Sunday, June 3

Dystopias - Are They Plausible?

There has been quite the boom of dystopian settings in young adult literature and - while I have only read a smattering of them - I have found them to be enjoyable. However, there are a few questions that pop to mind when I read them.

'Could this actually happen?'

Humankind is no stranger to oppression and dictatorship. The quintessential dystopian novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' by George Orwell was inspired by the unnerving possibility that this could be the future. Dystopian fiction today uses that same inkling to get under the reader's skin, draw them in and keep them thinking.

In futuristic America, obsession with faux reality television has escalated to disturbing heights. 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins takes a seemingly harmless fascination we have with watching disasters unfold for our amusement and turns it into something gripping and raw.

In a place that was once Chicago, segregation is turned on its head. While we strive to have our personalities and interests define us over our physicality and background, it is those very things that separate and unite the characters of Veronica Roth's 'Divergent,' beyond and above family bounds and residential roots.

Mike Lancaster startles with '0.4,' when the world changes in the early 21st century and humanity as we define it is questioned. A perturbing look at our growing obsession with and attachment to technology.

It seems that anything that holds uncertain potential can be taken to a brink that makes us cringe or shiver. When dystopia has its foundation in the land of "What if?" it will always be riddled with questions. Of course, questions are in no way bad. They keep the reader interested and attentive.

'How and why did this happen?'

Sometimes this question is addressed, other times it is only touched on. It is a simple one that branches out depending on the setting of the dystopia. When it comes to an American dystopian, I wonder how the nation was brought to such a premise.

'How far into the future do you need to stretch for a country like the United States of America to become a dictatorship? For it to be sealed off from the rest of the world? That no one would come to its aide?'

I used to wonder how the great power of the USA could descend into dystopia without any outside interference. That was until I learned that all it took for the United Nations to neglect the genocide in Rwanda was one word: veto. The United Nations Security Council has fifteen members, five of them permanent - UK, France, USA, Russia, China - while the rest are elected by the General Assembly for two year terms. One of the five permanent members vetoed the decision to help Rwanda and no other country on the security council could challenge it.

Those that have democracy often take it for granted but the world is not a democracy. Of course, the US is one of those five powers, so it brings even more extreme questions to mind when thinking about dystopian settings.

'What happened to American democracy? Did the United Nations sever and how?'

I don't ask these questions because I am skeptical or distrustful of the genre. On the contrary, I am fascinated by it, intrigued to know more. It makes me think and I like literature that makes me want to think.

How do you feel about dystopian fiction?


Smallgood said...

Good questions. Some aspects of dystopian fiction are very plausible in my mind. I think that's the nightmarish scary part. If one idea takes hold (and takes control) of a powerful group or the masses or if the same lie is told convincingly enough times to the right people, then some pretty scary drama can happen (like any of the genocides our world has seen).

R - R A F said...

Noticing only now the line above the comment text-box speaking of "fellow literary enthusiasts", I feel the need of stating that I'm not such a thing, although in some way I'd like to. Long story short, I don't read much.
Speaking of dystopian fiction (which is a very accurate term BTW, in Italy we say "negative utopia", which is nonsense), I've only read Brave New World.
I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it falls under the classical dystopian books.
My present opinion though, about the blog's question, is that a good thing about dystopian fiction is that it speaks a lot to the subconscious, or so I think. I think a side question to the plausibility one could be: "Could this happen in *your* world?" - Meaning that for some people, with some subconscious (or not) principles and traits, some dystopia could be more plausible than others and vice versa. I'm thinking a bit about Haruki Murakami here, and his comment about possible interpretations for his novels. He said something roughly like this: "Every interpretation is right, because it's about the subconscious, and if you find an interpretation that works for you, the objective has been reached: you communicated successfully with your subconscious."
To end the rambling, I think dystopian fiction could very well be divided into plausible and not plausible, an still retain its fundamental traits. The two sub-genes would of course be a little different in their objective: plausible ones spark rational debate, while implausible ones would only spark imagination in the form of a very generic and big "What if?", and an inner question of "Would I see this happen? What could be my place in such an implausible world?" - and more.