All posts by Tien-Sheng Wang

YA Dystopian novels don’t teach you how to live in a dystopia.

One thing that aggravates me most about YA dystopian novels is the amount of angst and edginess. It makes sense, however, since the novels are written for a young audience…
After reading a few dystopian novels from this class, I started paying more attention to what these books, and what popular media teaches it’s audience. In this blog, I want to discuss how YA dystopian novels teach teenagers the wrong values. I will be looking The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to exemplify a typical popular YA dystopian novel.

I am the main character.
YA dystopian novels are reflective of teenage fears regarding our society and our own lives. The fears come with feelings of being misunderstood as a teenager. As we grow and experience new emotions and new problems, we believe that no one else shares the same struggles, so we believe that we are misunderstood. These characteristics of being alone, misunderstood, and different is what forms the main character of most dystopian novels. We feel like we are the protagonist in our own lives.

The truth is, there are no antagonists or protagonists in this world: just people. Though we may be the main characters in our own lives, we shouldn’t always be so focused on our own struggles. Of course, America was designed to be a country that promotes individualism, however we shouldn’t forget that everyone has their own struggles, have similar life experiences, and interact/work together. When we recognize the entire world and realize that you are not only the main character of a single story, but a also a character in 8 billion other stories, we might become more aware of our true purpose and role in this world.

The world is against me.

In The Hunger Games, we see a world filled with violence. In the Arena, you have to fight, to put on a good show, and to kill in order to reap your rewards. If you don’t, you die. The world is against you (because you are misunderstood). The Hunger Games also teaches that your freedom and long term happiness comes from a romantic relationship. Much of the plot revolves around Katniss’s interaction with Peeta.

In my opinion, I believe that the world is not against us. The world works simple whatever way the world works, regardless if it’s in your favor or not. Our government does not intentionally want to make it’s people suffer. Your liberty and long term happiness also does not have to come from a successful romantic relationship. If you take a look down below at the video I posted, it discusses more about happiness, and how your environment will always work against you. The world isn’t necessarily against you, it’s just the way it is. Your happiness does not depend on what you do and do not possess.

The hero is chosen.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss has to volunteer as tribute in order to save her little sister. She doesn’t have much choice but to become the Hero. Peeta is also chosen. In a dystopian novel, the hero is often chosen, or becomes a hero due to a stroke of good or bad luck. What this teaches us is that regular folk can’t do anything unless they are called upon.

In reality, there is no guarantee that someone will ever be called upon to change their social environments. If you continue to play the victim due to your environments, you will only continue to be the victim. A hero doesn’t have to be chosen: a hero only needs to take initiative.


In conclusion, I don’t believe that dystopian novels teach great values for maturing teenagers. There are probably healthier messages that a dystopian novel could convey.

My ideas stemmed from this book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. It’s a self-help book that teaches about how much the environment can affect your behavior. In the video below, Marshall explains that happiness doesn’t come from achievement: that’s called a TV commercial. Happiness is a process, not a result. Many of the messages conveyed in dystopian novels go against what Marshall tries to make his audience understand.

Here is the link to my vlog:

Also, the original source is from here:

“is the technology in dystopian fiction merely an instrument in the hands of the state’s totalitarian rulers, used by them to enforce a set of values extrinsic to the technology itself, or is it, rather, an autonomous force that determines the values and thus shapes the society in its own image, a force to which even the putative rulers—the Well-Doers and Big Brothers and World Controllers—are subservient?”

In class, when were were learning about panoptical security and their applications in dystopias, we went over Foucault’s theory of the “plague town”. This was a town where the plague was present, so everyone had to be monitored very closely so that no one would die. In this setting, the town was a model of a dystopian society. For my research on how our present technology is capable to form dystopia, I wanted more background on technology involved with surveillance. I first had to understand what the definition of surveillance was. I found a source from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which focused on public health surveillance. “The Evolution of Surveillance” by William Halperin is a short article about the current state of health surveillance, and the capabilities that the health community wishes to have.

A brief summary

In the 1970s with the passage of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), health was only surveilled in the country through physician reporting. Today, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), and other entities, surveillance has evolved.

You’re being surveilled when you go to the doctor!

William talks about the origins of health surveillance, which began when a surveillance system design by Bill Foege eradicated the last clusters of smallpox. Today, health surveillance also involves preventing diseases rather than just controlling spread, injuries, disease hazards, interventions for preventing disease, and more. Basically, health surveillance has become more powerful.

For example, OSHA tests for blood lead on behest of physicians looking for patients. Even though there’s no present rationale behind the data collection, OSHA is still collecting the information. The health community continues to look to improve their data collection methods and strategies to make the “neurological system of public health” as vigilant as possible

At the airport in Hong Kong, you must pass health checkpoints.

Organization and Rhetorical Strategies

This article starts by talking of the origins and definition of public health surveillance. Giving the reader some background helps with understanding. It then summarizes how the surveillance has evolved over time, examples of it, and what is to come in the future. It mainly uses logos and ethos throughout the journal, as it is a health journal.

Key terms and theories, and why they are important

The key ideas that I got from this article were that surveillance is “the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health related data with the a priori purpose of preventing or controlling disease or injury, or of identifying unusual events of public health importance.”

In a dystopian society, crime, any disobedience, is considered and treated like a disease. It’s shunned, undesirable, and we try to get rid of it. When William talks about a Neurological System, he’s talking about a sort of autonomous intelligent system that manages itself. Any system, given a feedback loop, can sustain itself. Surveillance is a method for a feedback loop so the public can remain healthy. A key defining feature of a utopian or a dystopian society is that the state stays the same. Therefore, surveillance is crucial in a dystopian society, as it allows a state to remain static.

In this article, William talks about how surveillance is evolving. We collect data even if we aren’t sure of it’s rationale, but we collect it just in case the data becomes useful. He says,

“Surveillance in practice is an evolving quilt or tapestry of many methods of data collection,“

To increase surveillance, you just need to collect more data. William warns however that “collection of data without analysis or use is not surveillance.” This provoked me and made me think about what surveillance in our present society use actually surveillance, or just unnecessary extra data collection.

Halperin, William. “The Evolution of Surveillance.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, vol. 56, no. 6, June 2013, pp. 613–614. EBSCO, doi:10.1002/ajim.22193. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.

After reading a few dystopian novels, I noticed the obvious and prominent presence of technology. Technology is a powerful tool which can be used in many ways. In the cases of these novels, it’s used usually for panoptical surveillance (such as in After) or for counterattacking such surveillance (such as in Little Brother). I wanted to look more into this recurring theme and study its role in dystopian societies throughout time. This involves looking at imagined technology from the past, present technology, possible desecration of present technology, and future possible technology. Looking through different ages and examining the existing an imagined technology available helps us extrapolate future. That’s one purpose of dystopian novels; to help us work towards a better present in the future.

One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury, because of his imagination for beautiful [and sometimes terrifying] machines. One of his most well-known novels is Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. During that post-war period, simple technology like TV, radio, and telephones existed. Though simple compared to today’s technology, the people imagined aliens feared nuclear powered devices. In 451, Bradbury imagined air propelled trains (monorails), seashell radio (music players), the green bullet (earpieces), and the mechanical hound (land drones). His views were that in the future, technology would be powerful enough to make our life so easy and lazy, but also powerful enough to dictate us.

Other dystopian novels that are set in the present also show how current technology can be used for surveillance purposes. For example in Francine Prose’s After, metal detectors, urine tests, email, cameras, and prisons were not new technology, however they were implemented in a new environment: a school. The novel showed an example of how present technology can easily be configured together to create a dystopian environment.

The contrast also exists. In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the Department of Homeland Security turns existing infrastructure into a tool to track all the citizens in San Francisco. RFID chips in books, FasTrak Cards, toll passes, computer bugs, internet monitors, and security cameras are turned into eyes for panoptical security. The one twist to this is that Marcus also uses technology to deter surveillance.

Though not necessarily implemented everywhere or to its full potential, our current technology is perfect infrastructure for panoptical security. I’m interested in studying the developement of technology and its uses. This involves looking at old dreams, present realities, present nightmares, and future possibilities.


Works Cited
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Stuttgart, Klett Sprachen, 2016.
“Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Science Fiction Inventions, Technology and Ideas.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Science Fiction Inventions, Technology and Ideas, Technovelgy LLC, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.
Prose, Francine. After. New York, HarperCollins, 2004.

Propaganda is an interesting tool. Like paved road strongly implies where to drive, propaganda is media that strongly implies what to think. It is used to direct people to believe a biased idea or point of view. Often time, propaganda is seen as lies.

I’m currently reading a YA Dystopian novel titled “After” by Francine Prose. The book is based around the fact that school policies at Central High have dramatically changed after shootings at a nearby school, Pleasant Valley. The administration of the school suddenly and quite swiftly set up new security measures around the school to “ensure the safety” of the students. These measures include metal detectors, bag checks, banning the color red, banning any talk of harming others, etc. Any violators of the rules are sent to “Operation Turnaround”, behavior correction camps.

The book seems heavily influenced by questionable “security” measures that our government has taken due to attacks that are close to home, but not close enough to call for certain measures. The way the protagonist Tom describes going to school is “going through airport security, but every day”.

These measures however are justified in the school and town by the following:

  • The killings at Pleasant Valley are upsetting and tragic for us all
  • Illegal drugs were involved in the shootings at Pleasant Valley
  • Central High will have a happy and peaceful future
  • It’s for our own safety and protection

And more to come… (I haven’t finished the book)
The reasons listed do indeed justify concern and perhaps action, but do not totally warrant the extensive measures that Central High is imposing. I think that is a major characteristic about propaganda; it is contrived and stretched out thin to mask actual motives. Propaganda sometimes is a lie that is created to turn that lie into a truth.

Specifically, I want to focus on how Central High plays the proximity and tragedy cards often in any of their propaganda. The administration incessantly reminds the students how close Pleasant Valley was to Central High, and how the tragedy affects everyone dramatically, not just Pleasant Valley. Though it may be true that the shootings were nearby and a disappointing thing to happen, it did not call for the color red to be banned, or drug tests to be performed every practice.

Francine Prose reminded me with this story to be aware of the propaganda that affects us in our modern world. Safety is always a priority, but we have to gauge whether or not we want our privacy, rights, and freedoms to come before safety.

Coming into this class, I have a very crude understanding of dystopian novels. An environment or society is dystopian if it compromises morals for logic and efficiency.

I believe that the scary thing about a dystopia is how natural and logical it can be. Sometimes when reading a (very well thought out) dystopian novel, I find it hard to argue with their way of life or finding flaws in their system. In the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, it states that utopias “encourage the reader to work towards a [better society]”. While a dystopia like a negative version of a utopia, I believe that dystopia tries to accomplish the same objective.

One of my favorite science-fiction authors, Ray Bradbury, wrote Fahrenheit 451, which is commonly attributed to be a dystopian novel. I believe that combining dystopia with another genre does not affect it being a dystopia. The CCUL says “there is little disagreement today about the boundaries and characteristics of [utopia]”. I believe that any dystopia can follow it’s definition very well, because the definition is very general and flexible. Adding science-fiction, romance, or apocalypse to a novel is just like adding another flavor; adding milk or sugar to coffee does not make it a new drink.

If adding different themes or genres to a dystopian novel did change it’s classification, dystopia as a genre would have disappeared long ago. Throughout time, dystopia (which came from utopia) has had many different themes and other genres combined with it to adapt to audiences and time periods. That’s how the genre is still alive today.

Combining Young Adult literature (YA) to a dystopia also does not change the genre. “Young Adult” only came out recently, if you read the article “From Insider to Outsider: The Evolution of Young Adult Literature” by  Michael Cart.  The essay explains the “youthening” of protagonists in dystopian novels. This along with the addition of other adolescent themes makes the novel more appealing to a younger audience, however, does not change that it’s a dystopian novel.


Works Cited

Cart, Michael. “From Insider to Outsider: The Evolution of Young Adult Literature.” Voices from the Middle, Volume 9 Number 2. Ed. Michael Cart. National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. Print.

Claeys, Gregory. “Utopia, dystopia and science fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Ed. Gregory Claeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 135-153. Print.