March 4, 2015 by rachelcmann
There is a style of book that is incredibly popular for young adult writers – that of the “Chosen One.” Our teenager is not-popular and probably only has one parent, but they’re smart and dreamy. One day an attractive member of the opposite sex (usually pretty heteronormative) swoops in and tells them that they are a special, unique snowflake who has a destiny to fulfill. Cue awkward bathing scene where the pubescent chosen one sees the object of their desire in a state of undress. Cue the daring rescue and the moment the chosen one comes into their power. The number of examples of this model are numerous, but the one that’s on my mind is Jupiter Ascending.
Lately, the chosen one has not been in our present day high schools, but in a futuristic dystopia. The Hunger Games and Divergent being the ones that have risen to the cultural forefront. Both feature young women who live in a segmented society, who make a choice that irrevocably change their lives when they go against the expectations of their elders. Giving Katniss a little bit of extra credit, she is already bucking the trend when she volunteers as she is a hunter and provider for her family, but Tris also trains to fight and become a powerful physical force. Both of them win the hearts of the attractive guy (or guys). Both refuse to give up when they are knocked down. Both are unique in a way, Katniss in her iconic role as the Mockingjay and Tris as divergent. They are powerful role models for young women who feel like outsiders and want to be powerful in their own right.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the popularity of dystopian settings for these stories is interesting. You have to be wearing pretty serious blinders to not see that we do not live in a Utopia. The United States has seen an increase in civil unrest following police brutality and a rise in incarceration. The rights of minorities (or lack thereof) are continually pushed to the forefront and battles that we have thought were long since won are proving to be false victories. We are on the precipice of some serious revolution if we’re not careful, and as such, those dystopias with their distant governments overseeing the actions of all it’s citizens and controlling their movements and every aspect of their lives doesn’t seem that farfetched.
One of the problems with Utopia’s is that everyone has a different idea about what would make the perfect community. Some want more regulation and some want none at all. But we all seem to be on the same page when it comes to what we don’t want – strict divisions of labor and personalities. A military state where people are fodder for the elite few. Stormtroopers seem to be on the “No Thanks” list. But isn’t that where we’re headed? Children are encouraged to choose career and hobby paths at a young age, some of them are enrolled in sports and classes before they can read. And if you choose an untraditional path (think anything in the arts sector) you have an incredibly uphill battle in front of you. The pressures to please our parents, peers and patriarchal government are applied in pre-pubescence. (Once I got that alliteration going I couldn’t help myself!)
I think Dystopias appeal to us because we like to be scared. They are modern fairy tales, the ones without happy endings. They’re telling us to not eat the candy house and be truthful to who we are and be wary of strangers and question authority. And if we don’t heed their warnings we could all be doomed.