All posts by Caroline Jernigan

In a Huffington Post article entitled “Are We Addicted to the Idea of Perfection?” by Dr. Jennifer Howard, she argues that the majority of humans today are on a meaningless pursuit of perfection. The media convinces our culture that success is paralleled to a certain cookie-cutter image of perfect. It itches at our deepest insecurities and tells us that we must conform to some sort of mold. Because of this, it has become the norm to believe that we are not good enough. A recent study known as “Beauty is the Promise of Happiness” suggests that good-looking people are happier than unattractive people. From studies on economists in the US, Canada, Germany, and the UK, it concludes that attractive people make more money and have more successful love lives. This study has had a poor influence on society because it makes people want to strive to have perfect looks rather than growing their internal wisdom and improving their psychological maturity. In its simplest form, psychological maturity is the ability to make yourself happy the way you are. The article goes on to point out that despite the global economic recession, the cosmetic industry is thriving. It is unfortunate to think that people live lives believing that changing something on the outside will somehow create a lasting impression on the inside. People continue to surgically alter themselves to the point where they appear unnatural. This itself is a sign of a dystopia. Dr. Howard then brings up the question: What if we spent all of the time that we waste on fruitlessly “strengthening” our outer selves to strengthen our inner selves? After all, internal maturity is truly what will help us to withstand life’s curve balls.

Overall, this source highlights the unfortunate tendency of our culture to worship at the alter of perfection. As I analyze where different peoples’ ideas of perfection are developed from, it is important that I understand the psychological part of it. This source provides the raw truth about how our society’s priorities have evolved over time. Additionally, this research has helped me to understand why humans are addicted to perfection. Understanding this will ultimately help me to draw conclusions about how authors of dystopias derive their dystopian societies from perfect societies.

I believe that a few other students in this course would be able to benefit from the information in this article. Victoria gave her presentation about what makes dystopias so popular. I think that people wanting to read about failing societies makes them feel better about themselves. This goes back to the whole idea of desiring perfection. Additionally, I think that this article would bolster the ideas in Joshua’s presentation about YA dystopias redefining what is human. People changing their outward appearances to fit a societal mold is a sign of an unfolding dystopia. The part of the article that mentions people beginning to lose human characteristics because of their modifications is very similar to what Joshua had to say.

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For my conference presentation on Monday, March 13th, I will be presenting the highlights of my research paper How an Author’s Perception of Perfection Influences His/Her Dystopian Society. I believe that “perfect” is a term that is relative to an author’s own unique life. I will use contextual examples from our readings thus far to point out where I see each author’s values showcased in their writing. I will argue that what a given author perceives as a “perfect society” will ultimately determine the type of dystopia that he or she creates. Consequently, I will bring up the fact that a lot of what authors prioritize in shaping a dystopian flaw is developed from their backgrounds, the way they were raised, and their beliefs. Additionally, I will give an overview of the key discoveries I have made, simply because there has not been much prior research done on the topic.

My presentation will begin with an outline of my thesis and my overarching thoughts. I will then give a brief summary of the origin of dystopias and the idea of “perfection.” I will then segue into literary examples that I use in my paper, such as Shatter Me, The Hunger Games, and Little Brother. In my presentation, I will analyze the societal flaws that I see present in the novels and I will consider how those relate to the authors’ backgrounds and upbringings. I also utilize two different samples of forums where people of varying ages have shared what they believe a perfect society to look like. One shares responses from a college-level English class while the other presents opinions from the older adult population, which helps me to contrast the varying values that different ages possess. With the ideas presented in the forums, I will extrapolate what I believe their dystopias would look like based on what they value when creating their utopias.

I hope that the synopsis of my research is intriguing to you, and that my usage of both concrete evidence and inferred material is interesting to you. In order to see where my research thus far has brought me, you will have to listen to my conference presentation and read my paper. I encourage you to reach out to me about any questions or suggestions you may have regarding my research-especially considering that much of it is being developed based on my own ideas.

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Dystopias are interesting because so much of their characteristics are left up to interpretation by writers and readers. They are similar to The Constitution in that there are groups of people who strictly interpret its roots and those who stretch them to fit into other categories. That is why dystopian fiction has bled over borders into the realms of science-fiction, romance, and apocalyptic ideas. These variations in theme, setting, and plot have caused different interpretations of what is considered a “perfect” utopian society, and alternatively its anti-perfect, dystopian counterpart. For my research project, I am hoping to research how each society’s idea of “perfect” differs, and how these ideas shape its culture.

In the dystopia The Hunger Games, the Capitol maintains control of the twelve districts by forcing them to participate in the games. By portraying this to be a dystopia, one can infer that the author’s idea of a utopia would be a society where people are free to do as they please without a ruling autonomous government. Alternatively, in the book Shatter Me, Juliette lives with a touch that is fatal. The society is made up of rampant disease, food shortage, and dreary conditions. The government uses Juliette’s supposed flaw to for their own betterment. She is ultimately left with the choice of either giving into the government’s orders or fighting for what she believes in. Overall, this society seems to be flawed in the way it emphasizes the government’s manipulation of weakness for its own strength. One can infer from this that the author’s idea of a perfect society may be one where people are applauded for their differences and accepted for their disabilities.

I think that discovering how authors’ different ideas of “perfect” influence the way that they shape their dystopias will be interesting. However, I know that basing their ideas of “perfect” solely on the opposite of their dystopian novels is not an effective form of research. Dystopias come out of present day society, so finding out more about how this relates to a perfect society would be interesting. I hope to research more in detail about the history that brought about dystopias as seemingly anti-perfect societies. Moving forward, a question that I hope to answer about Shatter Me is how a certain period of time may or may not have influenced the author to write the book, seeing as it focuses on such an imperfect society.

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A universal characteristic of dystopian societies is a ruling government that will do anything to be sure that oppression and fear are instilled within its society. In other words, it is the means by which a government is able to control its people. In The Hunger Games, the Capitol utilizes myriad forms of propaganda to prove to the citizens of Panem that the games are necessary and exciting.

One example of this is the method of scoring each of the tributes following their training sessions. This is a source of entertainment for the Capitol, acting like a betting system. The citizens of each district see the number that is matched with their tributes and are swayed to be either hopeful or distraught regarding the outcome. However, common sense would tell us that they should feel some sort of sadness no matter what, seeing as children are about to fight to the death. Additionally, tributes that achieve higher scores have more people who ‘like’ them and thus more sponsors. Ultimately, the idea of Panem being swayed to root for the tribute who receives the highest score from the Capitol is a usage of propaganda.

Another example is the streaming of the games on public TV. It compares the game to a sporting event, which shies away from its gruesome reality. The game updates are televised in the same style as a news update. Claudius projects the faces of fallen tributes, shoots off a cannon to signify their deaths, and announces the rule changes in the same style a sports commentator would. Just as it is the public’s civic duty to keep up with their own news, it is Panem’s citizens’ responsibility to listen to the Capitol’s updates.

A final example of the Capitol’s propaganda is that the games are presented in such a glorified way. When being broadcasted, for example, the games are projected in an exciting way with triumphant music. Additionally, the parade of each district’s tributes builds the games up even more. Dressing the tributes up in fancy, unique attire in an attempt to intrigue Panem is yet another way that the Capitol is using propaganda.

The controlling governments of dystopian societies use propaganda to influence their citizens to think in the same way that they do. Therefore, within the society, the propaganda functions as a reinforcement to the government’s power and an aid in its regime.

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From reading The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature and participating in in-class discussions, I have determined that a dystopia can be simply defined as the downfall of a utopia. More complexly defined, they typically embody the idea of a controlling government gone wrong-often times emphasizing the usage of propaganda to brainwash people. Going along with the idea of a utopia, a dystopia is a seemingly unattainable place on the opposite end of the spectrum. Often times, the people of dystopias are convinced that their lives are indeed perfect.

When combined with another genre, the background of the dystopia is often explained. In other words, the addition of concepts from the genre usually help to unveil the origin of the society. For example, Huxley’s Brave New World uses science-fiction concepts to highlight what will ultimately result from man becoming overly invested in technology. Simply put, it presents technology as a buffer that disables man from feeling emotion. Overall, it serves as a warning sign to future generations to come as well, letting them know how government-regulated technology is capable of degrading a society.

Combining dystopia with Young Adult literature enhances the genre by making it more applicable to the audience that will most benefit from it. People tend to learn the best at a young age. Therefore, making dystopian literature relatable to this age group gives them a glimpse at what their futures may hold if they allow unregulated technological advancements to take hold. Moreover, making young people aware of this possibility has proven to be more effective than trying to sway the older population. Elders in any society typically have already developed their own opinions over time, especially in terms of government and politics. Consequently, they are much less likely to change these long-standing opinions.

Ultimately, making millennials want to care about a pressing issue is the key to preventing its occurrence. After all, the youth of today eventually will be the bosses, politicians, and leaders that society will be looking up to for guidance. In addition to being a form of entertainment, Young Adult Dystopian Fiction serves a vital role in preparing young people for the future.