Monday, February 15, 2010

The Point of Thinking about Dystopia

One thing I am planning to do very soon with my Creative Writing class is to discuss Dystopian themes in stories and novels.

Teenagers, I've noticed, get a creepy kick out of Dystopian tales. Why is this?

I will venture a guess: the concept of dystopia, of kids needing to fend for themselves in a catastrophically re-ordered world (and this is true for all sorts of hero films and stories, as well--think Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, even Sky High) helps children regain a sense of power and control, of being able to right the wrongs around them.

Every allegorical story gives readers, listeners, viewers that feeling, too, I think.

In the great battle between Good and Evil--a battle which sometimes feels pointless and impossible--how can the good side win?

Sometimes, heroes come from unexpected places (and indeed may be under 18). This also relates the idea of the Underdog. (I've always loved underdogs, and in fact, I used to be very into the old cartoon of Underdog when I was little. It was one of the only cartoons I watched, or got excited about it when I found it on TV--usually, very early in the morning.)

Anyway, back to Dystopia: adults can appreciate this style, too, though it is scary for us, more of a dire warning. Think Cormac McCarthy's The Road--a grisly, frightening novel set in post-apocalyptic America that nonetheless raises many important ideas about love, hope, faith and the purpose of life. Also, more superficially, think about Mad Max or I am Legend.

I actually started thinking about dystopia four years ago when I read an incredible dystopian YA novel: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. This book dealt with a group of kids (related) fending for themselves in a world where some vague political tragedy had thrown Europe into utter disarray.

Could such bad things happen? I don't like to think about it, but seriously--why not? Of course they could.

How will we act in the midst of chaos? I think we basically all know that we'll act pretty badly. There could be looting and much worse; there could be cannibalism.

The thought makes me shudder.

So what do we do about it?

I think we should read dystopian stories and discuss the possible outcomes. We should discuss how to prepare ourselves without getting carried away by paranoia.

We should also discuss the point of dystopia. Is it, perhaps, to help us face our worst fears and formulate a plan of action for ethical behavior before something bad happens?

Is it to show us that we all, in some way, have the power to act for good?

I do not write dystopian YA or any dystopia for that matter, but while on the one hand it scares me, I also can't stop thinking about it after I (finally) put it down.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the crayon story. Reminds me of "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Guess it makes sense.