Even before I knew what a dystopia was, I have loved movies and books about them. They are a great backdrop for thrillers that build great characters. Most of them in the past were things that geeks and nerds enjoyed, and yes I count myself among that crowd. The common theme in these movies has been in the building of a utopian society the powers that enforced the rules of the society begin to use the utopian ideals to feed their desire for power. All these stories have one similar idea. That for the utopia to be built the society has to be tightly controlled, and that the people will appreciate the results more than they resent the loss of freedoms. These societies are almost always covertly totalitarian in nature, and their citizens are mostly sheep who avoid thinking of the realities of the society that they live in. To do otherwise would require action on their part.
One of the things that seems universal in these stories is that the children are indoctrinated into the ideals of the society at a very young age. Sometimes they are taken from the parents to be raised by the government at young ages. Other times they are used as spies to report on their parents after daily indoctrination in their schools. The indoctrination continues with continual messages on futuristic video screens throughout the society, and other things sprinkled throughout society. There are rituals of the society that are reminiscent of religious rituals. These rituals not only help indoctrinate, but they help expose those in society who are opening their eyes, because they resist the continuing the rituals.
The fantasy of these stories is that there are heroes that break the dystopia by not going along with it, and are able to hide within the dystopia without being noticed. That is until they are ready to be seen, then they create such a clamor with the people that the dystopia cannot continue to control the lives of the people. A few anarchists can change the world. These anarchists come from one or more of three prototypes. The coming of age teenager who sees the world for the first time with new eyes, and chooses to not go along with the status quot; or the egalitarian in the ruling class who can stand by no longer and watch their peers take advantage of the masses for their own benefit; or the someone from the lowest class who is ignored by society, because they are an artifact the utopia itself creates, and they lead an uprising from the bottom of society.
As a fan, I love the recent excitement surrounding dystopian society stories. As an avid reader, I love that young people are racing to read the stories before the movies come out. The past couple generations have not been avid readers, and it seems that we are raising more readers now than we have since before I was a kid. These stories like “Blade Runner” were on the fringe in the past, and struggled to be successful. The current stories are huge best sellers. My kids love them, and this is something I truly enjoy on my own and can be shared with them. The modern dystopian society story almost exclusively revolves around a coming of age that brings with it an awakening.
Why now do these stories resonate? Why are our youth drawn to stories about broken futuristic societies? Why do these stories have so few adults heroes? Is this how our youth see society? Are the adults so week that our children see no hope in their parents? These questions are important. The stories, the music, the personalities that resonate with our youth tell us a little something of our future. Does this particular class of stories predict a future that we should look forward to, or one we should fear. What part of these stories resonate with our youth.
I believe that these stories resonate with our youth, because they see how broken our society is. They may not be able to put it into words that society is broken, but they feel it. They can sense where things are moving. They don’t have the faith in the past that we have. I grew up in a generation where very few kids experienced divorced parents. The police officer who acted like a jerk had a name and everyone knew it including his peers. The homeless epidemic was filled mostly with men who suffered some form of mental illness. The idea that you could be more successful than your parents was an expectation with hard work. Today our kids nearly all experience divorced parents, or parents who might as well be divorced. The police are to be feared, even when the ones wearing the uniform are not bad people, they tend to view the rest of us as a threat when they are on the job. Our homeless have grown to include men who do not have enough income to pay the court ordered support and take care of themselves, and many of our youth know someone who has had that happen to them. It seems impossible for them to do as well as their parents. This is in part due to their shortsightedness of the years it took to get there, and part is the truth that high paying jobs are shrinking while costs are increasing. They see their parents lose jobs and have to take lower paying equivalents more than anytime before.
Why are there so few adult heroes in these stories? That one has a couple of answers. The first is people love to read and see stories about heroes who are like them. They want to believe that they can be the hero of their own stories. In most past stories with young heroes there is a mentor that will help guide the heroes on their path. Someone who in their own time had been the hero of their own story. These new stories lack that aspect. These young heroes are making their own way. Today’s youth don’t see the adults as being able to change what is going on. Nearly all their parents have either been put under the thumb of the court or have used the power of the court against the other parent. Neither of the parents demonstrates having any power once the government is engaged. Beyond that, we try to pretend that the actions happening through the courts in their lives are just decisions being made by the courts, so neither parent or themselves have any power in the situation. They have professionals asking what they want, and then telling the court to do something else. The feeling of powerlessness has to be incredible. I know as an adult, it is overwhelming.
What our youth see, but we want to ignore is we already live in the beginnings of a dystopian society. The idea that our kids have rights that supersede the parents rights even in what should be considered normal parenting decisions is normal in our legal system. It also considered that though the children’s wishes should be considered, they also are not capable of expressing those wishes, so a government official is going to interpret what they desire for us. This creates a situation where the government is able to impose their will on behalf of children without any real concern of the legalities of the decisions they are making. It has been said that there isn’t anything you can do anymore without breaking a law. If the government wishes to put you to trial, all they have to do is find the laws that you are breaking to do so. It is reasonable to say in our current society, that it is impossible to be a law abiding citizen. The ultimate control a government has is the ability to arrest its citizens anytime it wishes and look like it is still living by the rule of law.
All these stories share the idea that a rebellion is needed, and that these heroes become the leaders of the rebellion. The truth is the world won’t change without a general uprising from the people. One or two people will not lead the charge. The leaders of the world learned after the U.S. Revolutionary war that you have to smash the underground communications. Small uprisings are fine, but a general uprising cannot be allowed. Communist China demonstrated with force when Tiananmen Square was overrun with protesters. The world saw how one man can inspire a political movement to take over the world during World War II. These are all things in our modern world that can be monitored and squashed. The amount of force the government can bring down on its citizens is unprecedented compared to any other time in history. The U.S. fought to keep soldiers from occupying its lands, including its own. As time has continued, we have replaced our police forces to handles domestic law issues with soldiers. We are now living under military occupation of our own governments.
My hope for my kids is that they find in them what we do not have. That they can overcome the inertia that keeps us moving down this road, and change the world. I hope they can escape this dystopia and discover what our founding fathers had dreamed of. I and many I grew up with saw the changes coming, but we thought that we could change the world at the polls. The problem is some were excited for the changes. They thought that the government taking care of us was going to be a blessing, and many still do. We are heading into dark times. My children will suffer more than they already have. Will they be strong enough to find a way to make the world better, or will they just go with the path that has been laid before them.