Our Dis(u)topian Future

By Rianna Herzlinger

A new phenomenon sweeps through the shelves of book stores all over the world: the dystopian novel. Considered the epitome of young adult fiction, each book appears carefully crafted to teach the leaders of tomorrow about the ills of today. Teach them what, you ask? Well, some grievously misinformed individuals may claim each novel instructs a government and society what not to do in terms of  limiting the freedom of its citizens. However, intellectually superior beings like myself more accurately assess the dystopian novel’s true function in society: a step-by-step manual for an ideal world. 

Take The Hunger Games for example. Published in 2008 by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games depicts a world marred by war (sound familiar?) that has now created walled-off districts— each of varying economic specificity and privilege. It truly begs the question, why do we waste time on fanciful notions of increasing “equality” when clearly consolidating wealth in rigidly defined sectors creates a more efficacious solution? Poor people can’t be jealous of something they can’t see; the wealthy won’t lose sleep at destitution that exists beyond their knowledge. Have you ever heard of a more perfect system? Someone put Collins in office! America gave a half-hearted attempt at this one— gentrified city rises and gated neighborhoods starkly juxtapose impoverished rural communities and urban ghettos— but until the government builds a concrete wall between the Jeff Bezoses of the world and the rest of the suckers, the only thing America deserves to win is a pitiful participation award. 

Just to prove I didn’t center my immaculate theory around an outlier, let us ponder a second example: Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Taking place in a post-pandemic world (wow, I’m really sensing a theme here), Roth’s novel depicts the sole surviving city of Chicago which revolves around an inflexible faction system. Every citizen defines themself by the faction they live in, representing one of five main traits; once they choose, they can never renege their decision and their entire culture revolves around their supposed superior trait. If an individual doesn’t succeed in their faction, they get relegated to the fringes of society, forced to live in a state of squalor approaching on homelessness. There’s a million dollar idea! Instead of each teenager wasting countless years of their life choosing from a wide array of future paths, changing their minds, and picking a new path (repeat twice and you have a “well adjusted” adult who knows what they want), we should just decide for them; if they refuse, just kick them out! Now, I will admit, America has taken a run at this ideal too— exponentially increasing the price of college to limit the career choices of thousands of young adults, trapping people in a cycle of poverty where they can barely make enough money at a dead-end job let alone dream of a brighter tomorrow, pretty literally excommunicating homeless from the rest of society. I don’t mean to be overly critical or anything, but come on people, we really need to start stepping up. However, our attempts— at the very least— prove better than Scandinavia with their free college and standardized wages, pouring valuable resources down the drain just so its citizens can “chase their dreams.” Pfffft, socialist dummies. 

Of course, in my infinite wisdom, I can already predict your next question: if dystopian writers really intend to depict perfect societies, why not just call them utopian books?  Obviously, these authors don’t just want to hand out the key to societal success left and right, they want to make us work for it. Only the few, worthy readers will perceive their nuanced advice. Thus, I implore you, don’t fight me on this one. Just sit back, relax, and let me lead you to a better world, a brighter future.