I recently saw one of my nieces reading the book, Hunger Games. That was the third time I saw her read – the first was Harry Potter and the second was, you guessed right, Twilight. On the other hand, I know several people, a bit older than my niece, who are now reading 1984 or Brave New World. Hunger Games, the movie, set them into reading trips. The said film talks about dystopia or a system gone wrong, also the subject matter of the two novels mentioned.
Dystopia, as a concept, is oftentimes huge and deep. Unless one is an avid reader of science fictions, the concept of a flawed system isn’t always that easy to understand or to digest. For young people, especially. I suppose that to think in terms of systems, particularly social systems, one has to do a lot of abstract thinking – accepting premises, ingesting milieus and familiarizing oneself with the literary nuances and details. I guess the average young adult does not usually bother with such. Certainly, there are far more interesting things to deal with.
The fact that Hunger Games did just that to many young people deserves praise. While one can argue that much of their resolve to read may have something to do with the hype or the desire to conform to peers, still, I give due points to works that are able to bring difficult concepts into the mainstream. To engage the youth to venture further, to learn a little more about the film’s subject, even as it seems to be” hardcore” stuff. Other popular films only set them off to buy souvenir shirts or memorabilia. Hunger Games directed them to read. That isn’t exactly a raw deal.
Before we go further, let me mention a bit about Utopia, the opposite of dystopia. It’s about social systems working at their best, if not perfectly. The concept is not really new to us. The idea of the paradise that was lost to Adam and Eve, belongs to that. So was the Republic of Plato. And yes, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the rendition of the futuristic, perfect society. Still not to be forgotten was Karl Marx’s communist society. These works of literature outline for the reader – the world – the best that human civilization can achieve with a good measure of social engineering.
And even as we may question the premises of these thinkers or philosophers, their ideological frameworks, it should be noted that not all authors have gone through such effort – to envision and to paint the ideal world in a programmatic way, for the humankind. In Literature, those social models are called metanarratives or an all-embracing sytem of written thoughts. Metanarratives have the effect of mobilizing people – governments, movements and organizations – making them act upon the philosophies forwarded therein, working towards the achievement of the visions in the narratives. In short, carefully argued metanarratives often inspire people en masse.
On the other hand, dystopia as a narrative, poses a different perspective. It often questions the prevailing system and the values holding the system intact. It points out the defects of the set-up and endeavors to show the cracks, the weaknesses and what goes on in the inner sanctum of the rule makers of the system. Oftentimes, the style used by the dystopia authors is contrasting the small citizen, the ordinary member, against the all-powerful, seemingly infallible, authorities. Curiously, one common feature of dystopia creations is the remoteness of the central government – the decision-makers – in relation to its territory and people.
Another latent feature of dystopia, as typified in Hunger Games, is the counterposing of modernity and backwardness. Dystopias call the attention of the reader or the viewer, as to the level of civilization humankind has so far attained. In the movie, this is accomplished by showing the main characters living in a pre-industrial mode, thriving and barely surviving through hunting and gathering, with their leisure hours spent strolling and looking over the verdant prairie. Contrast this with the cosmopolitan, sanitized center where foods are abundant, technology is state-of- the-art and leisure could be had in an instant and at its most stylish.
On one hand, there is the advanced segment – composed of those who enjoy the fruits of society’s labor and call the shots over the lives of ordinary citizens. On the other extreme, there is the lagging sector – comprised by those who toil and break their backs and yet, have been starkly left behind. Small, obscure lives suddenly brought to the fore by necessary rituals – to enforce society’s traditions. Dystopias often point out the disparities in the everyday conduct of lives before zooming in to that one moment – when the two far ends would meet and clash – to test the strength of the system and the values that the opposing poles hold dear. And the outcome of that encounter will decide whether the system stays. Or, not… (to be continued) ~~~