By Sam Naylor
I’ve always felt an affinity towards the sci-fi and fantasy universe and embracing all of the nerdy stereotypes that are bestowed to Trekkies and Excelsiors alike. The out-of-this-world-experience that mediums such as superhero comics or dystopian literature can offer young people is a form of much needed escapism.
For young adults growing up today, the influx of dystopian fictions like The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner series (to name just a few that have been nabbed by Hollywood) offer young people strong role models during a particularly bewildering transition phase in their lives; from childhood to adulthood. This general sense of empowerment for the next generation is something to be praised and is partly why I feel young dystopic fictions have been on the up. However, the often political and cultural tones that accompany such works of fiction appear to hold a greater scope to view such popularity.
young people are increasingly becoming marginalised and overlooked in our societies
Cue movie suspense music – in a world ruled through fear and discrimination we turn to the next generation for hope of salvation (or something along those dizzying blockbuster lines). Melodrama aside, young people are increasingly becoming marginalised and overlooked in our societies. Universes in which young people take issues into their own hands and rebel against an oppressive regime are going to be attractive if you look feel powerless in a community. The dystopic platform allows for such issues to be exaggerated and detached enough to allow for a level of safety whilst offering parallels and similarities that resonate with readers and viewers.
House of M © Marvel
But are we in danger of using dystopic literature and films as just an escape from real world issues and burying our minds and energies in the plight of District 12 or the Abnegation faction? My first exposure to dystopic settings came whilst reading the House of M series across the Marvel Comics Universe (if you haven’t read it I urge you to enter the alternative reality side to Marvel), though only 11 at the time, it was comic storylines like this that led me to believe that we are capable of making a change in society. Fast forward to my sixteenth birthday and I’m glued to George Orwell’s 1984 with tickets to see the play adaptation secured. It wasn’t my intention to read these dystopic realities as a way of making myself feel better about my own surroundings, instead it empowered me to recognise what can go wrong (and is currently) in a society and learn how to challenge the rigid status quo. Young adult fiction more generally has done a lot to empower girls and young women as central protagonists, though it is lacking in a balanced representation of race and sexuality. This needs to be addressed if it is to resonate with all young people effectively and I think Hollywood has a lot to answer for when casting characters as default-setting-white when one of the beautiful things about young adult fiction is the focus on often trapped individuals or communities from different spectrums.
Hollywood has a lot to answer for when casting characters as default-setting-white
My favourite young fantasy short story was released a few years ago. It’s a pretty captivating plot whereby an out-of-touch government comes to power through the wielding of fear and scapegoating. The young protagonists of the story are students that have been brought up being told that they will be given an equal opportunity to succeed. Skip forward a few years later and their illusion has been shattered with false promises and Cheshire cat sized smirks. The cost of their higher education triples, support grants are scraped, a living wage is brought in which ignores them, they are priced out of housing, and to make sure that the out-of-touch government stays in power they attempt to drop the students from the electoral register and silence their voices for good.
I’ll admit that was a rushed and crude hatchet job, but the points still stand. Though I can’t speak for the rest of my peers, I know that I am drawn ever further into the fantasy world because I feel disillusioned and disenfranchised by the current political climate.
Perhaps students need to rethink the old saying ‘don’t get angry, get organised’ to ‘get organised, then get angry’. Winston Smith was doomed to fail because he didn’t have the ability to communicate and organise with likeminded individuals. In our internet age we are handed the perfect tools to reach out to masses of people in an instant. We can’t become complacent in a country where students are being turned into suspects and racial profiling becomes the norm. It’s time to get organised and get active.