Ah, the first day of camp. Friends reuniting, lathering on sunscreen, grabbing baseball mitts, and forming alliances to kill other campers. If you think that sounds about right, you may want to send your kids to Hunger Games camp.
Speciality summer camps have sprung up around the country, allowing kids who are curious about everything from circuses to soccer to spend eight weeks in the haven of their chosen niche. Now, there's a summer camp for The Hunger Games, the science fiction series that spawned a 2012 Jennifer Lawrence film, and netted more than $700 million. The Hunger Games details a dystopian future nation named Panem, where a teenager from each of the country's 12 districts is selected to compete in a fight to the death. That struggle to survive is now available to 26 participants in Tampa Bay, Florida, where the Hunger Games-themed camp is stationed. Campers range from ages 10 to 14, and though there are no actual weapons involved, the emphasis on fatal competition remains.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, which first broke the story, 12-year-old Julianna Pettey told her friend Rylee Miller, "I will probably kill you first .... I might stab you."
The Tampa Bay Times piece is brilliant, and you should check it out for more cringe-worthy encounters between campers. The camp is theoretically designed to build teamwork and encourage cooperation, and it recently changed its rules midway through the campers' stay, to make the experience about "who can collect the most lives," rather than who could become the last camper standing. Kids simulate a kill by stripping a flag from their opponent's waist. That may seem harmless, but even simulating violence has caustic consequences. When children watch or read about killings in media, the do so as detached observers. But, as clinical psychologist Susan Toler notes in the Tampa Bay Times piece, "when they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them .... The violence becomes less egregious." Scavenger hunts, archery simulations, and a "minefield" game (seriously) are among the activities used in competition.
Capitalizing on a popular novel and movie is pretty deplorable, but putting kids through simulations of violence and encouraging campers to "take lives" is horrifying. The camp trivializes mass murder to the point that campers are excited about killing their friends, and imagining what kind of weapons they'll use. "What are we going to do first?" said 14-year-old Sidney Martenfeld. "Are we going to kill each other first?" Another camper mused about wanting to die by an arrow, rather than a sword or bullet.
What's worse is the fact that this camp is run by the local Country Day School, which is also tasked with educating many of these kids. How parents can be on board with sending their kids to Hunger Games camp is beyond me, as is the fact that nobody has, thus far, intervened to stop this thing.
What do you think of the Hunger Games camp? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.