This is the music from the very dystopic film Mad Max. Apart from being one of the few songs I liked in what was a really crappy decade for pop music, it is a little disturbing too. The way I understand the lyrics it’s about people that need a hero, but they are also afraid of another disappointment. I don’t know how American feel about this, but I have a feeling that Obama was many people’s last hope. All other politicians had failed them, but Obama gave them new hope with his Change we can believe in. He didn’t turn out to be a hero.
My previous post, I’m worried, had a very wide topic. I had some initial thoughts about answering why dystopian literature fascinates so many people today, especially the young ones. I didn’t really do that. Heather of Where Grace Abounds asked me if I had an opinion about why so many young people are drawn to the dystopian theme. That puzzles med too, and I suspect that my answer is going to be vague, but I have some ideas.
As I mentioned in I’m worried, this isn’t a new theme. Thomas More coined the word utopia in 1516 and Jonathan Swift published Gullver’s Travels a couple of centuries later. You could even see the Garden of Eden in Genesis as a utopian world that the humans made a mess of.
Why does this fascinate young minds? The explanation could of course be very simple. This is very exciting and good drama. There seems to have been an explosion of good writing for children and young adults the last couple of decades with authors like J.K. Rowling, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Grant, Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins etc. I’ve never been fascinated by Vampires, but I believe novels like The Twilight Saga is also a part of this trend.
These books follow roughly the same pattern as the old fairy tales. The hero is usually someone insignificant, the last person you’d expect would amount to anything, often a child. This child grows up, grows stronger and eventually wins the final battle. That is of course what we all want in our own lives, and most people can relate to this. On one hand, this fascination could just mean that dystopia is the fairy tales of our times, but I think there’s also something more sinister.
The standard explanation seems to be that these books are popular because they reflect the life or the understanding of life most kids have today. If that’s true these kids see their lives as being chaotic. That might be an exaggeration, but it does seem to me that life to many kids (at home, in school and society in general) is more uncertain and unpredictable than ever.
Merriam Webster defines escapism as “an activity or form of entertainment that allows people to forget about the real problems of life.” It used to be that escapism was more about forgetting about a boring life, but maybe it’s just as much about not dealing with life. I used to be a teacher in a rural community, and one of the challenges I faced there was getting kids to see that they needed education. I remember especially a boy in 6th grade that had skills, but he spent all his effort not using them. He played games like Call of Duty and according to his mother, her son even got up early in the morning so he could play for at least an hour before school. I had several pupils that didn’t see the point in education because they were going to get jobs through practical skills like their father had done. That was possible a generation ago if you had some practical skills. That option seems to be gone, but as they didn’t have any interest in practical work either, it probably wouldn’t have done them any good. I came across the same when I worked in trade school, and I wasn’t able to help them. I guess I never understood what was going on because nothing seemed to work. Granted, I find it difficult to communicate and that’s why I gave up teaching (and because of some health problems).
What I like about many of these books is that they provide hope (there are some that don’t, but I don’t like those books). I think that is the intention or message many of the authors want to get across, but is it working? This may seem like a time when the idea of individualism is strong. Young people don’t want anyone telling them what or who they ought to be, which is exactly how the protagonists in dystopian literature feel. In reality I think many find that this is getting harder. I have written quite a bit about the Norwegian Child Welfare Service, and one of the biggest threats to families seem to be being different. I wrote a post about A 4-families a while back. This is a popular term for a standard/inside the box-thinking in the Norwegian language. If you want an alternative lifestyle you are walking a fine line.
I believe many are worried about the world they are growing up in, the world they inherit from the previous generation. They are facing problems they didn’t create, such as climate change, war, absolutely no job security. To be honest, this is a situation that calls for a revolution, but that is also a scary prospect. If someone comes along and says all the right words, the ones most of us want to hear, we could get something worse.
It was words that got Obama elected. He isn’t doing much publicly, but there is some concern that he has expanded his executive powers. This article from Center for Effective Government offers a different perspective from that of the Republicans. Nevertheless, there is some uncertainty lurking in the background. There are some that believe that the West has created many of the major Muslim terrorist groups. The most popular opinion seems to be to give the USA all the blame, and I believe they are in the driving seat, but I’m not sure they are acting alone. I’d like to include the West (I think NATO is supposed to be a defence alliance), along with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and probably some other Arab countries.
I wish I had the answer. If I did I would probably have been more successful as a teacher, but I think we need a major wake up call. We need a hero. He may not look the part, but he’s coming. When that day arrives I hope we can see the difference.
There are some books that I keep coming back to, and I’m probably going to read them many more times before I die. I’m ending with a quote from one of them, The Lord of the Rings:
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”