictional story set in some distant future; they are themes that resonate today. Reading the books with my children has provided an opportunity to discuss and explore these themes in a way that takes full advantage of the power of metaphor.

The theme most dear to me is that of personalizing the objectified. This is because I believe that objectifying people is a theme so present, so manifest and so destructive in our own culture. It is a dangerous path to travel when people become things.

As an educator, I suppose everything I have ever taught has been directed at dispelling this delusion. But the forces of our culture are powerful and ubiquitous. It is an idea that is present in almost every sphere in which we operate.

In education, the size of our schools has reduced our students to statistics, numbers to be counted, scores to be calculated and money to be collected from the state. In our community colleges, we no longer have students, we have Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) — the measure by which most decisions are made.

The same is true for health care, retirees, the homeless, the mentally ill and the unemployed. They are numeric abstractions, incomprehensible and unreal. Only they are not. Behind each number is a story, a human being, a life.

That is why reading The Hunger Games with my daughters has been so significant. It has opened the door for conversation about the perils of being too far removed from the personal, the real, the imperfect and damaged world around them.

On a more personal level, I want them to understand the dangers inherent in being seen as an object as well as seeing others as objects. I know all too well the dangers of objectifying women. Rape, physical abuse and mental abuse all find their origins there. And now men are beginning to share a small part of that troublesome spotlight as well.

I was recently engaged in a rather heated exchange regarding one of the auction items offered at a high school fundraiser. The winning bidder would have the boys’ water polo team come over, do their windows and wash their cars in swim briefs. Giddy, middle-aged women clamored for the prize. Those with whom I was discussing this had little use for my protests. In what world is this acceptable?

The answer is, of course, our world — a world where perceptions have become so skewed that such actions and behavior are encouraged. It is no easy task preparing my daughters for that world. My wife and I started early and can only hope our efforts have been adequate.

Reading The Hunger Games has helped. We have talked a lot about the themes discussed here and other profound themes covered in the series. I have explained to them that we are not so far off from the world so brilliantly created in the series. We need only keep taking baby steps toward isolation and the transformation will be complete.

There is hope, of course, in the quiet, muted resistance of those who live in the world at hand, those who live close to it, embrace it and refuse to be deterred by the tides of sentiment against them. Those are the kind of people I want my daughters to be, the kind of people who will not settle to be a mere piece of some incomprehensible puzzle and the kind of people who would not allow others to be mere pieces either.

Paraphrasing Collins, “And may the odds be ever in their favor.”

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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