Over at Slate, Torie Bosch writes that that an underlying subtext of the Hunger Games franchise is a dystopian future induced by climate change and resource conflict. Bosch writes:
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.
Bosch hits on what is undoubtedly a theme of the series, but what is missing from her analysis is the other side of the story. In Panem, the only way to maintain the lifestyle of elites in the Capitol is to subject the producing districts to abject poverty. District 12, the home town of series protagonists Katniss and Peeta, exists only to produce coal for the capital. While certain resources may be scarce, lying on the other side of the fence are abundant plants and wildlife that could be harvested to address the needs of the people. Poor families can receive more grain and oil from the government only if they in turn place another slip with their name in the reaping, increasing the likelihood of their participation in the Hunger Games. Instead of allowing its people to prosper from these resources, the Capitol purposefully limits their access to resources to make them subservient to an authoritarian state.
On the whole, Panem is actually an extreme example of central planning where each district is regulated to such a degree that freedom barely exists. John Tammy, writing at Forbes, takes this argument a step further, writing that the whole series is actually a libertarian opus on the dangers of big government:
Closer to the book’s end, Katniss thinks about her “fury against the cruelty, the injustice they [the rulers] inflict upon us”, and wonders if there’s some “way to take revenge on the Capitol.” While considering this, she remembers Peeta’s words “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.” Absolutely. Excessive government IS ownership, of the fruits of our labor, and our personal freedoms. Katniss and Peeta are ultimately fighting to get their lives back from the greedy hands of the politicians in the Capitol.
Back in the real world, something similar is at work. Though agreement is not uniform, and our government not nearly as oppressive as the one in The Hunger Games, many Americans simply want to be left alone, to get their lives back. The Hunger Games seems to channel this natural, and very American, urge to be free.
As with any good book, the meaning is open to interpretation by the reader and should be designed to provoke thoughtful discussion. Any analysis of the environmental drivers that altered the North American continent to such a degree as to usher in such a future, should also talk about the disastrous government policies that prevent their citizens from adapting to the new world.