fear

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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.

It’s interesting how a lot of dystopias thrive on fear. It forms the basis of control for a lot of dystopian governments and is a great way of tying people down in mental chains.

The ruling entity uses fear as a strong tool to make sure no one dares step out of line. The two most important ones while also being highly prevalent are –

  1. Making an example of violators

Most dystopias have some kind of punishment for breaking rules, which is different from our modern day society in that the violators are not given anything even close to a fair trial and are punished at the discretion of the rulers. Moreover, unlike our society, these rules are in no way agreed upon as ‘good’ by the people or for the better of the society. How they might be presented depends for each dystopia but they tend to revolve around the rulers’ motives to keep the people in control. Moreover, these punishments are widely publicized, making sure to carry the clear message that opposition will not be tolerated.

  1. Manipulation of and monopoly over information

This is a sly method for the proliferation of fear but way more effective as it is indirect. Keeping information from people, or giving them false information or making it difficult for them to procure it by banning communication, all work towards the goal of spreading ignorance. When the people making the rules are the only ones providing information, they can manipulate it to always show themselves in favorable light. This also increases the people’s dependence on them and as a result, a general fear is born out of the dread of not getting information in case the rulers are opposed or revolted against.

 

However, fear has its pitfalls. ‘When fear ceases to scare you, it cannot stay. When a certain line is crossed, especially in YA dystopias, to the point where the protagonist has lost so much that nothing scares them anymore, they become fearless and go all out against the people who have done this to them. Thus, fear is a weapon to be exercised with caution and control. Too much of it can tip the bowl the other way!

Propaganda – ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause(1). However, for dystopias, propaganda is so much more. It is the very basis of the stability of the government. A government can only run as long as it can keep a revolution at bay. Most dystopias deal with this in one of two ways – either the installment of a fear so deep that no one dare raise a finger or the creation of a façade so convincing that most people are fooled into believing that they are happy.

The Hunger Games, very cleverly, uses both. The government uses the Games as a ‘reminder’ for the Districts, of the consequences of revolution, while implementing them in a way that has the citizens of the Capitol convinced that they’re doing a big favor to the tributes.

Let’s see how this absolutely brilliant piece of propaganda is executed.

To begin with, the careful choosing of words that tell the history of Panem at the Reaping. It sounds as if Panem acts in the best interests of ‘all’ its citizens. Yet, the veiled threat mentioning the punishment doesn’t escape the people in the districts.

“The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens.”(2)

“…as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.”(2)

Next, acting, right before the Games, as if the tributes aren’t going to be killed in the Arena and what’s more, making an extravagant show of it. Each tribute is assigned a designer to make them look flawless, first in the parade, and then during the interviews, each time convincing the Capitol audience of their ‘generosity’ while having a hearty laugh at the tributes who know better than anyone that all this is just temporary. Here, there runs also a deeper propaganda, wherein the people in the Capitol have been brought up in a way such that they can only form superficial bonds. While Ceaser makes a great show of letting the audience know the tributes, their upbringing helps them easily brush off the death of these people who they supposedly grew attached to!

And lastly, making the victors look flawless for the winner’s interview. All this gives the Games a sense of alternative reality and makes them look way less gruesome as the victors sit in front of the Capitol, as good and healthy as ever.

All in all, the Capitol does a great job of playing this game of veils and deception. However, this game is dangerous and lies on a precarious balance – as can be seen when it comes crashing down, all because of a girl’s decision to eat a few berries with a friend!

Works Cited

  1. “Definition Of PROPAGANDA”. Merriam-webster.com. N. p., 2017. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

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

When rogue artificial intelligence Michael Talis saved the world from war he immediately assumed the burden of convincing the leaders of humanity not only to subjugate their nations to his rule, but also to offer their own beloved children as the collateral that would ensure peace (1-3). For many, this would be a difficult thing to accept, and surely the citizens of the world that empowered Talis could defeat him. Why has there been such resigned acceptance?

City goes boom. It's really not meant to be subtle.

Behold the power of propaganda. The word of Talis is known and studied by the leaders of the world, having been collected in a holy text known as the Utterances (20). His strategy is threefold. First, Talis portrays himself as the savior of the world, and mankind as short-sighted and incompetent: “. . . and of course people started shooting, because that’s what passes for problem-solving among humans. See, guys, this is why you can’t have nice things” (2). He would have us believe we are not fit to care for the earth alone. Then again, Talis is not above that timeless despotic classic, fear. When once a state dared attack a compound where his hostages were housed, Talis removed all trace of their capitol from the earth. “City goes boom . . . It’s really not meant to be subtle” (169). Indeed, Talis himself assures the people of earth that “resistance is futile” (32). This last quote is, of course, not original but is one of his many beloved movie quotes. Indeed, the third arm of rhetoric Talis employs is designed to subtly suggest a sense of humanity. His demeanor and tone are always lighthearted, jocular, reminiscent of a young boy, even when the subject matter is quite heavy. From Greta’s later experiences we know that the AI process information at startling speeds (351-352). We must therefore assume that any humor on the part of Talis is purely affected, that he disarming in more ways than one. Michael Talis, the benevolent, the omnipotent, the charmingly playful. I wouldn’t half mind giving him a chance.

Works Cited:
Bow, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016, New York.
Mihan(AKA)Zed. Metro zagotovka. Wikimedia Commons, 19 Oct. 2008, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metro_zagotovka.jpg.

One of the most meaningful pieces of propaganda in both the book and movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, was the Treaty of Treason. It was orated in the book by the mayor of district 12, but shown in a video in the movie adaptation. However, in both instances the premise of the Treaty was identical, it “gave [the districts] new laws to guarantee peace and, [was their] yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated (Collins 18).

The effectiveness of the propaganda is due to the language and visuals provided by the Treaty. In the book the mayor “lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, [and] the brutal war for what little sustenance remained” (18). In accordance with the book, the video demonstrates visuals of violent war and helpless citizens. Using visual language, makes the Treaty a constant reminder of the terror of the Dark Days and is an effective scare tactic by the Capitol. Reminding the districts of such horrors of war and death creates an environment of fear and vulnerability, which allows the Capitol to control the people of Panem.

The most effective form of propaganda, as taught by my high school economics teacher, is one that provides a solution to the target audience’s problems. One of the examples he would bring up in class was the infamous Lyndon B. Johnson campaign ad featuring a little girl and an atomic bomb. The video is very similar to the Treaty of Treason video as each video utilizes children and the thought of war. Scare tactics are effective, but only when a solution or an “out” is provided to the viewer. In order to avoid nuclear war, the public was instructed to vote for President Johnson in the upcoming election cycle. In the same manner to avoid another Dark Days, “each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate [in the Hunger Games]” (18). As voting for President Johnson would provide a sense of hope for the people of Panem, there would be one victor of the Games. Using persuasive language and emotional stimulators, the Treaty of Treason is a very effective means of control for the Capitol.

Works Cited:

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