This past Christmas when I asked my daughter for ideas for her, one of the things she mentioned was a trio of books known as The Hunger Games trilogy.  Dutiful father that I am, I looked it up on Amazon and therewith discovered that the first of the three books was already pending release as a movie this year and a trailer was available.  I clicked on the link – mistake.

Maybe my years are showing, but I have grown sick to death of dystopias and books and movies built around them.  I’ve seen my share of such on the big screen and read as many, whether you want to talk about classics such as 1984 and Brave New World or campy stuff like Logan’s Run and The Running Man or darker, more brooding works like P. D. James’ Children of Men.  It seems as though humankind is fascinated with the study of how many different ways we can live down to the lowest common denominator when the government or taken-for-granted conveniences of life break down.  With the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, the producers and director appear to be going for real cinema verite, not sparing the audience the darkest side of human behavior as 24 children are selected from various districts of what used to be the United States.  Their purpose is to fight each other until only one survives, quite naturally for the mandatory entertainment of the general populace.

Stories such as these have come and go and the arc of such tales is very nearly predictable.  Great civilization is laid low, games invented to entertain the masses, feed their bloodlust, but mostly keep them under control, one particular person or persons manage to game the system and change things from the ground up.  While this pattern doesn’t reflect either Orwell’s infamous Oceania or Huxley’s utopia-on-the-surface, nightmare-when-you-look-deeper, too many of the books and movies of this nature I’ve seen over the years follow the same tired script I outlined above … and I’ve had a bellyful of it.

All I have to do is watch the news to see how truly fucked-up the world can get, whether it’s the Janjaweed going after refugees in Darfur or Taliban-inspired misogynists throwing acid in the faces of women who dare to go to school or religious zealots incensed that some cartoon or tweet on Twitter insults their deity or any one of a thousand other atrocities which happen on this planet on a daily basis.  It hardly takes any imagination to extrapolate downward from such examples into a mire of human misery, then imagine some plucky young protagonist who pulls humanity up by its bootstraps, sometimes against its will.  The plotline has been repeated so many times, it should be considered a cliché.

I would far rather focus on a positive, realistic view of the future, as expressed by Star Trek or Babylon 5, where there certainly continue to be conflicts and challenges, but where civilization checks itself before it careens down the slippery slope of devolution.  The model which says you have to fall all the way to the bottom to eventually reach the top is only one model and not necessarily true.  I would prefer to believe that mankind is sufficiently intelligent and aware to learn from its mistakes and is willing and able to prevent the kinds of disastrous futures represented by The Hunger Games and others.  It wouldn’t hurt to see more stories with an optimistic take on tomorrow than the bleak view represented by many of the works I’ve enumerated here.  Sure, it may be harder to be creatively positive than creatively negative.  Still, Gene Roddenberry and J. Michael Straczynski managed and very well at that.

So … could we have a bit more of James T Kirk and John J. Sheridan and a bit less of Winston Smith and Katniss Everdeen?

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Comment by Loren Miller on March 5, 2012 at 10:00am

Thanks for the comment, Pirate, much appreciated

Thing is, SURE it could be worse. It Could Also Be BETTER ... and I keep asking myself why we aren't working harder in that direction. Someone once said, and I agree with him:

What you put your attention on grows in your life.
-- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Comment by matthew greenberg on March 5, 2012 at 9:57am

i've never considered this angle Loren.  well written, btw.  you should try to publish this somewhere. 


my step-daughter and wife got the Hunger Games books and they were bathroom reading material for me.  they weren't bad books, per se, but i see where you're coming from.  i think humans are fascinated with their own demise, so i doubt the appetite for such works will quell.

Comment by Jas Brimstone on March 5, 2012 at 9:53am

I think the fascination comes from the general desire for "it could be worse" scenarios.  I also think the newer "dystopia" literature and movies stem from people who read the classics like Orwell and Huxley in school and did not like the endings.  I do not really even consider most of the new stuff as truly dystopic because, as you stated, they tend to end with a person or persons enacting or at least starting a positive change in society (which the older dystopic Literature did not do).  

Again, I think this stems from the cultural zeitgeist of dissatisfaction with a "hopeless" ending.  People tend to want a "no matter how bad it gets, there's always hope" ending, and unfortunately, that's even less realistic than Orwell or Huxley's visions.

And, FWIW, I think you're right in that it is more difficult to be creatively positive and still entertain the masses.  Not impossible, just more difficult and when you get down to it, more financially risky as to whether or not people will buy it (both literally and figuratively).



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