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Dystopian Popularity Continued...

by Adrienne - 5 Comment(s)

So here we continue our dystopian saga, discussing why these current YA novels are so popular... from a Social Studies perspective. Try this analysis on one of your teachers to see what their reaction is!

Divergent by Veronica Roth, calls this into question; what are the most important human character traits to uphold in order to eradicate evil from human nature? Which would you choose: Intelligence, honesty, selflessness, amiability or bravery? Partially inspired by Roth's study of exposure therapy, Divergent questions the very definition of bravery. How do you define bravery? What do you think it means to be brave? Can one character trait exist in isolation or do they always act in multiple possible combinations? What is your utopia? Can utopia be universal? Or is one's person's heaven always another person's hell? What happens in a utopia when people are non-conforming? At what point/what causes a utopian ideology to become dystopian? Real life examples would be communism under Mao or Democracy under Bush.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has left both Matched and Wither trailing in its wake. All three deal with genetics, i.e. matching and slavery. Lack of choice is prevalent. Think Star Trek laced with a hint of The Giver by Lois Lowry. If you add undertones of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a book which I first read when I was 16, you begin to get the picture.

It's rare that I read a YA novel that I immediately want to re-read just to absorb all the poetry of the prose; it's that beautiful! Plus there is so much symbolism embedded into the book that you can tell Ally Condie used to be a High School English teacher. YA novels are often all about action and suspense. Matched, moving along at an ever quickening clip, certainly leaves you breathlessly wanting more at the end. Poetry is however, central to the book. It highlights the power of art to have political influence and be a strong force to fight against the apathy prevalent in coercive societies. There's a reason books/music/art get burned/banned. Matched underscores the power of choice; why it's important to have and why it might be beneficial not to. Implicit is that choice, held either in our own hands or societies, carries with it the ability to make both mistakes and successes. We can cause ourselves and others, both joy and sorrow along the way. Ultimately Matched takes a stance that human dignity; requires it. Otherwise we can all become so en-thralled...

The Hunger Games deals with many themes including survival, loyalty, slavery, and class privilege. It is this book that originally inspired this blog. Going out to schools in Calgary to do presentations for the library I came across many Junior High Social and Language Arts teachers who were using The Hunger Games for a novel study. It's a great book with so many leads for humanities discussions. In this way it follows The Giver by Lois Lowry, a book which is often used in schools as well.Both of these books have been banned in various places but that just gives credence to the fact that they deal with serious issues!

What struck me most about the Hunger Games is how closely it mimics a reality TV show, such as Survivor. The book thus deftly comments on our cultures obsession with entertainment; our need for vicarious living and ever more potent adrenaline boosters. And I admit I was drawn in, fully entertained, gripped by all the action suspense, romance and yes... suffering. This is in combination with a strong female character we can wholly sympathize with. Vicarious living at its finest! We are supposedly far above the Romans in our taste for civilized entertainment. But are we? Movies are simulated; reality TV shows "volunteered" for, and the news? Reality relayed at 6 'O clock each evening full of... human suffering.

For some interesting thoughts on Dystopian Fiction check out the following INFOGRAPHICS:

The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games

If You Liked “The Hunger Games”…

Here's why one fellow YYC teen thinks dystopian novels are so popular these days. Warning: this may be a downer.

Soooo... anyone up for writing the next UTOPIA? We could certainly use some positive societal visioning. Any budding writers out there? Check out this Cartoon version of Thoreau at Walden. We'd LOVE to hear your voices in TEENSCREATE!


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by Carrie

We have revised the sentence in question for clarity.

You are quite right that there are many shades of grey between the two, which was the point of our example – how do you decide when a supposedly perfect society has begun to tilt towards dystopia? Sometimes it is clear (as under Mao’s brutal regime), but often It is difficult to define and highly subjective – as Adrienne asked, “is one person’s heaven always another person’s hell?” Our intent was not to suggest that Mao and Bush were equal in any way, only to illustrate that even in our own society, we can encounter the slippery slope where personal freedom begins to be compromised for the sake of security, as is the case in Divergent and many other dystopian novels.

I completely agree that there is no absolute dystopia or utopia, and it is this idea that dystopian novels hinge on – the struggles of good people in terrible situations, when the usual authorities can no longer be trusted.

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments!

by Demagoguery

Well, I am no English expert, but this sentence appears to treat dystopia and utopia as absolutes, with no grey area in between. At what point/what causes utopia to become dystopia? Then the reader is immediately led into the statement, Real life examples would be communism under Mao or Democracy under Bush. By placing both leaders in the same sentence you infer to the reader that communism under Mao becomes dystopic in a similar fashion as does democracy under Bush. You did not initially say that these ideologies are used in dystopic ways. A better example would be to use the maligning of democracy under Hitler.

In any case, as the second commenter indicated, there is no such thing as utopia. Conversely, there would probably not be absolute dystopia either - for example, as bad as Hitler's regime was, there were people seeking to rescue the Jews, guards who might let prisoners go free, etc.

by Adrienne

Yes and the post never claimed that Bush and Mao were equal, only indicated that they were both leaders using Utopic ideologies (Democracy and Communism) in dystopic ways. Thank you for your thoughts and comments!

by Thomas More said...

This webpage says it all - all of us are dystopic because of our human nature - utopia is possible, but only to a limited degree.

by Demagoguery

As much as we may dislike Bush's foreign policies, we cannot even begin to put him in the same class as Mao and the upheaval and brutality he exerted on his own country and his own people. The comparison is quite irresponsible.

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