All across the world, book lovers and movie lovers alike are anticipating the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games movie this evening, and I can certainly be counted among them. I have my tickets, a Mockingjay shirt, and the Harvest Moon nail polish on my toes 🙂 Passionate? Absolutely!

I discovered The Hunger Games series a little over a year ago, much later than many, but not as late as some. I had been avoiding the series because of the hype, but eventually caved and bought the first book – then the second – and finally the third, in short order. By the time I closed the cover of Mockingjay, I was sure of several things:

1. I wished I hadn’t avoided the hype because I would have loved the anticipation and excitement of the release of the next book in the series.

2. I was glad that I had avoided the hype, because waiting for the next book in the series to come out would have been excruciating!

3. Catching Fire was the first book that has ever made me cry.

4. Reading this series was -and is- truly life-changing.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to put into words just what it is about The Hunger Games that fascinates and inspires, and yes, even scares me a little. The wonderful essays in The Girl Who Was on Fire have certainly helped me organize my thoughts and feelings, yet I still need to verbalize why The Hunger Games matters to me.

In today’s culture, we’re all obsessed with reality TV. I am completely guilty of this myself, because some of my favorite TV shows include The First 48, Hell’s Kitchen, The Apprentice, Locked Up, Hoarders, and yes, even the occasional Real Housewives show.

Other TV viewers are hooked on The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Jersey Shore, The Kardashians, and Extreme Makeover.

Guess what? We are the Capitol.

These shows allow us to live vicariously through their cast members, and we just can’t get enough. I’ve cried when a sympathetic cast member cried, laughed when someone did something dumb, and even cheered when something bad happened to one I didn’t like. I am positive that many of you have done this, too.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

We’re losing touch with our humanity. I know this may sound a bit extreme to some, but it’s true. When we watch these shows, we neglect our realities and become desensitized to the every day trials and traumas of life.

Indeed, participating in these reality shows changes people – and not for the better. Marriages fall apart, friendships disintegrate, family connections grow more distant, and realities are warped.

Greg Garrett, contributor to the Huffington Post Online, put it best in his article titled: The Hunger Games: Why It Matters:

As the Romans knew, if the people are entertained, they are less likely to rise up (as the people of Panem did in the not-too-distant past), and we’ve bought into this entertainment paradigm too. The spectacle of kids killing kids is only slightly more awful than the spectacle of Snooki with a kid. As The Hollywood Reporter notes in its review, “contemporary reality shows and televised competitions differ from this extravaganza only in their lower mortality rate.”

So long as we are distracted — and even, God help us, entertained — we may forget for a moment about our own lives, our own hunger. We may forget that we live in a nation that is less free than it was a decade ago, a nation with fewer societal safety nets, a nation with fewer opportunities for young people. We should be outraged — and yet most of us manage to sleep at night, thanks to The Bachelor and America’s Got Talent.

The great irony of even a powerful dystopian story like The Hunger Games is that, if we’re not careful, it could serve the same function in our lives as it does to those debased viewers of the Games. If we allow the story of The Hunger Games to do what it should — that is, if it provokes us to ask hard questions and demand change — then it is a valuable cultural artifact, despite its central concept. But if it only anesthetizes its audiences to watch quietly and demand the next installment, then it’s a cruel joke.

Tonight, as we crowd movie theaters around the world, decked out in Capitol memorabilia, eager to see The Hunger Games play out on the big screen, let’s remember that we’re not really too far removed from our own Hunger Games.

Be hungry. Don’t settle for what Hollywood, the media, or the government says is “right” or “in”.

Turn off the TV, get off your couch, and take a look at the reality of the world around you. Start asking those hard questions about our society and our freedoms. Reach out to your widowed neighbor, or that unpopular kid at school, or the guy on the corner. Donate to charity. Pick up garbage on the beach. Write to your local representatives about their stance on important issues. Tell your family how important they are to you. “Unplug” from social media/cell phones for a day.

If we make an effort to do these things every day -to live and participate in the real world- maybe, like Katniss Everdeen, we can affect real change.