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Stercula: Young adult dystopia is subverting satire

BY TYLER STERCULA | AUGUST 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Young-adult fiction has always sought to capitalize on popular fads, from fantastical worlds to vampires and zombies and, now, dystopian fiction.

Dystopian literature historically has provided a medium for some of society’s brightest minds to critique contemporary societal trends by using satirical means. Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel, Brave New World, explores a hypothetical future in which a rigid and calculated class structure dominates society. Huxley deals with consequences of genetic engineering, extremist capitalism, and the misuse of technology. George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in a society rampant with oppression, brainwashing, and public manipulation. These two novels, along with many of their modern counterparts, provide a timeless structure to criticize and draw public attention to alarming trends within society.

Nowadays, the dystopian novel is used primarily as a form of wish fulfillment for young readers. Young adult dystopia rarely features original takes on the subgenre. Instead, young adult dystopian fiction usually offers little in regards to interesting plot or settings and instead focuses more on forced romance subplots. The Hunger Games, arguably directly inspired by the 1999 Japanese novel Battle Royale (in which an authoritarian government forces adolescents to fight to the death in a televised event), panders to the fears and desires of its target audience, such as insecurity.

Because it provides an outlet for these fears and desires to be calmed and satiated, the young adult genre has great profitability.

Young adult fiction is currently dominating the dystopian subgenre of fiction, both in literature and in film. Generally, such fiction is not inherently good or bad. However, current trends indicate these stories will dominate and take over the age-old dystopian subgenre altogether, thus monopolizing the field.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is the top-rated dystopian novel, according to the Goodreads list “Best Dystopian Fiction of All Time.” The Hunger Games and its two sequels (ranked Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, on the same list), along with Divergent, by Veronica Roth and its two sequels (ranked Nos. 2, 9, and 30, respectively) combined have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide.

Both series have made their way into film as well. Together, The Hunger Games and Divergent grossed more than $560 million at the box office. The top-five highest rated dystopian films (according to the averaged scores from Imdb and Rottentomatoes) combined made under $50 million at the box office (all amounts adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Young-adult dystopia’s explosion into popularity will undoubtedly be followed with attempts from other authors to cash in on the trend. Sadly, these attempts will be even shallower than their predecessors and will taint dystopian fiction as a whole. Unless young-adult authors choose a different subgenre to make a fad, the satirical potential of dystopian fiction will be lost, something our society cannot afford. Literature is often used as a tool for the public to spread awareness and commentate on widespread issues.

As consumers, we must be wary what we popularize. By delegitimizing one of the most effective forms of social commentary, we may very well be silencing our ability to do so.


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