See all of Slate’s coverage of The Hunger Games here.
This week, the first film based on the blockbuster young-adult book trilogy The Hunger Games will open, crowning its stars heartthrobs and, likely, making Lionsgate, its studio, a mint.
Much discussion has focused on The Hunger Games as commentary on the popularity of reality television; actress Jennifer Lawrence, who stars as the temperamental heroine Katniss Everdeen, said as much in a recent interview. But barely mentioned in the film—if at all—is another, subtler lesson currently in vogue among young-adult fiction: the societal implications of climate change.
For those who have remained immune to The Hunger Games’ hype (and that’s just silly—read the books already!), Suzanne Collins’ story revolves around a cruel yearly pageant held in the country of Panem: One boy and one girl from each of 12 “districts” scattered through what used to be the United States are sent to battle to the death in a reality TV competition. Twenty-three will die; one will survive to live a life of luxury. We’re told that the games were instituted by the leaders of the Capitol, which governs Panem, to keep the district residents docile: The forced sacrifice of their children reminds them that they are allowed to live only so that they may provide the Capitol with goods and entertainment, panem et circenses.
In the first book of the trilogy, we witness the Reaping, the ceremony in which the boy and girl from each district are chosen in a brutal lottery. The mayor
tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens.
Panem, then, is what happens to North America’s democracies in a post-climate-change world.