Why we’re Obsessed with Dystopia

Divergent hits theaters March 21, following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games as a young adult dystopian tale adapted for the big screen.  The Maze Runner continues the trend this fall.  It’s not just young adult fiction, and it’s not just recently.  Dystopian tales have long made fascinating films, but the past few years it seems like they have become especially popular, especially with a younger generation.  Why is that?

There are four reasons why we find stories of troubled societies fascinating.

The first rule of a good story is that there needs to be conflict of some sort.  That makes it interesting and worthwhile.  While we all might enjoy living in a utopian world where everything works out all the time, that doesn’t make for a very interesting story.  Point number one, utopias are boring, dystopias are exciting because there’s always going to be conflict.

Dystopias are relatable.  Society on Earth is never going to be perfect, people will make sure of that.  Dangerously imperfect though, that seems like it could be just around the corner.  Both sides of the political spectrum spout warning cries that the other is on the verge of creating a society that crushes freedoms, destroys lives, puts some sort of oppression on the people, or just controls them without their knowledge.  Dystopian tales explore some of these possibilities that we are warned could become real, maybe, one day.

Mystery.  I believe that everyone loves a good mystery.  Unknown elements keep the tension, keep things moving forward, give you something to wonder about.  There is usually, though not always an element of mystery to a dystopian tale.  How did society get the way it did?  Why?  This rule doesn’t always hold true, but it’s often a factor.

The number one reason we enjoy reading about and watching dystopias, though is that even the most rule following of us have a rebellious streak.  We’d like to see what it would be like to go against the grain.  In a dystopian world, NOT following the rules is the right thing to do.  Defy the oppressive government.  Start an uprising.  Don’t let those evil scientists dictate the world’s behavior.  In the same way the zombie apocalypse seems like fun because you can kill the zombies by shooting them in the head without worrying about moral consequences, living in a world where the right thing to do is to break the rules has a certain hypothetical appeal to it.  Perhaps this is why some of these stories, like The Hunger Games appeals to such a wide range of people – we all secretly wish we had an evil Capitol to defy in dramatic fashion.