Monday, March 19, 2012

What a World

By Kathleen Bradean

I sense we're tackling this subject as the movie version of the Hunger Games is being released soon.

I bought the first book of the Hunger Games and read the first chapter. Then I set it aside. I probably will go back to it since everyone else in the house loved it.

Lately, dystopian futures have been big. I can see why. The future looks grim. We're wiping out honey bees with pesticides meant to increase crop production when bees are the primary fertilizer of those crops. We've vastly overpopulated the earth. There's a raft of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean bigger than Rhode Island. The United States is in the grip of an ideological war that could make us a third world country in a generation through the destruction of our education system. And between our prison population and people forced to food stamps to avoid starvation, what's there to look forward to?

Dystopias present a world of extreme deprivation (in the Western World view of things, because Darfur is real and it's terrible beyond imagination but no one ever writes anything that bleak because no one wants to have to look at that reality, despite the fact that it is well within the abilities of the world community to change everything there. But that's a different rant.) But dystopias aren't unrelentingly bad or no one could stand to read them. Is the Hunger Games that much different from Stephen King's The Running Man? Or Logan's Run? Or The Handmaid's Tale? I don't know because I haven't seen the story through to the finish, but I suspect that the main character eventually incites the masses to turn on the ruling class through personal sacrifice. The triumph of the individual over the system is a common theme in US stories. I wonder if in societies that value community over the individual if it's always the cooperation of the many that results in positive change. And that's what dystopias are about, strangely enough. They're about hope.


  1. Hi, Kathleen,

    I'd never heard of THE HUNGER GAMES until they started running the movie trailer here. Looks interesting (but then so did A DANGEROUS METHOD, about Freud and Jung, and it turned out to be awful).

    I don't know whether the individual is always the escape from a dystopia, even in western fiction. As I recall, FARENHEIT 451 ends with a group of resisters pooling their resources.

    I actually have no idea whether the dystopic tradition even exists in non-western cultures. Anyone have any data on this?

  2. There was a time when I loved dystopian fiction. Now, I come to it from the persepctive that there is some Really Bad Shit in the world and do I really want to read fiction that reinforces the negative about humanity. (And yes, I do agree that dystopian fiction has to be about hope, otherwise it would be too grim--and perhaps too realistic-- to read at all.) I posted a question on Facebook about Hunger Games-- should I read it-- and got an overwhelmingly positive response about how good the books are. So perhaps I'll read it.

    Oh, and you mentioned one of my favorites-- Logan's Run.

  3. Kristina - I feel every book Thomas Hardy wrote is about a personal dystopia - only it never gets better. It goes from horrible to worse until I want to slit my wrists. A grand tragedy where a character is the author of their own downfall is fine, but not just a slog through misery to find out that the end is cold rain and knee-high muck for everyone for all eternity.


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