All posts by Isaac Grynsztein

     In my presentation titled “Dystopian Obsession with Technological Traditionalism”, I will be discussing the conservative approach dystopias take towards technological progression. The presentation won’t be focusing on the analysis of dystopias; rather, it will look inside of dystopian texts and examine the pattern of hyper traditionalism with regards to technological innovation. To find these patterns, I look at several YA dystopian texts and one YA dystopian TV show. To maximize the power of my arguments, I chose only sci-fi dystopias, ones set in the future. This would have revealed a rather large gap in my argument: the existence of sci-fi dystopias prove that dystopias are not against the improvement of technology. I address this (and more) by asserting that the innovation occurred before the dystopia, not after. Furthermore, technological innovation that does occur is either done by the protagonist as a rebellion against an authoritarian government, or by the antagonist: small iterative improvements with the sole purpose of plot-progression.

     I also look into possible explanations for this seemingly arbitrary pattern. Regardless of the format, dystopias continue to opt for the status quo. Common quotes such as “this is the way it has always been” (coincidentally first quoted in ComputerWorld) are widespread.

The answer relies on a duality that exists within our societies today, and the author’s attempt to connect the two opposites, relieving the cognitive dissonance in our views towards future technologies. Not only do we look forward to (and fund) breakthroughs in science and tech, we have a deep-rooted fear of change. Whether we use isolation, social change, or skynet to manifest our fears of technology, the argument can be boiled down to one anxiety: change.

     The characters’ strange following of the mysterious pattern of traditionalism augments the author’s argument, regardless of intent. By explaining its purpose, we can further look into the purpose of literature and shows, revealing the fears fictional characters have towards technology that exists far far away.

     Over the last couple centuries, YA dystopias have evolved characteristically to be, more often than not, set in the future. In turn, dystopias must predict the development of technology, so that melds with the setting. One of the areas I would like to focus on is computers, and how they have played a role in YA dystopia. Its role in dystopias must have changed over time, and I would like to trace how they have changed based on our current growing dependence on them.

     The Hunger Games includes many scenes of The Capitol using computer-like devices to manage the tributes. 

– Screen used by The Capitol in The Hunger Games.

The tools at their disposal, combined with the integration of those systems, makes it clear that Collins saw the development of technology, and more specifically computers, trended towards this sort of integration. The trackers, health monitors, tributes’ geolocation, forest fire creators, and care package deliveries were all included in the screens The Capitol used during the games. In The 100, people on The Ark can be seen carrying personal devices, a sign that this more recent shift of device integration is widespread among modern sci-fi dystopias.

– Image of screen from The 100.

In Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, cell phone and computer use is common throughout their society, though more removed from the far-reaching predictions of most science fictions. Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars shows a more repressive form of technological use: its outlaw. This “prediction” falls in line with many’s fear of technology, and its power in information distribution. This creates a more bleak vision of our future, where the ruling class can control a population by controlling its technology.

     Though there is great variation in how modern YA dystopian authors foresee the future of computers and personal devices, I believe I can find some sort of trend or at the very least categorize it. Our fears of these new and mysterious personal devices are ingrained in our society, and we can examine and predict those fears through YA dystopia.

    One of the earliest signs of propaganda seen in The Hunger Games is when the mayor of District 12 stands up during the drawing of the tributes. He tells the story of the uprising, referred to as “The Dark Days,” and explains how the Capitol brought “peace and prosperity” thereafter. In the movie, this explanation is accompanied with a video, seen here:

     The Capitol designs this propaganda intelligently, giving it a dual purpose. Not only does it serve to limit the chance of an uprising through brainwashing, it gives the Capitol a justification for The Hunger Games, an important action considering the distaste the games could generate otherwise. Within the propaganda not only lies the bending of information, the Capitol bakes in complete falsehoods as well. When describing the outcome of the war, Mayor Undersee states “Twelve [districts] were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated.” This is revealed to be untrue, in fact the thirteenth lived on in continued resistance unbeknownst to those outside the Capitol. The reason that these lies could be spread is due to the lack of true information. There’s no one capable of refuting their claims, making the propaganda ever so powerful.

     The marketing related to The Hunger Games can be separated into two distinct categories. The first is of the Capitol, showing an idealized, white society; purity manifested into a perfect world. The second shows the districts as equivalents of noble savages with traits related to their respective jobs.

This two-pronged approach satisfies all viewers of The Hunger Games, whether they look highly upon the Capitol as a goal for the future of humanity, or the more natural human and focus on individualism for those supporting the Districts. This sort of equal treatment for both the Capitol and the Districts allowed me to give equal respect for both, as well as giving me the opportunity to look upon District 13 more critically. No one side is perfect, but the flaws of the Districts are more subtle. Without these pieces of propaganda that I would have simply never recognized them. Put simply, it shifts the motif of the book from just rebellion to a choice of idealized society. It is up to the viewer to decide which is better.

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.