Skip to comments.YA dystopias teach children to submit to the free market, not fight authority
Posted on 08/01/2017 6:45:22 AM PDT by TigerClaws
A "progressive parent" friend of mine was recently expressing enthusiasm over the fact that his children had taken to reading Young Adult dystopian novels. They were dying to see the new feature film adaptation of the book The Giver (see Sarah Palin's review, here), after having ploughed through the quartet of bestselling books by Lois Lowry. They had absorbed the blockbuster film adaptations of Divergent and The Hunger Games and had hungrily consumed the associated merchandise . They'd also made hundreds of new friends from all over the world who "shared" the same passion for dystopian teen icons Katniss, Tris and Jonas through the tens of thousands of Twitter fan accounts.
My friend thought teenage dystopian fiction to be a great improvement on the Harry Potter cult that had been filling children's heads with right-wing dreams of public schools and supernatural powers. He felt that YA dystopias were a good way of teaching kids to "question authority" - these books, after all, had protagonists who exposed the lies of their societies, they were standing up against those in power. Dystopian YA was, he claimed, a great left-wing educational tool. My friend could not have been more wrong.
Twenty years ago he would have been right. He was projecting from his fond memories of the dystopian novels and films of his own childhood, from the free-market-will-bring-hell-on earth period of speculative fiction. This was a tradition which sprang from HG Wells and his engagement with communism (see his discussion with Stalin from 1937) and which filtered into the 1960s through left-engaged authors like Philip K Dick. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (adapted for screen as Blade Runner) saw a post-apocalyptic world in which a massive private global corporation had replaced governments and nations.
Sign up for the Bookmarks email Read more A similar picture of dictatorship - albeit a Christian fundamentalist anti-feminist one - formed the oppressive dystopia in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, while second wave feminist scholars read the cyberpunk movement in fiction through an anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist lens. The science fiction of William Gibson was also championed by the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson. In this period the capitalist dystopia was a respected left wing "cultural strategy" and its dominance endured till around 1993 which, coincidentally or not, was the time of the fall of the old left and the rise of neoliberalism. The dystopian narratives which are currently consuming the minds of millions of teens worldwide are now communicating right-wing ideas.
You might say, wait, they're all about freedom and truth and oppressive societies, but the kind of freedom that's being advocated in The Hunger Games and Divergent is, as Salon magazine recently pointed out, more like "agit-prop for capitalism".
What marks these dystopias out from previous ones is that, almost without exception, the bad guys are not the corporations but the state and those well-meaning liberal leftists who want to make the world a better place. Books such as The Giver, Divergent and the Hunger Games trilogy are, whether intentionally or not, substantial attacks on many of the foundational projects and aims of the left: big government, the welfare state, progress, social planning and equality. They support one of the key ideologies that the left has been battling against for a century: the idea that human nature, rather than nurture, determines how we act and live. These books propose a laissez-faire existence, with heroic individuals who are guided by the innate forces of human nature against evil social planners.
Of course, there is not some secret underground bunker filled with a Bilderberg-group-type-fraternity of neoliberals & neocons dictating what Young Adult authors write and neither is there a conspiracy among right-wing media moguls to implant reactionary messages through the mass media into the minds of the young and impressionable. This is one of those zeitgeist moments where the subconscious of a culture emerges into visibility. We might be giving ourselves right-wing messages because, whether or not we realise it, we have come to accept them as incontestable. This generation of YA dystopian novels is really our neoliberal society dreaming its last nightmares about the threat from communism, socialism and the planned society. We've simplified it to make it a story we can tell to children and in so doing we've calmed the child inside us.
Common to the two trilogies and one quartet above is the same underlying narrative: In each a unique individual who lives in a stable, peaceful, carefully structured society is graced or cursed with extraordinary skills which mark them out from the conformist communities around them. In The Giver this is the psychic power of memory, in Divergent it is genetic divergence from the five factions which make up society and in The Hunger Games it is survival cunning. These unique individuals are then forced to make a choice which places them in conflict with the powers that be. Through this friction the powers are exposed as an all-controlling government that dictates, enforces and polices all social norms and behaviours and which has laid down a rigid structure for the society and the economy through which it operates. As a line from the elite who rule society in The Giver states: "When people have the power to choose, they choose wrong."
Divergent As free as the market the film version of Divergent Yes there is a critique of statism at the heart of these books, but you might say, big deal: every teenager is a rampant individualist, a libertarian. However, the right wing root runs quite a bit deeper into the narrative structures.
In each of these narratives the all-controlling or totalitarian government (which sees itself as a utopian social engineer) has come about after a catastrophe. In Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant the disaster occurred after specialists failed in their attempts to alter DNA for the better; in The Giver it is after unendurable exposure to human suffering that the specialists attempted to construct a perfectly-controlled society and in The Hunger Games it is after a period of mass death and destruction that the same totalising governmental structure is put in place by a well-meaning elite. As the leader in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 announces: "Since the dark days our society has known only peace, ours is an elegant system conceived to nourish and protect".
In the Giver, the evil social structure is something called 'Community' and the genetic nuclear family has been banished (this was once a long term plan of the communists). Men and women have total gender equality in the workplace and the job that the father of protagonist Jonas does is as a "nurturer" he takes care of babies. (You might be able to see the Marxist feminist project here being traced as a burgeoning hell on earth). Children do not know their biological parents and are raised in their first years communally a project originally envisaged by the communist Alexandra Kollontai.
Putting all this together within one genre, it's a huge indictment of the history of the left and a promotion of the right. Which is pretty cunning for a bunch of books for kids.
Not only that but this genre may, in terms of book sales, be the one of the largest markets in the history of publishing, so the message that left-wing utopians are inherently dangerous and potentially evil is hitting a lot of impressionable people. The quantity of books consumed here is staggering. The Hunger Games trilogy netted 36.5m copies, while The Hunger Games movie was the third biggest movie premiere of all time and Catching Fire broke box office records, while the Divergent trilogy held the top first, second and third places in the American bestseller list at the start of 2014 with 10m sales of the first book in the trilogy.
If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the "freedom" expressed in YA dystopian fiction. But let's not worry about it too much, the good thing about laissez-faire capitalism is that things come in waves and pass out of fashion quickly, and already people are saying that YA dystopia is dead..
2. Note the omission of 1984 from the article. That's the prototype dystopian novel. 1984 became a best seller after Trump won and there was a revival on Broadway. Ironic leftists completely miss the point of Orwell's novel. That's about an all-powerful State and controlling language to manipulate the public. Exactly the m.o. of the left.
3. Hulu dragged out the tired HANDMAID'S TALE as its offering for the "Era of Trump." Women forced to be breeders for the male-dominated society. Of course, it went on to be given awards and a second season.
Updating HANDMAID would mean making the oppressive religion Muslim. No way Hulu would ever make that series, but defaming Christianity never goes out of style for leftists.
I explained to my daughter that handmaid’s tale is what it is like for women in Arab countries and has no relation to what goes on here.
Christianity is okay to insult.
Tell the TRUTH about what goes on today in Arab countries and that’s a Hate Crime.
One example of Thought Crime prosecution from the left. A woman in Sweden complained about refugees crapping in the streets on social media and was charged with a crime.
Don’t even question the New Global Order and its followers or you’ll be sent off to re-education camps.
Dystopian novels for kiddies. And to think, my mom gave me The Man Without a Country to read as a child. Sad world.
I would venture that just about any dystopian novel features an oppressive government which is focused on keeping people under its thumb.
The people in our world who want limited government? Who want adherence the Constitution as it was written? The people who value traditional morals? These are not the people who would build the world of The Hunger Games or Divergent.
But Hillary and Obama would.
About the only exception I can think of would be William Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy” (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) in which government plays almost no role and corporations seem to basically run the world. Yes, it’s dystopian. But it’s not a oppressive system that controls people. It’s just chaotic and uncaring.
Yes, but there will never be enough women in leading roles, no matter how many there are. Hunger Games, Divergent, Star Wars,...
Ping for later comment.
So, if you are a leftist parent, you should adopt what what's going on in colleges all over the country...block out all conservative thought from your home, burn these books, make sure Little Johnnie and Suzie conform to correct Marxist thought, and make sure they are never exposed to the concepts of liberty, freedom and God-given rights. You can't start them down the totalitarian nightmare path too early.
One other thought about “oppressive government” —
For the Left, if the government taxes the bejeezus out of everyone, that’s good.
If the government decides who gets what healthcare, that’s good.
If the government tells you what you can do with your business, that’s good.
If the government tells you what you can do with your land, that’s good.
If the government takes your children because you are a Christian, that’s good.
If the government limits access to abortion — well, then we’re dealing with oppressive right-wing extremism, and that kind of Nazi stuff just doesn’t fly around here! Gotta nip it in the bud!
I find this all very interesting. Ever since I read “Hunger Games” I’ve been convinced that it had the potential to be a game changer in the political world.
I read “1984” in high school (not part of the curriculum, but from the library) and it forever after convinced me of the sinister nature of a totalitarian world.
“Hunger Games,” I surmised, would have the same impact upon a large percentage of the young people reading it, not so much on the power of the state to corrupt history and brainwash people, but on the power of the state to suppress individual wants and needs in favor of supporting the state’s needs.
The difference, though, between “1984” and “Hunger Games” is that the latter was far more widely absorbed by young people. “Hunger Games” was actually assigned reading in junior high classes in many (most?) schools in this country or was read widely even if it wasn’t assigned because it became an “in” thing to do.
And then, surprisingly, to me anyway, the movies were relatively faithful to the books, making the same point about the state’s suppression of individuality.
To my mind, that series created a mass millions of young conservatives just waiting in the wings to reach voting age. Many of them now have, and the GOP should figure out a way to reach them, because they’re more than prepared now to accept the message that an overweening government is a threat to their individual lives and aspirations.
In a way, it’s like the Left’s pushing sales of “1984” up after Trump’s election. For some reason, the Left doesn’t understand that both “1984” and “Hunger Games” hold a mirror up to their own liberal belief system, rather than to capitalism and conservatism. All the better, I say.
Canada will now take away kids from the parents if they refuse to let the kids undergo gender reassignment treatment.
The Bible and quoting it has been banned in Canada as well as Hate Speech.
Hate Speech is non speech.
Also Orwellian is the notion of micro aggressions. You don’t believe you’re racist, but, in fact, you are and anything you say might be an aggression against some aggrieved group.
They’re also trying to make speech = physical violence. Tucker Carlson had a guest on last night about this, but the discussion devolved into a senseless debate about something else. What this does is mean “Sure First Amendment for speech but.... Hate Speech is a physical act of violence. Therefore, ANY speech we don’t like = Hate Speech = ban it / criminalize it.”
The Title IX ‘sex crimes’ are also Orwellian. Two drunk college kids have sex. The man is guilty of rape. Because men are always guilty.
Polls show that those under 20 are far more conservative than millennials. Could be these books are waking kids up to the danger of an all-powerful state.
I think that “Brave New World” was the prototype dystopian novel. Huxley invented a world in which everyone was given what they wanted, sex, drugs, guaranteed jobs, et cetera, and the reader could see that it was Hell on earth.
I thought “Looking Backwards” was rather dystopian too, but from the perspective of the point of view character, an upper middle class 19th Cent Boston gentleman, the civilization depicted was quite ideal. The readers, who would be of the same social and economic class, would have thought the same.
All I know is that without Omni magazine and the oftentimes dystopian fiction contained therein I would be a very different person as an adult.
It made me a cynic.
It made me hate totalitarianism.
After watching authority be insulted and rebellion be ‘cool’ for my entire young adult life (to the detriment of everyone) I’m not exactly panicking if now the pendulum is swinging the other way.
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