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One article that could contribute greatly to many presentations is “America the Dystopia?” by Jean Card. Card presents the idea that our world is getting closer and closer to one of the many dystopian societies that fiction writers depict today. She describes historical, political, and cultural changes that are gaining momentum, but that will affect our world in a negative manner. She proceeds to detail the government found in many dystopian societies: a large government led by a charismatic leader who relies on martial order and control of natural resources. Continuing on through the article, she breaks down many individual characteristics of dystopias, and indirectly connects them to our own world.
The first idea Card gives the reader is, “Big government and big media are dominating American society and suffocating free speech. Who will rise up?”. If the presenter is of the opinion that America could possibly move toward a dystopian-like existence, then this article examines many of the aspects that support that claim. Card breaks down the way the government and media have taken steps to inhibit truly free speech. She defines the term “political correctness” and talks of how many American citizens feel “muzzled” by the negative reception speaking freely brings. This, she states, is due to the way the centralized media has been grooming the culture. She speaks of every kind of diversity being so embraced that it almost feels enforced. She goes on to give a breakdown of how she believes our government has devolved from the shining ideal our forefathers created it to be.
Technology is another aspect that Card analyzes in our society and then compares to technological usage in fictional dystopias. Technology, she says, in dystopias has made almost magical advancements, and, yet, if we look at the technology we have in our world today, we can see just as “magical” of advancements. The information that can be accessed with our technology typically comes from a centralized source. One of the examples Card gives is as follows, “Facebook has the centralized, massive, unprecedented power to influence the information we consume, almost blithely, on a daily basis,”. The technology and information available to us has become both a blessing and a curse. In all, the article is good food for the thought if nothing else, however, if your own opinion is mirrored in the article, it can be quite a valuable resource.
“By examining the way dystopian novels, in the past and present, reflect a society’s view of their problems and their fears of what these problems could grow to in the future, we can determine what each society values and hopes to preserve; by determining what our society holds valuable, we can trace what the root causes of the threats to these values are and compare them to the root causes of the problems each dystopian novel faces. Going through the major problems faced by the protagonists in Gathering Blue, The Hunger Games, and Little Brother, we will find that each dystopia mirrors problems in our own society, predicts a possible future as the outcome of these problems, and depicts the ideals valued in the society.” My research paper, “Looking into the Dystopian Mirror: Discovering Our Dystopian Selves”, will be covering the problems of dystopian societies and how these problems can be connected to the ones readers face in their own societies. I will also be looking at how the ideals of a society can be derived from these problems.
The three novels I will be using as my examples each contain a specific set of problems which can be traced to problems in our own world. In Gathering Blue, the government has decided to take control of several talented children, and they are attempting to use these children to control the future. The same problem of our government trying to control the future is evident in the real world. The Hunger Games presents the problems of a dictatorship, violence, oppression, slavery, and a large division of wealth. All of which can be found all over the world today. Little Brother touches on the very sensitive issue of government censorship and surveillance. Each issue also holds the flipside of a value lost by the society. By covering each of these topics, I hope to convince my readers that the YA dystopian fiction genre is a reflection of many aspects of our own society.
Why are dystopias so attractive in the world of literature today? I can’t speak for the millions around the world who read them, but for myself, dystopias have drawn me in with their projected futures based on the mirroring of certain aspects of our own world’s brokenness, along with the character development a dystopia requires of its protagonist(s). There are many more reasons than the two above, however, given the subjectiveness of each answer, I will be giving my personal reasonings.
The majority of dystopian societies have strong ties to certain, similar aspects of our own westernized part of the world. Take the 1984 for example, the government is monitoring every citizen and the news broadcasts very biased, or even untrue, information. Sound familiar? The Hunger Games depicts a future that could very easily become our own should similar events take place. Our generation has become desensitized to the kind of violence and lack of morality that would leave past generations aghast, which would make the transition from our current society into a similar dystopian one easier than we might think.
It is said that hard times bring out one’s true nature. This is evident in many of today’s dystopian novels. The protagonist experiences deep, personal challenges and is forced to really discover who they are. The character development in the dystopian genre is one of my favorite’s because of how intense a process it typically is. Take the Divergent series for example – Tris Prior evolves from a reserved, slightly timid 16-year old into a strong young woman who knows what it means to sacrifice for others and have others sacrifice for you. Watching a character shift into someone with more depth, who has experienced hard times and yet still carries on, this is one of the most intriguing aspects of the dystopian genre.
What if we lived in a world where we were told what to think, who to be, and our expectations of the future? In Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” series, this is the role that propaganda plays. Beginning with the reaping day video, which pushes the idea that each of the twelve districts are traitors to the Capitol, we, as outsiders, can see clearly the Capitol places all blame of the rebellion on the districts. This has created feelings of oppression and tension between the two. History is written by the victors, and since the Capitol emerged victorious from the district uprisings, they dictated how the entire society would view the rebellion. The history they wrote consists of the betrayal of the districts, which in turn leads to the creation of the hunger games.
The Hunger Games are in and of themselves a form of propaganda. They convey the message that the Capitol will always win. By forcing each district to sacrifice their children, who symbolize the hope and future of their families in each district, the Capitol reinforces their power.
Another form of propaganda the Capitol uses against the Districts is Caesar Flickerman’s pre-game interview with the contestants. During this time, he gives the Capitol an air of relatibility and humor. He embodies the Capitol and all its people, so when he jokes with the contestants, cries for the contestants, and rejoices with the contestants, the Capitol claims the stance of regret and empathy towards the Districts.
Through their use of propaganda, the Capitol hopes to keep the Districts under its control. They have rewritten history in their favor; they have broken the fighting spirit out of many of the Districts by continually claiming their children for contestants in their game. The Capitol, as many dystopian societies, has used propaganda to further their own agenda and keep the citizens in check with mind games and force.
The idea of a dystopia is an intriguing one – a world that was supposed to be perfect, but has somehow turned out horribly wrong. Why do so many horrible realities start out with such good intentions? I guess the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, has more than a grain of truth to it. We all live in an imperfect world, it cannot be argued otherwise. However, the difference between our imperfect world and a nightmarish dystopia is a simple one: the efforts of good people. Our own world is continually pulled into times of grief, wars with bloodshed, and the loss of innocent lives, but in the midst of all the bad, there are always the efforts of good people. Leaders striving to make a change for the better in the lives of their followers; soldiers fighting for the freedom and safety of their countrymen and women; ordinary, everyday people who believe that life is more than personal gain. In a dystopia, every aspect of society has rotted away into some kind of dehumanizing suppression. There is no “good” so to speak. I believe this is why there is so much attraction to the dystopian genre of YA fiction.
Dystopias have just enough resemblance to our own, broken world that we can relate to the characters, but hold the fascination of a reality that has never truly existed. The Millennial Generation as well as Generation Z have grown up with the ability to reside part-time in different realities than the one real life claims. Unlimited access to internet means unlimited access to the worlds of thousands of tv shows and movies; video games create a virtual reality that gamers love to get lost in for hours. The youth of today have grown up with the expectation of a radically different tomorrow, and considering that many of the popular YA dystopias take place in the future, is it really any surprise that the genre holds a particular interest to us “young folk”?
Within the genre of YA dystopias, there are many combinations with other genres (ex: romance, sci-fi, apocalypse). When a dystopia is given an extra layer, other than the typical, radicalized government control, the story is able to appeal to different audiences. Personally, I enjoy dystopias with a sci-fi theme, but shout out to all my TWD fans, you all probably lean more toward the apocalypse themed dystopia. Combining genres gives writers opportunities to appeal to different audiences, as well as the ability for deeper social commentary.