In a mad rush to hitch themselves to the pop-culture rocket sauce of The Hunger Games, a few media outlets (uh, guilty as charged) have suggested that the dystopian appeal of the books and now movies draws strength from the young’uns’ acceptance of the climate-disaster-addled hellhole they are destined to inherit. I’m not so sure. Suzanne Collins’ fleet prose is built for action; she largely skips the details of her futuristic world of Panem so that we can get on with the underage stabbin’. As such, any allusions to climate change must be drawn from one line:
[The mayor] tells of the history of Panem. 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 … ”
Is that enough for kids to draw connections between the fantasy world du jour and their own? Can Hunger Games make this generation care more about climate than the last? Curiously absent from this conversation are the Voices of the Youth themselves. So I decided to head into the belly of the beast: I would go to a midnight premiere in downtown Seattle to talk to the climate disaster survivors of the future. (It would be like war reporting, but with higher-pitched screams.)
As I enter the theater, I’m a stranger in a strange land. Even though I’ve burned through the books detailing heroine Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to win a battle royale against other teens for the entertainment of the oppressive Capitol government, I’m unprepared to translate the agitated parrot chatter of the tween crush around me. I think about reverting to hand signals when Laura and Lyla*, both 14, take pity on this old wretch to answer a few questions.
“Um, I’ve never read the books before,” says Lyla, “But I’m here because they kill each other — for the action.”
Not exactly a promise to follow Copenhagen 2025, but she doesn’t sound like someone willing to let the Keystone XL slide without a fight. Gonna put Lyla in the “maybe” column.
“I like to read a lot of dystopian fiction,” says Laura. “I think it’s possible to to end up in a world like that, but with climate change? Who knows. Maybe there’s a 6-out-of-10 chance. It’s hard to know how it’ll all turn out.”
A skeptic who’s good at math: Do I detect a future climate scientist?
I get the stink eye from a couple harrumphing dads chaperoning daughters in clownish makeup. But I duck them to chase down a pack of kids in hand-painted Hunger Games T-shirts.
“It’s about rebellion and standing up for what they believe in,” says Joey, 14. “I like how she has to make her own living off the land.”
Self-sufficiency, foraging, the 99% — it’s all there with this one. Maybe Millennials are going to be just fine.
“I’m wondering how far into the future this is — there’s just so much despair,” says Nadine, 13. “I think the way their government fell apart could happen. Also, like, the love triangle.”
I detect concern with a tendency to hedge, but also a sense of hope and even romance. Writing down “Nadine for president.”
A super-excitable pair of teens in matching white tees, brown Uggs, and black tights can’t stop bouncing up and down. Knowing that I’m shaving precious seat-searching time, I ask questions fast. They answer faster.
“I really like the action — I mean, they’re killing each other,” says Abby, 14. “I have no idea [about climate change], but they’re in the forest, and I don’t feel like that’s going to be a big thing.”
This one thinks we’ll screw up our world even worse than Panem. I think we’ve found a glass-half-empty climate pessimist.
I dash after them to nab a seat. The theater darkens, and after an interminable period of commercials (what’d Adrien Brody do to end up in Schick ads?), we’re transported to the world of Hunger Games in a rush of adolescent screaming. For big-budget entertainment, it’s a surprisingly dour (if well-acted) affair, though things pick up for the tyke-on-tyke bloodletting. Climate change or rising seas get even less play in the film, though there is a bit of Occupy Wall Street flavor to the oppressed and restless masses. And how’s this for dystopian: The hovercrafts and forcefields of the future still run on coal.
As I poll the exits, most of the reactions seem first and foremost concerned with whether the violence in The Hunger Games satisfied expectations. Evaluations range from “hella violent” to “Avengers better be more violent.”
So are the children, who are no doubt our future, more or less connected to the climate fight because of Hunger Games? It’s possible that I wasn’t in the auditorium that featured an extended solar vs. wind debate while the Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2 trailer unspooled. But preliminary data is fuzzy, so we may just have to wait until Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire debuts to know for sure. Until then, I’ll echo the film’s catchphrase and hope “the odds are ever in our favor.”
*No last names for the kiddies. I didn’t want the perv patrol at Regal Theaters beating me with Capitol-like efficiency.