Imagine a dystopian society. It’s not hard to do, is it? There are buildings falling down left and right. There aren’t as many people roaming the earth as there used to be. Maybe there’s a strict and oppressive government keeping people in line.
Dystopian novels have been extremely popular recently. According to Scholastic, The Hunger Games, one of the most popular dystopian novels today, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, between 2008 and 2012, for more than 200 consecutive weeks.
Now, imagine a book assigned for a high school English class. Maybe Animal Farm or Tale of Two Cities came to mind, but probably not Divergent right? What if popular dystopian novels were taught in college and high school classes? Dystopian literature provides more than entertainment. They provide powerful political commentaries that can not only stimulate the reading habits, but also the political involvement of adolescents.
In her podcast, Jennifer Luden asserts that teens aren’t reading for pleasure as much as they used to. There are other things in their lives that battle for their time, like homework or the internet.
On top of that, statistics show that many teenagers are uninterested in politics. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported data released by the US Census Bureau, “19.9 percent of 18- to 29-years old cast ballots in the 2014 elections. This was the lowest rate of youth turnout recorded in the CPS in the past forty years”.
Calling adolescents “apolitical” because of these statistics would be jumping the gun a little. The popularity of dystopian novels shows that adolescents are more interested in politics than the statistics imply. These novels actually provide strong political commentaries on today’s society. Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, reflects on today’s self-centered beauty culture. Feed, by M. T. Anderson, provides a reflection on the popularity of social media, constant online connection, and consumer habits.
On his website, M.T. Anderson asserts,
When I was a teenager, I was irritated at the way companies tried to sell me things. I think this is true of a lot of teens. All around us, ads and tv shows and movies are showing us images of the high life, playing on our desire to belong. There’s always that subliminal message seducing us and bullying us: If you just get this, and buy this, and order that, you’ll be cool, and you’ll be loved. See how much fun these kids are having? If you want to be wanted, then you need to want what other people want. And other people – what they want is this. Buy it. Buy it now.
Many critics of popular dystopian novels believe that teenage readers don’t absorb the meanings that the author intends them to. Instead, they read through them quickly and solely for the ride, but that’s why teacher instruction is an important supplement to reading dystopian literature.
Adolescents already like reading dystopian novels. Adding them to a student’s curriculum will make the reading assignments less strenuous and more enjoyable. It would encourage them to read more outside of the assignments.
Furthermore, students can connect the stories of these novels to the current events around them. In “Beyond Sensation: The Hunger Games and Dystopian Critique”, Margaret Godbey asserts, “educators who choose to engage dystopian literature must also be prepared to make the connections between the text and American culture explicit” . Using dystopian novels as educational material could be beneficial so long the educators encourage young adults to connect the fictional events to real-world events.
By pairing dystopian literature with a teacher or professor’s instruction, students will learn how to view society with a critical eye and become more informed and enlightened voters down the road.
Once again, imagine a dystopian society. Still see the crumbling buildings and abandoned streets? That society may be hundreds of years into the future, but what is it saying about society today?