Why are Dystopian Stories so Popular?

Dystopian stories have been very popular lately. A good example is the best-selling Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins, but there are many more stories that are set in post-apocalyptic, monster-filled, run-down worlds. Why now? And why are they especially popular among the YA set?

Yes, I do take a certain perverse pleasure in posting this on Labor Day–let me just get that out of the way immediately. That being said, my suspicion is that, at least in part, the increasing divide among the haves and have-nots is driving the popularity of dystopian stories. This is especially true among young adults who are witnessing increasing unemployment, decreasing wages for what jobs they do find, and fewer opportunities to succeed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported here that the July 2011 employment rate of 16-24 year olds was the worst since the measurements began in 1948. Even worse, it reports that although the youth labor force is growing, many young people are checking out of the labor market (sadly, this results in falling unemployment–disguising the elements of struggles among the youth). Might this be due to the rising unemployment among their ranks for the past few years? Those that do have jobs are working harder and longer, but not seeing their wages increase. It’s difficult to remain positive under such circumstances. A 2006 Pew study reported that 50% of respondents thought their children would be worse off than they are.

Making things worse for the have-nots is seeing the haves get more and more. Income inequality is at its highest level in the U.S. since the 1920s. Corporate profits are up, and CEOs are getting paid more than ever. Bailouts for bankers is almost a cliche at this point, and they’re being paid for by cutting social benefits.

The last bit of info I’ll throw out there is the rising price of food. This is often seen as a driving force behind social unrest.

When you put it all together–increasing number of young and unemployed, decreasing opportunities, increasing social divide, fewer social safety nets, and the rising prices of necessary goods–no wonder people get pessimistic. This pessimism leads to resentment and anger, and in some places, people get outright violent. Protests, riots, and political revolution are sweeping the globe. Writers have only to make a few leaps in logic to arrive at their various dystopias of collapsed nations, widespread violence, and stark divide between the poor and wealthy.

In other words, I expect dystopian novels to remain popular over the coming years unless we see some big changes in society. What do you think? Do you agree with my reasoning? Do you think there are other reasons for their popularity? Let me know what you think.

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