Recently, the New York Times posed a totally deep, hard-hitting journalistic question to a group of panelists:
What's behind the dystopian trend in novels for teenagers, and why is there so much demand for it?
Admittedly, these panelists included authors we respect and admire, and many of them wrote thought-provoking responses. HOWEVER. With that said, we have to ask:
1. WHAT KIND OF DUMBASS QUESTION IS THAT?
2. Why were we not asked to participate?!!!
And, ok, 3. YOU CALL YRSELVES A LEADING NEWS SOURCE?
After a multitude* of emails begging us to formulate our own response, we caved in to the public outcry and decided to form our own panel. THE EXPERTS HAVE ENTERED THE BUILDING.
Drink Listen up!
Supply Always Meets Demand
By Jenny, Forever Young Adult contributor, TVD aficionado
I firmly believe that young persons are as observant and complex as us all, and that is why Dystopia, as a genre, has gained such tremendous popularity. If anything, teens feel things with much more raw potency than their adult counterparts, due to the restrictions their age puts upon them. Where we as adults may know deep down that Big Brother is lurking behind the mask of biased news media and rank politicians, we are lulled into passivity with how much we HAVE. And also with alcohol.
The youth, however, do not have comfortable-- if underpaid-- jobs and credit card debt out the wazoo to provide them with their every whim and fancy, at the same time as chaining them to said employment mediocrity so they can afford to pay their minimums. Most teens cannot readily saddle up to the bar to dull their sense of injustice at the world, or into what kind of future our politicians are leading us, and they are not yet caught up in the drudgery of bill-paying. In a sense, the state of the world around them frustrates them more deeply, because they have not even BEGUN to live their own lives yet. They watch their parents/aunts/teachers-- slaves to the system-- do little to change their own status, (much less that of the greater whole) and they have the unclouded minds to question where we, as adults, maybe pour ourselves another and tune into Netflix Instant-Watch.
Either that, or they're really just angry, what with the hormones and all.
It's Their World, We're Just Living In It
By Megan No H, author of nearly a dozen blog posts and reader of all three Hunger Games books
Teens have always liked dystopian literature. This is not the recent trend. It didn't matter who the dystopian novels were marketed toward, teens got their tired little hands on them whenever they could. And maybe this is because teens truly know what it's like to live in a dystopian society. Well, maybe not dystopian but I will be bold and say that The United States of America Is The Greatest False Utopia In Human History! Don't believe me? We shelter ourselves from the rest of the world, numbing our pain with drugs and piles of Stuff, ignoring the global warming and the never ending population growth and depletion of our natural resources. Sure, we think about all this But What Can One Person Do, Really? The older you get, the less dystopian literature effects you. Why? Because when you're an old, you have less time for everything to turn to shit. But teens have 70+ years left on this planet and that is a LOT of time for shit to hit the cray fan! Still don't believe me?
Well then let's come full circle to this "trend". Big capitalist pigs/adults/publishers/THE MAN have caught on to our love of dystopia and they're FEEDING it back to you. Pre-packaging it, spoon-feeding it back to us, with a protagonist who triumphs over evil. Giving us hope. But there is no hope! Hope is just an opiate! Don't let them brainwash you anymore! Put down your copy of The Giver. Burn your copy of Matched! Viva la revolucion!
Dystopia and Apocalypse Popular Because of Personal Awesomeness
By Meghan, esteemed expert on why we at FYA are the greatest
Here at Forever Young Adult, we know trends. Hell, we SET trends (champ can, anyone?). So we saw dystopia coming from miles away, and made sure we were already writing about it, getting reader folks fired up to check out the latest arrivals on the post-apocalyptic shelf. I'd like to think our hard work in the field of YAngelism has played a key role in the interest in dystopian YA lit -- after all, if we hadn't been so awesome in making it sound awesome, who'd be reading it?
Seriously, though, I think my fellow panelists have already nailed why teens are reading dystopia. That liminal stage of adolescence, where you're old enough to understand that things are crap but too young to do much about it, is like iron to the lodestone of dystopia and the post-apocalpyse. And I think one of the reasons we as adults are drawn to YA dyspocalpyse is because we need to be reminded that the world is crap, and to feel the stirrings of the old "fuck the man" in our cirrhotic livers. Like this New Yorker article pointed out ages before the New York Times, YA dyspocalypse is inherently more hopeful than the adult specimen of the breed (unless we're talking Patrick Ness), and teens haven't yet had their optimism ground down by years of working crap jobs to pay for crap apartments and crap cars, and adults turn to it because deep down, we still want to BELIEVE.
A Truth So Basic, Even a Freaking Baby Could Understand It
By Posh, An Expert at Raising One Eyebrow and Looking V. Serious
Rather than words, I've chosen to convey my argument in pictures in order to fully illustrate (HAR!) my point.
I rest my case.
Scientists Discuss New Trend of Humans Breathing Air
By Erin, Expert on Incest and Blondeness
Scientists shocked the world this week by publishing an article on a new trend in human respiration - breathing. It seems that humans have lately taken to inhaling a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and trace amounts of carbon dioxide and then circulating this "air" mixture in their lungs, at which point oxygen is delivered to the circulatory system and the human breathes out a mixture of the above compounds, though with far more carbon dioxide in the exhaled "air". Scientists are baffled as to what has caused this shift in respiration trends and the New York Times is devoting a section of all their news that's fit to print in discussing this startling new revelation.
Oh, wait, what? Humans have been doing this "breathing" thing for pretty much ever? (Ever since Jesus battled the dinosaurs, that is.) It's NOT a new trend? Huh! Maybe I've misunderstood the meaning of the word "trend" for my entire life. It must mean "something that has been happening for a pretty long time, but I guess now the Times has figured it out too."
Look, I think that YA is awesome, OBVS. And I am not a book hipster, who thinks everything good has been done already (so we should loudly complain about that fact on our internet blogs we access through our iPad), but let's not pretend that the current YA scene invented dystopia. Hell, the current YA scene didn't even introduce dystopia to Young Adult fiction. Dystopia and Young Adult fiction go, like, way back. They totally saw each other's Thingies when they were three. Young Adult fiction once married Dystopia in my backyard. The cat made for a delightfully surly ring bearer.
Teenagers and young adults - particularly teens and young adults in cultures which have trapped them in the twilight of wanting, but not necessarily needing, to take care of themselves - have always sought out dystopia in their reading material and probably always will. Dystopia represents all the same rigid conformity and dictatorial oppression that teens experience in their own lives. At every turn, young adults - but teens especially - are told they can't: they can't make adult decisions for their adult body; they can't decide that something (school, religion, diet) isn't working for them and dramatically switch course; they can't make it on their own. And these same rules and regulations are inflicted upon the protagonists of dystopian novels, with one notable exception: at the climax of the dystopian novel, the protagonist can.
So, while I love all the current dystopia that's blanketing the bookshelves of today's YA section, let's give a little shout out to the books that have been burning the dystopian torch for decades: Metropolis, The Time Machine, The Handmaid's Tale, A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, I Am Legend, 1984, Logan's Run, Farenheit 451, The Giver, The Stepford Wives, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and many more books which have fueled the fire, the dreams, the hopes of a century of young adults.
*Fine, ok, there were only two emails.