It's the End of the World and Blablablabla

By now we've become immune to this idea that the world is ending and treat each new prediction like a joke (my students are even making this the theme of this year's yearbook, since supposedly we're for sure dying in December of 2012). We toss around theories about how we'll meet our maker and what the world will be like post-apocalypse. But it's not just that; our culture has become obsessed with zombies, vampires, werewolves and other sorts of dystopian elements. They surround us on t-shirts, in movies, and, of course, in books. Interestingly, this genre has really become a money maker in the young-adult market. But why?

In a recent article written for The Guardian by Moira Young, this topic is briefly discussed. She boils it down to one simple idea: excitement. She talks about heroes and adventures and how teens gravitate towards those things (she's a YA dystopian writer herself). If that's true why aren't they clamoring for medieval tales? Westerns? She brushes off the more psychological notion that teens are actually identifying with the elements that are imbedded in these novels, which Laura Miller examines in an old article ("Fresh Hell") from the New Yorker. Adolescents always think the world is ending, dramatize everything, feel they are controlled by the powers that be (home and school), and constantly hear how horrible the world has become on the news. Double dip into another genre (horror, horror, or some extra sci-fi elements) and there you have it- the next Twilight rip off is born.

Confession: I haven't read any of these modern dystopain or post-apocalyptic novels. Some of the more literary, older ones like On the Road and Fahrenheit 451, yes, but not Twilight, The Hunger Games, or any of the the other novels that have been flooding the shelves. I'm in not place to judge (except Twilight; I will judge that until I'm blue in the goddamn face), but none have really called out to me, except The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I'm still undecided on. Are they well-written? Are they expanding the reader's mind? Or, is it like Young says- purely for excitement?

My theory is a bit like that of Miller's, but I think we're just seeing another trend in literature; one that's providing an escape that young people often need (and yay that it can't be smoked, swallowed, or injected). Their parents are losing their jobs, they're being forced to move from their homes into apartments, and hear nothing but doom and gloom on TV. Their teachers are laid off, their parents' banks have failed, and their best friends have to move out of state to live with relatives. They worry about graduating, about college, and about what will happen in a few short years when they're adults. This genre's popularity gives them the opportunity to distract themselves and see that maybe life doesn't suck quite as hard as they thought it did.

In a way, it's therapy. It's escapism. It's not really my type of genre, and, from the snippets here or there that I've read, I don't necessarily consider it a "literary" genre as a whole (not saying there aren't exceptions, so relax). Do I think an adult's literary diet should consist purely of the YA dystopian genre? Please. But, for teenagers who are torn between ditching school and getting high at the park or immersing themselves in a depressing book, I say go for it and do me a favor- try some of the old favorites once in awhile.


  1. I did enjoy the books and read them all within a week, however the ending of each one fell a little flat, which was a bummer.

  2. Remember me? You commented on my Vegas BookRiot contest entry? I couldn't figure out how best to get in touch with you because you don't share your e-mail and whatever. "Private." But I caught up with (stalked) your blog yesterday upon discovering it, and have determined that you may be my kindred spirit (see my comments on the BABY discussion *shudder*). Love your writing and can totally relate to some of your experiences, so I added you to my "links i like" on my blog sidebar. Enjoy your weekend!

  3. BTW, Hunger Games, first book totally worth it, the other two are meh.

  4. If you aren't sold on Hunger Games, how about Uglies?*