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All posts for the month January, 2017

Today in class, we started with a discussion of The Hunger Games pt 3, based on your Twitter discussion questions (see Storify below). We talked through some of the major developments of the end of the novel, then turned our attention to the article you read for class today, “Burn with Us: Sacrificing Childhood in The Hunger Games,” by Susan Shau Ming Tan. We also talked a little about the concept of a feminist utopia/dystopia and discussed whether or not we thought Katniss might fit the description of a feminist dystopian hero.

After our discussion of the texts, we also spent a little time looking briefly at MLA citations and the purpose of using them within our own writing. We looked briefly at the new MLA 8 citation style, which we will continue to discuss in more detail later in the semester. You will want to be sure to keep your MLA handbook nearby as you research, locate sources, and work on artifacts that require citations.
You will write an MLA citation for your independent reading book and the Miller article on your own tonight and bring it to class on Wednesday (a digital version is fine, no need to print it out).
HOMEWORK:
  1. Read “The Making of a Blockbuster” by Laura Miller (LIVETWEET + Discussion Q)
  2. Watch Mockingjay Pt 1 (LIVETWEET + Discussion Q)
  3. Write MLA citation for independent reading text and Miller article and bring to class (digital is fine)
    • Bring your MLA 8 handbook with you to class
OPTIONAL: Screening of Mockingjay Pt 1 (The third Hunger Games movie) at 4pm Monday, Jan 30

Dystopia’s etymology reveals the one true commonality that all dystopia’s share. The Greek word “dys,” signifying bad or difficult, places all dystopia’s in the context of the human experience. In all of them, there exists human suffering. From this point, any more depth in the definition of dystopia comes from its combination with another genre. Each genre provides a different lens to view human pain, and as a result, reveals different societal problems we experience today. Sci-Fi often examines how the use of technology may be used to oppress large amounts of people. Apocalyptic dystopias take the Sci-Fi twist and go further, in which technology leads to a slippery-slope of human annihilation.

Dramas and Romance maintain criticisms of society, though it allows for human emotion to creep through, namely love and hope. This is visible in The Hunger Games, where signs of positive human emotions not just linger, but play important roles in its plot.

Young Adult Dystopian fiction introduces subtler changes to the standard dystopian novel. It focuses on issues that younger people would likely engage in, such as love, money, and family. YA Dystopian fiction does not solely criticize society, rather it uses that criticism to build an otherwise normal plot. The setting just “happens” to be diseased and dark. The Hunger Games is not a story about a totalitarian government using its power to oppress the masses, or how technology could be used to cause great human suffering. It’s one about love, and how pure human qualities (Katniss) can prevail against greed and fear (Cato).

This thematic change brings entire new meaning to dystopian novels, one unique to YA fiction. The combination of genres appears simply as an addition, though it’s clear through its effects on plot and overall theme that different forms of dystopian literature introduce and expand on very different ideas, and their shared foundation of human suffering has little impact on the development of the novel.

We started class by having each of you create a “Follow Friday” tweet, where you recommend accounts for other folks in class to follow. Keep working to curate your Twitter timelines so when it comes time to research, you have a wide variety of resources available to you.

Next I walked you through some sample infographics and we talked about what infographics can do well, where some of the ones we looked at fall short, how to keep audience in mind and how to balance images and text. Hopefully some of these examples gave you some ideas and inspiration for your own infographics.

I walked you through some of the key terms from CCUL – it is important that you have a strong grasp on some of the key terminology we are using in this course (utopia, anti-utopia, dystopia, science fiction, cognitive estrangement) as we move forward into some of the assignments. We talked about the historical evolution of dystopia as well as the way the CCUL formulates the overlaps between science fiction, romance and utopia/dystopia. It is important to note that the scholars who wrote these chapters in the CCUL are asserting their arguments and definitions of these terms; you are certainly welcome to disagree with those definitions provided you can support your own argument with reliable sources.

We finished class today with some time spent working on your infographics with your partners. If you were out today you should check in with your partner about this project as soon as possible.

HOMEWORK

  1. Read CCUL Chapter 8
  2. Read “Burn with Us: Sacrificing Childhood in The Hunger Games,” Susan Shau Ming Tan, The Lion and the Unicorn, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2013, pp. 54-73 (Article). DOI: 10.1353/uni.2013.0002
    • Access the article through the Project MUSE database through the Georgia Tech library.  Use the Library Ask a Librarian feature if you have trouble finding or accessing the database.
    • Be sure to LIVETWEET + tweet a Discussion Question for this article and CCUL 8
  3. Continue reading independent reading selection – you should be at least halfway finished by this point
  4. OPTIONAL: We will be screening The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 on Monday, to discuss on Wednesday (3rd film). If you have not seen Catching Fire (2nd film), you might want to watch it on your own.

We’ll discuss The Hunger Games pt 3 and your excellent discussion questions on Monday

 

The effects of propaganda and media in the novel The Hunger Games is key in the development of not only the story line but in the discussion of Panem as a dystopian society holistically. Throughout the novel, the differences in portrayal of the actual Hunger Games is evident between the Capitol and the different districts. Also, the way the Capitol shows the “backstory” behind the games, and how they are a good thing is propaganda in itself. To the Capitol, the games are viewed as “punishment” for the uprising that happened years ago, where the districts rebelled against the Capitol. Especially in the reaping, it is expressed that the games are a punishment to the districts and a way to keep “peace” in Panem. Using propaganda, the government has convinced the Capitol people that the games are a good thing. Most are oblivious to what is actually happening; Cinna is the main exception. The Hunger Games is expressed as a celebration and a holiday. This also shows the juxtaposition between the Capitol’s utopia versus the district’s dystopian world.

There is also a difference in the way the Capitol uses media to portray the games to the districts and the Capitol. To the capitol, the tributes are looked at like celebrities, like they aren’t even real people. This is to strengthen their ignorance to what the government is controlling behind the games. It is used a ploy to take the attention off of the cruelty behind the games and the Capitol’s manipulation, and turn it toward a reality, “entertaining” TV show.  The districts are the ones who know that they are real children, especially in districts three through twelve. This is especially evident in Rue’s death, because it was the first time one of them was viewed as a real person and not a pawn in a game.

Images:

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For class today, we created a fishbowl conversation to discuss the divisions, factions, and alliances of The Hunger Games (film and novel). The discussion was largely based on discussion questions posted on Twitter, as well the elements you and your classmates chose to follow. The concept of “us versus them” and fear of The Other are important elements of dystopian fiction that will continue to feature in the books and films we look at this semester. The tweets from this discussion should help you to follow along with what we talked about if you were absent.

After this discussion, we spent a bit of time talking about using Twitter as a research tool; how to search for accounts, how to mine follow lists for additional accounts of interest, and how to create lists. As part of your homework, you will need to search Twitter and find at least 3 accounts that you feel are relevant to follow for this course and bring them to class with you for #followFriday

HOMEWORK

  • CCUL 7 and The Hunger Games pt 3 (LIVETWEET + Discussion Question)
  • Find 3 twitter accounts to follow and bring them to class
  • Continue working on Infographic and Independent reading
  • Bring supplies to class to work with partner on infographic

Dystopias seem to be defined in a plethora of ways. On a general basis, there are certain characteristics that seem to be common to most dystopian tales. A lot of the time, it starts off with a utopian goal, but something doesn’t go as planning and leaves the community in shambles. These dystopias usual occur in the future where some sort of disaster or uprising occurs that causes the community/society to be pervaded with characteristics like poverty, an evil government or power, hunger, and just basically unfavorable circumstances. They usually are hopeless throughout the literature they are in and the stories usual focus on someone or some people who challenge the way the society works or who refuses to put up with their current conditions.

When integrating dystopia with another genre, the basic characteristics remain, but some other characteristics specific to this addition genre come to light. For example, when combining dystopia with sci-fi, usually we see how humans have used technology to advance in society but such advances have caused unanticipated circumstances. These types of literature form as a cautionary tale to those who mess with things like artificial intelligence, interstellar travel, etc. When combining dystopia with a genre of something apocalyptic though, some traits you may find are hunger, lack of resources and safety, and a broken-down society. While the core elements of dystopias remain constant, the addition of other genres alter the features of the literature.

YA literature targets a younger audience. Due to this, by integrating dystopic literature with YA literature the author tries to appeal to what they believe intrigues those from 12-18. To appeal to them, usually these dystopic novels have main characters in the same age range to add a sense of relatability and connection. It also uses language and concepts that appeal to young adults and that they understand well. For example, in The Hunger Games the novel has young main characters who while dealing with the dystopic problems, also deal with things like young love, difficult parents and siblings, and a yearn for adventure and fun. It also contains a lot of action to appeal to the youth’s need for something exciting to keep their attention. Together, these are the defining feature of a YA dystopia.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

While Merriam-Webster’s definition of a dystopian society is pretty broad, I think there are some key additional components of a society that make it truly dystopian. Merriam-Webster mentions that people tend to live fearful lives in a dystopian society, but they don’t really define the source of this fear. One of the biggest things that defines dystopia for me is the common theme of an oppressive government that causes the people to live in fear. In books like Animal Farm or even Hunger Games, there is a central, oppressive government that keeps a tight grip over their people. The first way they accomplish this is with a strong military to keep the people in check. In the Hunger Games, the Capitol uses an army called “Peacekeepers”, and Napoleon uses a pack of fierce dogs in Animal Farm.

As Snow describes in the Hunger Games movie, hope and fear are extremely powerful emotions which must be controlled precisely. By having an all powerful military, the people have no hope in successfully causing an uprising.

Another major component of dystopian societies that isn’t covered by the definition is their use of propaganda to influence the people. Luckily, many of us are told not to trust everything we read, but in dystopian societies everything said by the government becomes fact. The Treaty of Treason in the Hunger Games is a great example of this. The government tells this epic tale of the struggles that existed before the government existed, then explains how the current situation is all the fault of a previous failed uprising. This is also true in Animal Farm, where the established commandments of their society continue to be changed slightly as the pigs decide that they should be able to behave more and more like the humans that formerly oppressed them. Unfortunately for both of these societies, the people are forced to accept the propaganda as fact, or else face the wrath of the government.

A dystopia is the idea of a society which is too bad in some way to exist, typically due to tyranny and/or government corruption. This is basically a fallen utopia, a society which is too good to be true, and in many cases, dystopia can stem from utopia. Many will argue that utopia will always lead to dystopia, as a society which is “perfect” must be under significant control by some sort of government, and thus corruption and tyranny is implied. However, while this is often the case, I would argue that there isn’t necessarily always this connection between the two.

Examining dystopias from the viewpoint of different genres allows us to see the concept through a new lense, opening up different common themes and perspectives. For example, with romance dystopian novels, you often see recurring themes of sacrifice and silver linings, while with sci-fi dystopian novels, the idea of the dangers of technology is typically prominent. This doesn’t usually change our definition of a dystopia, but it does add to it for different genres and often reshapes the main ideas of the depictions of dystopia.

More recently, there’s been a rise in YA dystopian novels, those that are geared towards young adults. Dystopias in these contexts don’t change in definition, but do become limited in the content that they can offer, often sparing the gory details and explicit nature. However, this can often means we see more in depth character development, and the path to maturity is a theme that’s more predominant throughout the subclass of dystopias.

While there’s quite the range of subcategories throughout the dystopian novels, they all share the basic definition and a variety of similar themes. I’m looking forward to discovering the nuances of each genre as we read and learn more throughout the semester, as more reading into the topic will certainly 

Works Cited

The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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Too much darkness can kill yet too much light can blind.

A dystopia is nothing but the embodiment of this very basic fact of life.

When we are young, we think of everything as either black or white. Lying is bad, no matter what. Breaking rules is wrong, no questions asked. Yet as we grow older, we start to recognize that life is, in fact, a huge spectrum of infinite hues of grey. Lying is acceptable if it brings happiness and not all rules are right despite what we might have learnt as kids. And this is what defines us as humans. Excess of everything is bad. A little of both good and bad gives us a reason to choose and leaves room for error. Now, while errors may not be the best always, they are the cause of progress. A ‘perfect’ society where all possibility of error has been eradicated, as demonstrated by dystopias, tends to stagnate. When you take away the license to think or act in any other way than prescribed, that’s when you set yourself up for a better(maybe), but a stagnant future nonetheless – devoid of innovation.

As a result, a lot of dystopias focus on societies where the freedom of some major choices of life have been taken away – specifically those of love and profession.  These are the choices that most of us grow up anticipating and preparing for.  As a result, romance as a sub-genre of dystopian fiction strengthens my definition and plays a major role in most dystopias, because here, more than anywhere else, the act of even feeling love for someone is an act of defiance.

Dystopias work best when marketed as YA literature because having a young adult as the protagonist makes the most sense. Adults, by the time they get to their age, have learned to conform – having either fooled themselves into complacency or simply accepted life with its flaws. Young adults, on the other hand, are still discovering new ideas and are supposed to be rebellious by nature. As a result, they question every norm with which they have been brought up and start thinking about why they are doing what they are. Also, for young adult readers, a lot of this makes much more sense as they themselves are going through a phase where everything seems subject to scrutiny.

The defining characteristic of a dystopian narrative is the roots of its society in a utopian ideal. We see the startling, disgusting logical end result of some well-intentioned vision. The sweet promise of industry eradicating labor turns putrid as the rain turns to acid, and crops and wildlife wither and rot. Man’s great dream of economic equality and political freedom warps into the nightmare of mass poverty and the police state. The wonder of instant, ubiquitous communication, heralded as the haven of democracy, enables the surveillance of every aspect of modern life.

Surveillance camera

Science fiction dystopias display an even more pervasive fear of technological and scientific progress. The limitations on how quickly and drastically human society, and humans themselves, can change are lifted. Science fiction makes tangible our darkest, most distant dreams and enables our wildest fancy. The revelatory draught resulting from the blending of science fiction and dystopia is uniquely dark and bitter. Dystopias in this sub-genre are able to focus all the more sharply for their enhanced capacity to warp the lens through which we view our own society.

Mars transformed

When we consider Young Adult dystopias, there is a necessary change in the tone of the genre. Whereas we chastise adults for their role in bringing about the current state of affairs, we are gentler with the youth, merely cautioning them against our mistakes. Too, our perspective shifts, highlighting the way society treats the young. We are treated to a look at the system of education, the parenting, or lack of it, a grand insight into what forces form a dystopian adult. There are definite advantages to reaching the hearts and minds of the youth, as any utopian designer will attest, so young adult dystopias may well be the most impactful tool of social change available to the modern author.