Abstract: The past decade has seen a surge in popularity of dystopian fiction geared towards young adults. This brings forth the question of why the ideas of rebellion, revolution, and Marxist frameworks have quickly made a space for themselves in adolescent and young adult audiences, and in what way do they affect those that consume this media. Utilizing Foucault’s ideas on power/knowledge discourse, and the panopticon, to study three fictional universes – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Darkest Minds – as well as a universal reader response, this paper analyses the parallels to the real world that may exist in these works of fiction that create a sense of empathy and identity between consumers and the protagonists. In doing so, the paper articulates what ideas occupy centre stage in the minds of young adult readers’ ideas of entertainment, and whether these ideas are seen as crucial lessons to be learnt by today’s youth. The result is a discursive analysis of cult young adult dystopian texts and the importance of knowledge, protest, social activism, and representation, which the readers absorb from them.
Keywords: Dystopian fiction, Young adult fiction, popular fiction, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Darkest Minds.
Dystopian fiction is not a recent genre of writing, neither is young adult fiction. Yet, in the past decade, there has been a rise in popularity of dystopian fiction geared towards young adults. Whether it is a series that incorporates element of dystopia in its universe (such as the latter books in the Harry Potter series), or series that are entirely centred on dystopian worlds in alternate universes (such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and The Darkest Minds) it cannot be denied that there has been a general agreement on not only the mass attraction to these literary and political themes, but also a sense of camaraderie felt among the cult sections of these worldwide ‘fandoms’ (fan domains).
This sense of immense support for the protagonists of these series bring to mind the question of why these universes attract audiences – the literary style (or perhaps the cinematography, for those who prefer the movie adaptations), the uniqueness of plotlines (an immense task for those writing in a genre that already has certain parameters set in place), the often inevitable romantic story arc, or is it something deeper and socio-politically centred?
A major chunk of the works that have been parts of this literary surge are ones depicting totalitarian states, and the efforts of suppressed groups to overthrow such a rule. These books typically have plotlines that show discourse utilized by the state to keep people in check, until the protagonist (and their friends and allies) tries to find a way to overthrow that kind of rule.
While the protagonists are usually suppressed due to reasons unique to that universe, the discourse used to enforce them are often paralleled to sexist, racist, classist, and ableist discourse prevalent in our world today. In order to gain a broader understanding of the overarching discourse depicted in this genre, this study looks at three different universes – The Hunger Games, which is set in a futuristic version of the North American continent; The Darkest Minds, which is set in an alternative but twenty first century version of the United States of America; and Harry Potter, which is set in a completely different, magical universe during late 90s Britain.
What stands out in all the series and themes is the reception by young adult audiences that state how they empathize with such societies, with the protagonists, and see them as a reflection of what our future might someday become. The research will be aimed at focusing on what parallels these books try to use to send across a message, and how the themes are received by the young adult audiences; whether these texts simply capture their imaginations, or are they aware of these metaphors and are inspired by them?
The study will, thus, aim to understand what political structures contemporary young adult fiction uses to create a dystopian society, and how these structures are influenced by real examples from history, as well as current socio-political structures. The study will also focus on how audiences similar in age to the protagonists react to and/or identify the underlying tropes in these texts, and the reasons behind them identifying or not identifying with them.
In doing so, the study will try to uncover the significance behind these textual themes, and the two-way influence they have had on the millennial generation, and vice versa. It is important to demarcate this consumption by the millennial generation in particular, given the youth activism that is largely supported by the very same consumers of these texts. Quoting Naomi Klein in his book After Utopia: Modernity, Socialism, and the Postcolony, Aditya Nigam states that:
In this [post – September 11, 2001] globalized context, the victories of identity politics have amounted to re-arranging the furniture while the house burned down […] – but whatever cultural enlightenment has followed has not prevented the population in the underclass from exploding or homelessness from reaching crisis- levels in many North American urban centres. (qtd. in Nigam 41)
It is important to note that Nigam is talking about the global fall of socialism, and the launch of postcolonialism from a niche reference to the past into a full-scale battle that “violently exploded in the present of the First World.” (Nigam 41). He then moves on to talk about the outbreak of protest across nations, starting from the mid-90s till present day. Taking into account various recent forms of social activism, it is hard to ignore the active involvement of both the youth and the social media in mobilizing opposition against a system that is considered oppressive. Then the conclusion, that such an audience would largely associate itself with fictional representations
of similar movements, is a plausible one to draw. However, before understanding why an audience will identify with an oppressed group, it is important to understand what the primary texts depict.
In the primary texts analysed, oppression plays a key role in understanding the society of that fictional universe. Though overlapping and consisting of various forms, it is often linked to one common structure of creating said oppression. This common structure is what Michel Foucault calls discourse, or more specifically, a power/knowledge structure – not a binary, but an interwoven phenomenon where it is difficult to discern whether the discourse is the text created, or the text is created as a product of discourse. According to him, this kind of power is everywhere, inescapable, and leads to a hierarchy that everyone becomes a part of. Moreover, the decision behind how these texts and discourse is created is entirely in the hand of the governing body (the top tier of the hierarchy), the one with institutionalized power.
The magical world of Harry Potter is shown to rest heavily on an unspoken hierarchal structure that puts ‘purebloods’ (wizards with a purely magical ancestry) on a higher value scale in comparison to ‘half-bloods’ (wizards with mixed magical and non-magical ancestry). Consequently, half-wizard creatures (such as werewolves and vampires), non-human magical creatures (such as elves, goblins, centaurs, mermaids, trolls), and ‘muggle-borns’ (wizards with non-magical ancestry) occupy the lowest rungs of society.
At the same time, the origins of such classification are never fully addressed within the boundaries of the seven books. Although there is a mention of conflict with non-magical humans (also known as ‘Muggles’), it is unclear as to why there exists a stigma attached to having non- magical relatives or ancestry (even a non-magical human born to a human family is considered lowly, or somebody that needs to be ‘fixed’ or ostracized). The first identifiable beginning of a
specific racist structure in the books can be dated to the birth of the antagonist himself, Lord Voldemort, born as Tom Marvolo Riddle. His own mixed ancestry (a pureblood witch for a mother, and a Muggle father) led him to resent non-magical humans, leading to an internalized racism that he projected onto the rest of the magical world. Given that prejudice in the magical community at the time (1920s-30s British Isles) was restricted to elite pureblood circles and towards most non- human creatures, Riddle played on these hotbeds of prejudice to mobilize support, increase his own powers, and to set into place an institutionalized structure of racism.
The racism in Harry Potter has become a product of a sense of elitism that pureblood wizards possess (some fans have theorized the possibility of a human versus wizard war where humans won, sometime during the witch trials). But the institutionalization of prejudice was not apparent until the 1800s. It was only after Lord Voldemort’s movements that racism was established as an institution. Voldemort and his supporters (Death Eaters) take over the government and the school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In doing so, they trickle information that is dressed as educational reform in order to compel the general public to change ideology – this includes, but is not limited to, rewriting textbooks, posting government officials as teachers, creating inquisitional groups within and outside the school (with the license to detain). As more and more Death Eaters infiltrate the socio-political structure, stricter actions are taken against muggle born wizards. Ultimately, in the final book, the structure is bad enough for most muggleborns to drop out of school and go into hiding. The punishment of being a muggle-born (or ‘mudblood’, which is a racial slur in this universe) can range anywhere from police brutality, harassment, snatching of magical wands, detainment, imprisonment (in this universe, the prison is manned by creatures called Dementors that feed on happy memories, leading to severe psychological damage and a constant state of melancholy), torture, and mass killing.
Voldemort’s regime, thus, heavily relies on spreading ideology through knowledge dissemination; a false state of security that is provided as long as one is not ‘guilty’ of having ‘dirty blood’, or sympathizing with those who do (blood traitors). He puts himself in a position of authority, and then ensures that he is so feared that nobody even speaks his name – instead calling him ‘You-Know-Who’ or ‘He-Who-Must-Not- Be-Named.’ By the seventh book, he even curses his name so that the government can trace anybody who speaks it. This subconsciously instilled fear is enough for him to be the overarching force even during times when he remains dormant and secluded from society. Following the system of self- imprisonment, which Foucault calls the panopticon structure, Voldemort’s idea ensures that his ‘subjects’ are living under such a large amount of fear that they will censor and control their own actions long after he is gone.
There is also usage of propaganda flyers circulated in the newspapers, anti-mudblood (the use of the slur becomes free speech) signs, as well as demoralizing posters that claim Harry Potter is not to be trusted. All of these instances signify the strength of mobilizing media, the youth, and educational institutions in order to hit the strongest forces of a society – all in order to create and perpetuate a potentially harmful discourse. One of the most striking moments in the book is when Harry questions why Voldemort does not declare himself the Minister of Magic (a magical equivalent of the Prime Minister), and his friends laugh and make him realize that Voldemort does not require such authority when he has already acquired it by various means of control. Whether it is ostracizing, threat of punishment, or even physical prevention of another race from recognizing their magical abilities, Voldemort and his followers work towards setting in place a system that has promised consequences for decades to follow. It is difficult to ignore the obvious inspiration behind Rowling’s novels – where Voldemort acts as an allegory for the Nazi regime, with the Second Wizarding War being a close metaphor for World War II. It is this same metaphor
that strengthens the discourse utilised in the universe, showing the capability and dangers of it by mimicking it to real life events.
This creation of an ideology is imperative in understanding how war itself works, and how a large group of the general population is made part of a war when they’re unaware of what is happening in the political field.
The Hunger Games world is slightly different in its forms of oppression, though no less brutal. Set at least (there is no definite marker of a time period) a century after the 2010s, this world treats democracy as a tried and tested governmental structure that failed. A thing of history books, democracy is a concept that has long been forgotten. Instead, the destroyed and much smaller nation state of Panem (shown as what is left of the North American continent) runs on a system of dictatorship. The Capitol – a small district, separated from other districts (similar to Washington, D.C, which is a separate area from the other states of the USA) is the political centre of this tyrannical dictatorship, the home of the most elite of Panem’s citizens, as well as the perpetrator of most of the crimes against the nation’s citizens – namely, the Hunger Games; an annually televised killing of two children from every district (the creation and ramifications of the Games will be further discussed).
It is imperative to note how these districts function – the numbering and division of each district is anything but arbitrary. Instead, districts are divided according to utility, where the occupation is heavily dependent on the geography of the location. For instance, District 4 specializes in fishing and provision of seafood, since it is located towards the regions that are currently New Mexico and parts of Mexico (keep in mind that this is Northern America a century later, and the coastline has drastically changed, submerging major areas of currently habitable
land). There is little scope for jobs outside of the designated ones, especially if someone cannot afford to run a private business or move to another district. Instead of following a geographical manner of naming them, the districts are named by the amount of money they make, effectively creating a ranking order. For instance, District 12 – the poorest district in the nation – is a coal miners’ district. Located in the coldest regions of Panem, and home to many starving citizens, it is low in priority for the Capitol. Conversely, District 1 and 2 (providing luxurious goods, and masonry/military training, respectively) are not only closest to the Capitol in location, but also have the highest access to resources. The system of distribution is thus capitalist in nature, creating a class system with an elite minority (described as a large composition of naturally blonde and lighter skinned people) that rules over the nation, and a majority (described as a mixed race of darker haired and olive skinned peoples) that lives under oppression, subject to hunger, homelessness, unemployment, capital punishment, and general abuse at the whim of the Capitol and its military (the Peacekeepers). In addition, even if moving from one district to another is permissible under rare circumstances, it is not allowed to cross the Panem border to go live somewhere else. Neither is it allowed to hunt animals in order to secure food sources other than the ones provided by the government.
The Hunger Games, thus, manufactures consent, but with the use of incentive instead of internalized hate. In the nation state of Panem, a fine balance between supply and demand, and using media to glamorize an otherwise brutal tradition, creates fear. At the beginning of the book, it has been seventy-four years since a nation-wide rebellion against the Capitol’s regime was carried out. Given the Capitol’s advanced resources, they not only crushed the rebellion but also annihilated the entire population of District 13 (the district that specialized in military and nuclear technology). As a continued punishment for the rebellion, each year, every child between the age
of eleven and eighteen is forced to nominate their names for the annual Hunger Games. The incentive to do is the grain and food supplied in return for the number of times a name is submitted. Through a randomized selection, one boy and girl from every district is put in the Hunger Games
- a reality show where the twenty-four contestants are put in a harsh arena, where they have to fight to the death until one emerges as a victor. But the game itself is not the most brutal part of the story – it is the manner in which the Capitol exhibits the game.
For one, the viewing of the games is absolutely compulsory, and the government controls televisions. Secondly, the twenty-four chosen (tributes) have to woo audiences with their brutality in order to ensure sponsors – more sponsors guarantees more help provided to them within the arena. Then there is the victor village itself, an extravagant village on the outskirts of every district where the victor of every Hunger Games gets to own a mansion within his district’s village, with their family’s lifetime expenses taken care of, and their district getting the most resources for the year. The Games themselves are advertised as the Capitol’s generosity, where the President claims that the Games are an example of how the government has forgiven the districts for their overstepping, and that this ‘fair’ and ‘even’ chance at an annual supply of food is an act of generosity on their part. Moreover, the children from District 1 and 2 are often provided Capitol- funded training to ensure that their lifetime guarantees and surplus supplies remain within the elite circle – meanwhile, victors from previous years have to either mentor new tributes, or they are forced into secret prostitution for the Capitol’s citizens. This is another reference to the panopticon structure, where the electrical fences surrounding the districts are supposedly electrically charged
- but to preserve resources, they are never really switched on. But the fear of defiance and of being a prisoner alone is enough to keep anyone from crossing these borders.
Although the oppressed citizens do not as easily believe the discourse within Panem, it is
vital to understand that the elite minority deeply believes in it. Their education systems create the citizens from other districts as poor, yet exotic, outsiders who are lucky enough to receive their few minutes of fame by dying on television. This twisted sense of sympathy only leads to fetishization and a brief fascination with the very fellow citizens that are dying at their feet. One example of this is a jarring scene from the second book of the series: the protagonist, Katniss, who has won the Games in the first book, is forced to go on her ‘victory tour’, where she travels to every district in order to express her condolences for the lives lost in her year at the Games (in actuality, this is done to keep the districts well reminded of the lives lost even at a time when the Games are not airing). During her last stop, at the Capitol, she is invited to a party where she notices a suspicious looking drink being served by the servants called Avoxes (prisoners who have had their tongues cut out as punishment). Upon questioning, she finds out that guests who have had too much to eat and still want to eat more ingest this liquid – it makes them emit the ingested food to make space for more. This ample wastage creates a haunting imagery in Katniss’ mind, which can only think of the starving children in her district, while people in the Capitol force themselves to vomit so that they can eat more. The contrasting imagery of the poor districts with the technologically advanced Capitol is proof of not only the great class divide, but also the disparity between both the classes. A parallel to modern capitalism, Panem not only shows a nation destroyed by a biased economy, but a nation destroyed by an elitist dictatorship.
The oppressive system in The Darkest Minds, is neither directed at a specific income group, locale, or race. Rather, it is directed at a particular age group because government testing created a new race of human beings. Given the biological weapons testing conducted by the U.S government, these children are born after pregnant women ingested the water contaminated by the medical and radioactive waste that is disposed improperly. Even after the weapons program is shut
down, these children grow up with a different biological make up. By the time they reach the age of six or seven, ninety-eight percent of them die because their body rejects this transformation. The two percent that don’t, end up gaining superhuman abilities.
Afraid of their own accidental creation, and unwilling to admit the unsanctioned weapons testing, the government announces that parents need to hand over their children to the government so that they can cure them of this mysterious disease. However, they are actually putting them in concentration camps to conduct tests. Naming them Psi children (in parapsychology, psi is a term used to describe paranormal abilities), they are segregated according to their abilities – Red for the ability to control fire (pyrokinetics), Orange for the ability to control minds (telepathics), Blue for the ability to control objects with their mind (telekinetics), Yellow for the ability to control electricity (electrokinetics), and Green for heightened intelligence and photographic memory. Over their testing process, unable to control the Reds, Oranges, and Yellows (and deeming them too dangerous for society) they gather them in groups and kill them. Moreover, the condition of the camps is paralleled to concentration camps, where the children are frequently mistreated. Within these camps themselves, the children are constantly terrorized to the point where they do not even need many guards to watch the children – the children learn to watch themselves because they constantly believe they are something abnormal and worth punishing. At the same time, the government police (called PSFs) are used to capture these children and drag them to camps. These PSFs are neither trained nor the military; they are simply adults who are given incentive to sign up for these duties. There are also databases with information and prices for children on the run, for bounty hunters to track down.
These are another reference to the panopticon structure, and the use of the general population for government propaganda by the creation of an enemy that needs to be feared and
immediately put down. The government uses lack of information to its advantage, by saying as little as possible to ensure that the citizens are unaware – an unawareness that automatically creates an aversion.
The government, thus, effectively creates an “otherness” associated with these children, being the sole distributors of information and resources to keep the general public in the dark about their activities. The books also explicitly state that any international help that the country receives for the dying children is kept away from them, so as to stop intervention from other governments. The government’s reluctance in accepting its mistakes makes it possible for them to create a scientific and medical discourse to feed the scared population of adults – one that will resort to anything if they truly believe that their children will die without government intervention. This construction shows exactly how the sense of a feral, dangerous “other” is created, one that can pose as a threat. Since the government claims to personally handle the cases, there is an authenticity and objectivity that gets attached to their claims, one that easily convinces these adults to further hunt down children and even kill them.
This authenticity is further created when the President’s son becomes the first of the children treated at these camps and is shown to come out healthy (when, in fact, his son – an Orange – was brutally tortured and tested upon until he lost all sense of purpose and ran away, creating his own government-sanctioned army of Reds, and becoming one of the primary antagonists of the series). It is also the government’s way of manufacturing consent and creating camps not only to test these kids’ abilities, but also to create an internalized ableism and fear of one’s own mental state. It is this fear that helps the government treat these children in any way that they want, and to find ways to weaponize their abilities.
It is impossible to deny that in the eyes of the readers and movie viewers, these protagonists act as the same beacon of revolution that they are in their in their own worlds – whether it is Harry Potter becoming the “Chosen One”, Ruby Daly (from The Darkest Minds) becoming the co-leader of an anti-government rebel cell, or Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games) becoming the “Mockingjay”, each of these protagonists become the poster children of their respective universe’s revolutionary movements regardless of how big or small a role they play in it.
As seen in the books, and as observed by Maria de les Angeles Torres in her study of youth activism, it is apparent that the mobilization of the youth against oppressive structures comes from a sense of responsibility as the future generation, as well as a sense of identity that is formed very early from shared experience and camaraderie. The more marginalized the group the child belongs to, the earlier they form this identity and an overwhelming need to fight against it – and this holds true for all the protagonists in the novels.
It is these very same poster children that have now become inspirations for real life movements. In the aftermath of the racial tensions and police brutality in the United States of America during the latter half of 2014, there were at least three recorded sightings of wall graffiti quoting – and essentially appropriating – Katniss’ most famous quote:
Fire is catching! If we burn, you burn with us! (Collins 106)
Katniss Everdeen, in the eyes of these young protestors, becomes a vehicle of carrying forward their own protests. It takes it one step forward from mere mimicry – it is a form of translating and morphing a context to fit the real world scenario, while employing a similar ideology in hopes achieving a similar endgame. Moreover, it is notable that most young adults who were indulging in such activism were the adults (legally speaking) taking part on physical
activism, while minors who could only take part in social media activism were circulating the pictures, poetry, quotations, and parallels.
There is a fine balance that must be struck by this age group, for they are generally perceived to be violent and rebellious – qualities that are automatically associated with irrationality and misinformation. The ability to correlate their anger with logical explanation is one that youth activism struggles with every day, and the use of inspiration is what drives this force towards fruition, even if it is a small fraction of a big picture. The Hunger Games is not the only series to achieve this kind of effect.
Harry Potter, which has sold over 450 million copies (as of 2014), has become a subject of study as well as idolization. As Stetka narrates, a scientific study conducted by the University of Modena showed that readers, even as young as elementary school level, did not identify with prejudice and had improved tolerance towards immigrants. Over a period of six weeks, students who were made to read passages of obvious racist attitudes did not identify with the prejudice and had visibly improved attitudes towards immigrants – meanwhile, the control group that read neutral passages (descriptive scenes as opposed to major plot scenes) of the book showed no such improvement. There were also two follow up studies conducted that showed positive attitudes towards homosexuality in a group of Italian high school students, and positive attitudes towards refugees amongst English college students. It was also observed that students too old to identify with Harry’s age group did not necessarily relate with his ideas of ‘goodness’, but they were strongly against the idea of identifying with the antagonists. Aside from the study itself, there have been a lot of social media movements that incorporated elements from the book series itself.
The first instance of this movement started after the first part of the seventh’s book’s
adaptation came out – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. A scene that was there only in the movie, it shows how one of the main ‘muggle-born’ characters, Hermione Granger, is tortured for information.
Although in the books the torture scene ended with her severely traumatized and hurt, but in the movie the scene ends with the slur “Mudblood” engraved on her forearm. This visual depiction of the violence of the word, and the violence against muggle-borns, sparked inspirations for other movements – especially since Hermione later reclaims the slur, stating that she is proud of being a “Mudblood”. Within a few months of the movie release, there was a phase where multiple movements came up which involved writing reclaimed phrases on wrists and arms.
The Darkest Minds, on the other hand, does not have a fan-base as large as the other two series, perhaps owing to a lack of movie franchise adapted from the novels (as of 2015). This has not, however, stopped in-depth conversations and analyses of the scientific discourse utilized by the U.S government to scare parents into letting the government take their children.
Ania Loomba in Colonialism/Postcolonialism largely discusses the understanding of this medical discourse, where she talks about the false objectivity constructed by western science and medicine during the time of colonization. Loomba paraphrases Stepan and Gould, stating that:
Far from being an objective, ideology-free domain, modern Western science was deeply implicated in the construction of racist ways of thinking about human beings and the differences between them. (Loomba 56)
She also adds that:
The connection between economic processes, social processes and the reordering
of knowledge can be both obvious and oblique. The development or reproduction of even those knowledge systems that appear to be too abstract to have an ideological inflection, such as mathematics, can also be connected to the imperialist project. (Loomba 59)
Loomba’s allotment of medicine as a discourse, and this medical discourse being placed in a larger colonial discourse, can be superimposed on the supposed sympathies shown by the U.S government in The Darkest Minds.
Although this paper is limited in its approach to the texts in a feminist understanding, it also creates a scope for asking further questions to texts that are usually not asked – what does it mean for the texts to be geared towards adolescent girls, what subject position do the largely female protagonists occupy, what does it mean for one of the main male characters of The Hunger Games being forced into prostitution, what does it mean for the primary antagonist of the Harry Potter series being a product of forced consent with the woman being the perpetrator of the rape. Then there is the other question of race that is often not discussed – or rather, the whitewashing of characters and the racial politics that become a part of film production when these books are adapted into movies.
Ironically, it is the creation of this same ‘Harry Potter Generation’ that, in 2020, is denouncing the author of the series – J.K. Rowling – for revealing her personal racist and transphobic views via social media. The generation is also re-analysing the prose of the novels to find stereotypes against marginalised communities in Europe. The same author who created the generation is now reaping the effects of being denounced by it – but that discussion is also not within the scope of this paper.
It is possible to see such a reading of young adult fiction as an overreach, for young adult fiction is all too often doubly removed from “legitimate” literature – on one level it is reduced to something juvenile, unable to attain intellectual understanding; on the other level it is reduced to a surface level story of romance and soft action, both genres often associated with female readers. However, with the more-than-coincidental surge of youth activism and young adult dystopian fiction, it is apparent that one some level or the other, the two run parallel, influencing both the fictional protagonists and the real world viewers who look up to them.
It is, thus, made apparent that despite the side-lining of this entire genre of literary and visual texts from “quality” pieces, there is still an impact that they create among the very generation that is taking centre stage in the revolutionary pockets across the world today. It brings us back to Torres’ study that talked about how young adults today find themselves responsible for changing the future they fear, and that this sense of identity is one that is cultivated not only through formal and physical education, but also education received through incorporating information from the virtual world that everybody is quickly becoming a part of – and these virtual spaces are largely dominated by talks of these very works of fiction, where literary analysis, discursive analysis, and emotional investment all overlap. In doing so, it is not uncommon for the emotional investment to project itself into the analysis that takes place, often translating into this very identity construction. Debunking the myth of ignorance, Torres’ study is further supported by Tumblr user Hannah (going by the username of birbrightsactivist), who stated:
“if you want to understand the psyche of our generation take a good look at the stories we tell ourselves about the future…because it isn’t flying cars or robot dogs, it’s faceless government surveillance and worldwide pandemics and militarized police brutality and the last dregs of humanity struggling to survive…our generation
isn’t self-centred, or lazy, or whatever else they wanna [sic.] say about us. we are young, and we are here, and we are deeply, deeply afraid.” (“Out In The Black”)
This post received over 150,000 ‘likes’ and ‘reblogs’ in support of her words, reflecting the amount of the youth that entirely agree with this categorization of their psyche. One of thousands of such posts that dominate the social media, it can only be understood that the millennial generation is struggling to be taken seriously in their efforts to overthrow the destructive regimes – hand-me-downs of a set of Imperial centuries that we have only just come out of – that have directly influenced the socio-political, ecological, and economic structures of today.
Running the risk of either being deemed unintelligent due to lack of experience, or being constructed as unintelligent to dismiss their efforts, a large group of potential youth activists find themselves being more understanding of cultural and political nuances only after being able to compare them to their favourite fictional universes. Conversely, there was also the question of why most of them could easily sympathize with fictional characters, but had difficulty in unlearning ideology they had consumed in the real world.
These – as well as the deeper, socio-political queries when studying the text – are questions often not asked when it comes to youth literature because it is deemed as too heavy a discussion to assign to something meant to be light-hearted entertainment – but the issue lies within young adult literature being considered light-hearted at all. The recognition of discourse being prevalent right from the youngest age of consumption is important in giving it the due it deserves, particularly in terms of understanding how discourse is handed out in the first place. The drawing of parallels is more than just a literary device used by the creator of a text – rather, parallels being drawn by readers are imperative to understand what kind of hidden messages occupy literature
handed to the youth. Whether it is a conscious effort on the part of an author, or simply a reflection of real world ideology embedded subconsciously, it still shines through both literal text and subtext. Moreover, the reading of such texts from a postcolonial and postmodern framework allows the creation of a space where socio-political discussion can take place with active involvement on the part of the youth.
The studies shown above, and the conclusions drawn from the analyses of these texts serves to portray more than a layered understanding of a text. It depicts the preference for these texts by frequent young adult readers, as well as automatic empathy that is created without the requirement of critical analysis.
It is only when these parallels between young adult literature and the real world are recognized can they be taken seriously, and then better understood not only to look into what media is consumed by the youth but to understand what kind of media the youth prefers consuming, what it relates with, and how something as seemingly simple as a ‘chick-lit trilogy’ can be the starting point of revolutionary thinking.
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