A Book Nerd Trip through the Dystopian Genre

I am a big fan of the dystopian genre. Present me with the framework of a post-apocalyptic society and I’m giddy. I was deliciously horrified by 1984 and Brave New World; I identified with the short story Harrison Bergeron; and more recently I savored the Matched series. The Giver made me cry, but then so did The Hunger Games. Actually, they all did. The notion that any culture would obliterate another or attempt to control the very factors that make us unique sounds a little too much like any other eugenic theory floating around within our more recent and very real histories.

The dystopian genre uses futuristic scenarios to remind us of our all-too human tendency to isolate and/or to create factions (Divergent). In other words, the future is already here, and we’re not doing very well at accommodating each other on the only planet we’ll ever call home during our next bunch of lifetimes. There is no “over there” anymore; the world is a plane ride away and filled with people who don’t share the same philosophies we have.

This is an intentional oversimplification of the complex issues we grapple with as members of the global community. I’ll bring it local for a moment. Think high school, the Greek system, your first internship or job, maybe even your present situation. You are faced with trying to fit into an engine that’s already been percolating along without you, thanks very much. Some people seem to fit in no matter where they go, while others figure the social rules out as they go along. Still others behave as though the landscape in which they’re living is mountainous and they’re without climbing gear. Even here in America where we applaud the maverick who goes against The System, we still have our unwritten social rules. We wear pink on Wednesdays, after all (Mean Girls reference — not dystopian, still fits). We still spend an exhausting amount of energy trying to fit in, or from another perspective, trying desperately to stand out.

The most compelling part of Divergent to me is the clinical method of assigning people factions. Veronica Roth does a brilliant job of turning our most basic descriptors of The Self into forced lifestyles. If I were to ask you the first thing (and one thing only) you think of when describing yourself, you would probably answer with one of the five faction categories: honest, intelligent, friendly, caring/self-sacrificing, daring/brave. She then explores what identifying the self in only one way means for humanity. In short, it doesn’t amount to anything very healthy.

I think that we need to have the dystopian societies fall apart in our works of fiction, whatever the medium, because we need to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to change our futures for the better. Instead of some “out there” faction or political agenda, the thing we most need to shape in order to build a more stable future for our progeny is ourselves. I realize time is a funky concept, but I don’t have the mental capacity to imagine a future that I haven’t in part shaped by what I’m doing in the present moment.

For me, that moment evidently involves baking bread with Amity because the first thing I thought of to describe myself was kind. I can envision myself protecting those I love without a second thought, I can definitely tell the truth, and I love learning, so there’s that; but if I were to go through the faction exercise, I’d definitely have made friends with the doggie. Whatever you’d choose, we need each other working and living together, not judging and fighting apart. Now let’s go have some of that bread.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lauren
    Feb 22, 2015 @ 13:45:14

    I’ve recently filled my Instagram with companies and people that raise your faith in humanity. They also make you mentally scream, “Take my money!!!!!!”. You would love http://www.gramr.us
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    Like

    Reply

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