SparkNotes Blog

No, You’re Not Being Brainwashed by YA Dystopian Fiction

I got a bit excited yesterday answering some of the ridiculous claims Serious Growns have made about YA fiction—generally that it is simplistic and immature, and designed to induce thrills and tears, and keep your brain in hypersleep. (Listen, Vampire Academy may have been very, very silly, but it also had feeding parties, and no one is defending it as serious literature, any more than they would The Da Vinci Code.) Today, inspired by another tummy-rubbing argument by a Grown, I lift the Golden Gate bridge off its struts with the power of my mind, and plonk it down as a bridge between rational adult thought and the vast world of YA.

A man called Ewan Morrison believes that dystopian fiction like The Hunger Games, The Giver, and Divergent are indoctrinating you in the ways of free-market/anarchic libertarianism. Bahahahahaha. Here is a deliciously barking tidbit:

[The books] support one of the key ideologies that the left has been battling against for a century: the idea that human nature, rather than nurture, determines how we act and live. These books propose a laissez-faire existence, with heroic individuals who are guided by the innate forces of human nature against evil social planners.

First off, you’re probably like O_o (unless of course, Ron Paul is your dad), because most teenagers aren’t super deep into social/economic theory. In fact, if you haven’t sat through a lecture on Keynesian economics (economies don’t run themselves in times of crisis, and can need some propping up through stimulus programs) or classical economics (like an ecosystem, markets with no rules balance themselves), you probably have a pretty reasonable view on economics, figuring some rules are necessary (you must wear pants to school), and some (curfews!) are stifling. Even though arguing about deregulating financial entities further is mostly a hobby for middle-aged people, Ewan Morrison is all, “WE’RE TEACHING THE KIDS TO HATE QUANTITATIVE EASING!!!” Remember that scene in The Wedding Singer, when Adam Sandler’s nephew tells him everyone “thinks you’re crazy,” and Adam Sandler says, “Everyone? The only people you know are your parents”? It’s a bit like that.

On top of his rah-rahing about “capitalist dystopias,” he then argues that these dystopias with the scary authoritarian governments, bloody lips and bulletproof bobs are Marxist. TROLOLOLOL to the man who thinks that universal healthcare will lead to Panem (“Just before the dark days, there was abundant medical care, including preventative services that reduced overall costs and lightened the burden on individual healthcare providers, and then mankind fell into darkness, its healthy corpus divided on itself, and Panem arose from the ashes. Panem today, Panem tomorrow, Panem forever!”).

Also, as any student of literature knows, Marxism isn’t a model for society, as much as it is an examination of class-based inequality (still relevant, no?). The point of The Giver, if you can argue that a book has a single point to make (and Foucault argues that the author’s intention doesn’t even matter, and the meaning lies with the reader), is an exploration of what it means to lose memory, as well as what it means to learn what self-determination is as a teenager. Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth were very much influenced by Lois Lowry, so Morrison’s argument that all authors are secretly conveying their leftist angst to readers (“We might be giving ourselves right-wing messages because, whether or not we realize it, we have come to accept them as incontestable.” <— ahahahaha) folds in on itself. These authors are writing in a tradition of dystopian lit.

Yes, The Hunger Games recalls some of the lessons of 1984 about privacy and government interference, but a) that’s not strictly a libertarian concern (lefties don’t like the idea of, say, the government telling a woman what she can do with her body), and b) it is also an extreme allegory for the existentialist awakening that every teen goes through in the transition from naivety under their parents’ care to freedom as adults; the black and white rules of childhood (“share” “play nice”) get irretrievably muddied in adulthood, and Mockingjay in particular does a spectacular job of showing the ambiguity over what the “right” choice for Katniss is at the end of the series. There really isn’t a perfect choice, and Katniss doesn’t get a hero’s victory. Welcome to adulthood, everyone!

Is every book about getting drunk at boarding school an indictment of authority? Or an exploration of the impetus to take risks and push boundaries?

Here’s one more particular dough-headed thought from Morrison:

Putting all this together within one genre, it’s a huge indictment of the history of the left and a promotion of the right. Which is pretty cunning for a bunch of books for kids…. If you see yourself as a left-leaning progressive parent, you might want to exercise some of that oppressive parental control and limit your kids exposure to the “freedom” expressed in YA dystopian fiction.

Left-leaning parents aren’t the ones doing the censoring, buddy. Look at Divergent: Tris’s “home” faction, Abnegationis rich with Christian allusions (self-sacrifice, modesty, loyalty to parents, self-denial, not questioning your leaders), and Roth (a Christian) seems to have a legitimate struggle over how she feels about Tris’s Abnegation legacy in the series (I think it is responsible for failures in the plot later on). All YA authors certainly aren’t from the same pod of lefty Vermont hut dwellers.

Finally, this is literature! I can read Ayn Rand and not become indoctrinated (can and did), and I can enjoy a cracking battle of good versus evil without worrying whether I fall into the left faction or the right faction (or, in the U.S., center and right). YA fiction isn’t designed to divide people, it’s there as an escape, a guide, and a thought exercise. Duh.

What political messages have you noticed in YA fiction? Do you think that dystopian fiction is right-wing? We really want to hear what you think!