The Hunger Games is the topic of much conversation. Once again a book that began as a big hit for kids has crossed over to the adult market.
As someone who has written dystopian fiction, this is (theoretically) good news for science fiction writers, but it raises a question in my mind. Is Dystopian Fiction good for children?
For adults, Dystopian stories can serve as cautionary tales. When Orwell wrote 1984, he created a metaphor that makes people aware of the dangers of government and of state propaganda, while ironically enough providing a language through which we can speak of real life dangers to liberty. In that way, Dystopian literature serves a great purpose in society, even with very dark overtones.
What happens when kids get exposed to dystopian storyworlds such as in The Giver, Holes, The Matrix, and now Hunger Games? To me, this raises some troubling thoughts. Adults can understand and process the difference between truth and fiction better. But what about kids?
If we look at the generation of kids in their 20s and 30s and we’ve been exposed to more dystopian material at a younger age than any other in history. We also have wide-spread cynicism about government, a belief in multiple conspiracy theories from 9/11 truthers to the birthers, and many people who instinctively distrust all authority figures. Is this connection? Is this a case of garbage in, garbage out?
Our younger bloggers and media personalities who warn that Christians want to enslave women and destroy civilization speaking the ideas they learned in books like the Handmaid’s Tale? Are people who behave contemptuously towards men and women in uniform doing so, in part, because of dystopian fiction that has the majority of cops and soliders as mindless and soulless defenders of evil regimes?
Even Christian Fiction hasn’t been immune in this point, with end times fiction suggesting that all our efforts are pointless for Jesus is coming back real quick, but first the anti-Christ is going to turn our world into a hellhole and there’s no point doing what’s right.
Of course, some will claim that all stories are just stories, mindless and pointless diversions. That’s bunk, of course, particularly when you’re talking about kids. I’ve lost count of the number of adults I’ve found who said a television show helped them pick their carer. I’ve heard of kids who grew up to become police officers after watching Adam-12 or Dragnet or got into science thanks to Star Trek or Spider-man, we even have a Supreme Court Justice who got into law because of Perry Mason. Don’t tell me that the popular culture has no impact on society. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t bother with writing.
So, I can say safely that the upsurge in Dystopian Fiction is having an impact on our culture? But what is that impact? How should parents address this? And how should writers, particularly Christian writers of dystopian fiction approach their material?