Friday, September 11

Guest Post: What the Dystopian Genre Needs to Address by Maria Ramos

I would all like you to give another warm welcome to my guest here at CRR's!

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.

What the Dystopian Genre Needs to Address

The recent rise in popularity among young adult novels and films that started with the Harry Potter franchise has erupted into a massive market aimed at teenagers. Lately, authors have been preoccupied with placing their young protagonists into dystopian futures, where the government is corrupt and survival is often a brutal, arduous struggle. In the case of the upcoming film The Scorch Trials, the second in James Dashner's Maze Runner saga, a group of teenagers is imprisoned in a desolate and isolated landscape as part of a scientific experiment. So why is it that these stories resonate so much with their target audience?

Stories such as The Hunger Games and Divergent (which are both currently on demand if you have cable) place their characters in a society where the ruling class is unquestionably evil, and the heroes find themselves in a position to subvert the powerful and overthrow a fascist regime for the good of the common people. Adolescents generally view authority in a negative light, and they can identify with the desire to rebel and have an impact on the way their world is shaped. Some of the more perceptive teens who read these novels may recognize parallels to their own world, whether it is in the huge income disparity in modern America, or the way the rich manipulate the media to serve their own ends. And a larger portion of the audience is likely drawn to the budding romances that always seem to be a subplot in these novels.

While these stories do a good job of communicating ideas that most teens recognize and respond to, they neglect to examine issues that would likely be present in an actual dystopian society. Racism, which has been and continues to be a source of conflict in societies everywhere, somehow disappears in these fictional cultures. The casts of the Divergent and The Maze Runner films are completely white except for one select African American character in both. While The Hunger Games does feature some black characters, there is no mention of or allusion to any sort of bigotry or discrimination, or even the slightest hint of cultural differences - except unfortunately, by real-world fans.

Likewise, sexism, another important issue around the world, is completely absent from these stories. The tough-as-nails exteriors of heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior almost seem to preemptively nullify any sexist behavior that might be directed at them, but in worlds filled with vile, unscrupulous people, it's laughable to think that they (or any females around them) wouldn't be looked down on or taken advantage of at some point in their journey. The irony of The Hunger Games' supposed feminist bent is that Katniss actually wins by not playing, avoiding conflict whenever possible, and only killing in self defense.

If dystopian fiction is going to continue to thrive, authors need to expand their worldview beyond politics and hand-to-hand combat. Today's teens are much more thoughtful and perceptive than we often give them credit for, and they deserve stories with more thematic depth and parallels to real world problems. Including these more serious issues would open up awareness and spark discussion that could go a long way towards creating actual change. Most of all, it would introduce shades of gray into what is quickly becoming a repetitive, cookie cutter, black and white struggle of good vs. evil.


Carole Rae said...

Thank you so much for stopping by and giving an excellent post. This has been an issue of mine for this genre. I don't read many and I don't watch many movies in the genre for many reasons. THIS is one reason: the lack of realism.

Blodeuedd said...

Yes, good points. I did read one recently that dealt with sexism, but in the harshest way possible. But hey dystopian future, women were cattle.
Same with racism, so it suddenly went away when the world went to hell?

Anachronist said...

An interesting article and I couldn't agree more with that one sentence:

If dystopian fiction is going to continue to thrive, authors need to expand their worldview beyond politics and hand-to-hand combat.

I would add: very simplistic politics and rather rough hand-to-hand combat. Apart from that empowering your female character is far more difficult than just giving her a gun/a crossbow and some military training. There are plenty of rape cases in the military btw and it speaks volumes about the place and treatment of female soldiers.