Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Now?

I think I've pretty much covered the question "Why dystopia?" :)

But there's another question to ask: why now?

Personally, I think it stems all the way back to the acceptance of fantasy among teen readers. I don't know about you, but when I was in high school and college, it was sort of looked down on to read fantasy, especially MG/YA fantasy, which was considered "kids' books." I remember book shopping with my college roomie--she whispered to me, almost like it was a dark, personal secret, that sometimes she liked to read books from over there in the "juvenile" section. I'm not saying people were picked on or reviled for reading fantasy or "kids'" books--but that if you wanted to be "cool," you didn't.

That idea's changed. It started with Harry Potter and progressed through Twilight. Suddenly--overnight, seemingly--it became not only acceptable, but cool to read in the YA section, particularly reading the fantasy and paranormal books. When I told that same college roomie that I'd found Harry Potter and loved it, she playfully poked fun at me reading "kids" books. Not too long ago, she confessed her undying love for Twilight.

So, there's a lack of stigma over reading YA books now that didn't exist before--and specifically YA books that are, at least to some degree, speculative.

But then, why dystopia in particular? Personally, I think this tends to stem from what we're seeing in society today.

Look, it's a scary world out there. There are a lot of things to stress out about, and a lot of things to worry over. And for teens, much of that is outside of their control.

According to the Publishers Weekly article "Apocalypse Now":
Why now? Newspaper headlines about swine flu, terrorism, global warming, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are inspiring authors-and making kids feel uneasy.

Dystopia works exaggerate the future, whether it's a future world of tomorrow or a thousand years from now. And, usually, the main characters are characters who don't control their world. The government or the environment or just plain bad luck controls the situations the protagonist is in. Even so, the protagonist rises above.

It's a classic hero story. And who doesn't want to be the hero?

So, why do you think dystopia is so popular right now?





Picture credit.

20 comments:

Melissa said...

I think you summed it up extremely well. Children are afraid, writers are inspired. All in all, dystopia fiction is simply a reflection of our own world exaggerated that seems to comfort us that we arent so far gone yet.


PS. Reading YA may not be looked down upon anymore but I still feel some judgy eyes when I slowly browse the selection.

Jen said...

You are so wise and nailed several of the reasons why things are more accepting now than what they used to be. I do remember how YA was something that was a sin to touch if you weren't in that age range but now everyone is branching out and looking at books for what the purpose really is... a good read. Teens today are a lot more open about the books they read and don't need those super happy endings, they want to read the difficult pasts of those new characters because they are more relateable.

Theresa Milstein said...

Part of it is trend. Part is escaping during difficult times. I can't really add to your good explanation.

When I was young, the YA section was pathetic. The genre has become so rich. And there are more risks in YA. How can people not read what's out there?

Krista V. said...

Yeah, YA is crazy popular right now, (I just read somewhere that Tyra Banks just sold her first YA novel), but I don't feel too bad about that. There's something about the plotting and characters in YA books that just drags me right in:)

And honestly, I think THE HUNGER GAMES has a lot to do with the popularity of dystopians right now. So many people discovered that one while the series was still on its first book that they had to look elsewhere to get their dystopian fix while waiting for CATCHING FIRE, and now MOCKINGJAY, to come out. Seems like it took Harry Potter and the Twilight series a few years longer to hit their stride. (Although I don't think THE HUNGER GAMES and its sequels have reached quite the same level of success as those other series.)

Elana Johnson said...

I think you nailed it. The hero overcoming impossible odds, usually in a society we find unacceptable or horrifying.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think you said it all, Beth - and said it quite well! I think we always enjoy the hero defeating an unjust world.

Marcia said...

Why now? 911. Environmental concerns. Technology changes at the speed of light. The success of The Hunger Games. The fact there are so many things that America isn't #1 in anymore. 911.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ooh! I was hoping you would talk about this!

Yes, because 911 and terrorism and all the rest. These are the first kids that have grown up with that at the forefront of their thoughts, shaping their worldview.

But I think the "coolness" factor reigns, and not just among kids and teens. After all, much of the YA sales are adults purchasing those books. Some to share with their teens, some borrowing a teen to justify their reading (*snort* that's probably me). So why is it okay now for the adults? Well, it's not really, but people are doing it anyway.

Indigo said...

I think for the very reason's Publisher's Weekly stated. In a world of uncertainties, it's a relief to read books that cover the worst that can happen and see some form of hope. (Hugs)Indigo

Sarah Skilton said...

Really good points! I also think the scariest part is that some dystopian books don't even have to exaggerate that much -- for example "Life As We Knew It" -- so the future shown seems like a plausible offshoot of current problems.

Carolyn V. said...

I agree with what you said. Plus I love the tension, the what ifs and all the guessing of what can happen in a book. It's so cool!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Here's me, pimping your book again. :)

Happy Weekend!

Jemi Fraser said...

Good question. I think dystopia is popular because kids are so much more aware of the real world with every successive generation. There are so many scary aspects in the real world. Dystopian worlds give kids a chance to envision a future - that while scary still allows for hope and for joy.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Your explanation and some of the comments really do an excellent roundup of 'why now.' I will add that the popularity is spawning more and more books, many of them very good, so that the supply is growing. Since I've long loved dystopian, I couldn't be happier. ;)

Lady Glamis said...

Beth, thank you for this post. I think you make some excellent posts in here, and it helps clear up some things in mind about dystopia and why it's so popular right now.

Lisa and Laura said...

I think everyone loves a good hero! And...thank GOD adults reading YA isn't looked down upon. It's pretty much all I read anymore!

PJ Hoover said...

I think it's popular because YA is so popular and people are looking for some trend to be the next big trend. Dystopic has been here all along (Logan's Run anyone?), but it seems the market is so trend driven these days that it fills a niche nicely.

Ronnica said...

I think you summed it up well. I have always enjoyed dystopian, but have especially enjoyed all the many options out today. Fantasy WAS nerdy when I was a kid, but that certainly is not the case now. Dystopian is a natural--but more realistic, usually--extension.

Infertility Goddess said...

My sister makes fun of me that I read YA books and I am 33. She likes the murder mystery. For me I read to escape into another world. I would rather read about fictional "evil" good vs bad stories than murder and rape, things that happen every day.

I fear for my children and the evils they will face as they grow up. Why should I put those gruesome words in my head when I have to see them on news every day?

I also wonder, if wicked people get ideas to do harm to others by watching murder movies and reading murder books.

Anonymous said...

i feel increasingly that our world is heading somewhere i don't feel entirely comfortable with. I read dystopian to get an idea of what the world might be like in the near/distant/possible future. some dystopian novels are actually more obvious descriptions of what's already going on.