I’m unsure if this counts as a fun fact or not but, I’ve never read Hunger Games. I feel like it’s considered a rite of passage of sorts? Like it’s assumed every bookworm/avid reader discovered their love for books with Harry Potter and continued this journey with young adult dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels and less dark but equally detailed fantasy franchises. Honestly, no judgement. Hunger Games sounds great, I just can’t commit to completing series that are longer than two books! I’m either obsessed with an author or will read one of their works and never touch another. I’m pretty sure I started the first Hunger Games and left it halfway. At the time, dystopia as a genre just didn’t seem appealing. I didn’t get the fuss surrounding these alternate worlds with seemingly warped rules and for the most part, normal characters.
Fiction for me meant escapism. Positive outcomes, power-driven characters and of course, the fight and struggle, just not too much of it. Although I still love the “riding into the sunset” endings, I’ve grown to appreciate dystopian art. I get the fuss, they’re a very clever way of artists using their work to showcase reality through fabrication. Dystopia as a genre has so much to offer us, but think about it; art as a whole gets the gears of your brain turning. One looks to literature and film because it’s a show of people like us having experiences and lives that are well, the stuff of movies. Yet, it pushes you to think that you can achieve that ideal too. An underlying motive of dystopian art is just that. It speaks to that “light at the end of the tunnel” craving part of you. The message dystopian narratives relay is that; even if the world as you know it changes, and its order turns upside down, you have a mind. An opinion, the power to think and endure which you must keep alive. You can push back and who knows? Find the Peeta to your Katniss. (I’M SORRY) I have nothing against the Hunger Games couple, it’s just hilarious the way there’s always a strong romance maintained despite the world ending.
On a more serious note, dystopian classics like 1984, Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 etc. present a more stark reality. We see how this genre has its levels. While dystopian literature’s young adult counterparts follow semi-hopeful, feminist storylines with the protagonists leading and emerging victorious in combat against an oppressive government, Orwell and Atwood’s protagonists are already in too deep. They’ve succumbed to an extremist structure larger than them and far too powerful to fight against. In this sense, dystopian art is a cautionary tale. A guide and a warning. Strongest at times when humanity begins to suspect the error of its ways.
The popularity of the dystopian genre speaks volumes of our psychodrama because when activists declare the need for change and the impending disasters awaiting us, many look the other way. Mainly because we’re terrified of the truth, it’s too daunting. But, through dystopian art; by creating these extreme worlds of ink, these precarious other universes, artists simply pose the question, ‘What if?’ And it’s much easier to stomach through the lens of what if. The artist isn’t directly telling you of their fears for our future. Giving new names to the problems we face, dystopias indirectly make us realise that this “other” world isn’t far from ours. This surveillance, torture, war, hampering of progress and oppression, can you see it happening? The question arises, can we fight back as well?
The term ‘art-pocalypse’ was coined in the 2000s to account for the rise in the publishing and subsequent popularity of dystopian fiction, tv shows, films and art. I feel like there was and is so much that contributes to the mindsets in which these works were created and consumed. The very fact that we have our world to compare another’s worst period to adds to the thrill of being an accomplice to a dystopia. Not to mention, the relief that comes with realising that we aren’t subject to these atrocities yet and the chill running down your spine when a part of you wonders, ‘or are we?’. It’s also foolish to think that the creators of dystopian art are conniving psychopaths. They live to tell the tale and dystopian art through the years can be seen as a timeline of the greatest terrors of humanity. We can see this from the way different depictions tackle concepts ranging from dictators to media control to climate change.
Something to remember is that dystopias are nothing to be afraid of. Avoiding them because they’re too dark or twisted means you’re missing out! They’re immersive and a way of championing real-life issues on the part of their creators. Pondering upon the way dystopian fiction brings out this rebellious, defiant, ready-to-fight aspect in people who watch or read it or how often the world seems to be eerily similar, always brings me to the life imitates art v/s art imitates life debate. The way dystopian art makes us want to be unruly, to protest, to surmount complex structures reveals so much about the way words and pictures put us in a sort of permanent mindset. Art has such power. The art we choose to consume builds our personality. I might be exaggerating, but art in its purest form and even in its messiest, leaves us changed in some way. For better or for worse? That’s not for this post to decide.