The Dystopian Genre: The True Public Opinion Poll?

Ready to think? I want to pick your brain on this one.

I’ve been pondering something in recent weeks, specifically the popularity of dystopian stories right now, and why they’ve risen to the top of our entertainment. The Hunger Games. Divergent. Maze Runner. Revolution. Matched. Jericho. Legend. The list goes on and on and on.

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A dystopian society is the opposite of a utopian one, meaning the society is less than perfect, and in most cases, it’s simple citizens against a flawed, fallen government.

My newest trilogy, Citizens of Logan Pond (coming September ’14), is set five years in the future after the financial collapse of America. Technically this puts it under the dystopian umbrella as well. The people have to live off the land, depend on each other for survival, and their biggest enemy becomes the government who swears they’re only “trying to help.”

Definitely dystopian.

It’s different from several others I’ve read and watched in that it’s only set five years from now, and it deals with a small Midwest neighborhood of thirty-six people, not the whole wide expanse of America. It’s smaller-scaled and more, “This could easily be us/me.”

As I did my last read through before it goes to the print house, I was thinking that people who read it might think I’m anti-government. My little band of survivors are living illegally on government property, and they’re the “good guys.” But I’m not anti-government.

I’m not.

I love the American government. I love the Constitution and believe it was founded by God-inspired principles that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s survived 230-ish years for a reason! I think America is the greatest country on earth, and has been–and hopefully will be–for a long time.

But as I look at the current popularity of dystopian books, movies, and even music, I wonder if it’s not a sign that people are concerned with our current US government. Very concerned.

Not just concerned with President Obama. With Congress. With interest groups. They’re concerned with ALL of it.

Approval ratings across the board are lower than ever. As you can see in this chart, 82% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Approval

Yikes!

So it makes me wonder if the public is embracing the dystopian genre–to some degree–because our brains are trying to process the slight possibility that things might not always be rosy and peachy in America. That good things certainly can come to an end, and if they do, here are a thousand possible outcomes (in fiction) as a warning to prepare us. 

I suppose my trilogy can serve as a warning, too.

  • Are we truly prepared as a nation and individually for the collapse of the dollar?
  • Could we survive if the banks shut their doors tomorrow and never reopened?
  • Do we know how to grow crops, hunt food, purify water, heat homes, mend clothing, cook over a fire, heal simple, physical illnesses–let alone the complex ones–without doctors, hospitals, and Google at our disposal?
  • Basically, how can WE survive the collapse of life as we know it?

It’s strange, because I’m a natural born optimist. I’m not a “glass is half-full” kind of person. I’m a “glass is three-fourths full, so why not just call it full?” kind of person. I always round up. Always.

So I should be the last person writing a dystopian novel.

But I’ve had a blast with this trilogy! I’ve loved exploring the “What if?” questions. I hadn’t meant it as a warning to the American people, and maybe other authors/composers/screen writers don’t mean their dystopians as a warning either.

But what if they do?

And what if the public is embracing it because we’re all feeling the fear that our US government is less than it was created to be and…it seems to be falling fast.

Check out the rise in dystopian novels. It’s eerily correlated to the fall of public approval of our US government. (Thanks for sharing, Ryan!)

Rise in Dystopian Novels over time

I’m still swirling around these strange thoughts without any concrete decisions, so I thought I’d throw it out to all of you.

What do you think?

Is there any correlation between the popularity of dystopian fiction right now and the low government approval ratings? If you’re a fan of the dystopians, have you thought about why?

Comment here.

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

18 thoughts on “The Dystopian Genre: The True Public Opinion Poll?”

  1. I believe you’re right, Rebecca. Whether anything happens to our current house-of-cards society or not, people are worried about it. And I think that’s a good thing. Being prepared for nothing is much better than being unprepared for something. I can’t wait to read your book!

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  2. I hadn’t considered that, but you make a good point. Fiction help readers work out truths in their mind…and I know that when I read Dystopian works, it changes how I plan and organize my own household as I consider What if’s that I never thought of before and now seem possible. I love our government too, but feel that party strength has ousted country strength. No one wants to work together and compromise for the good of the nation anymore. It seems they’re only after power, and it does leave a little forboding deep down in my heart. So maybe your’re right about those books becoming more popular as people lose faith a little in government that seems to be corrupt.

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    1. Reading does that for me, too, especially with dystopians. I have so much hope for the government right now, but at the same time, it’s very depressing, especially when you read or watch what could become of us.

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  3. I love dystopian novels, but I have more of a different feeling.

    More like I prefer more of a contemporary dystopia. Not in the time frame, but rather technologically and socially, society is the same as we are now one hundred years in the future.

    A lack of social progress is more unnerving to me than to much progress. In other words, I have a craving for a dystopia that is a bit lower key. Less visible if you will.

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      1. I think though that dystopia is hard to avoid. Humanity is sort of wired to look for the grime in perfection it seems.

        I mean I look for it in Mary Poppins, like “It’s a spoon for a sugary.” What’s the sugar covering up?

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  4. The sad conclusion that I would draw is that we have lost touch with basic survival skills. That may also be the reason why shows like Survivor continue to be successful. We sit there mesmerized–is that how you build a shelter, start a fire? I think it is time we wake up and re-learn.

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    1. Interesting. I wonder if there were more post-apocalyptic shows back then. I know what you mean about feeling less secure. Is that because we trust our government less, or because we’re adults now, and more aware?

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    1. I hadn’t thought about that, but you make a good point. The dystopians I’ve read lately have all been clean. Maybe that’s part of why I love them. Thanks for pointing it out.

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      1. Good point, Lori. I hadn’t thought about that either, but you’re right. I guess there’s enough “dirty politics” going on in them that the rest of the story can be clean. LOL

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  5. Rebecca, I think you’re correct in your correlation. I’ve not read a great many of them, but I find myself thinking, “What would I do? Could I do what the character is doing?” and that plays into my own preparation for the days to come. The cynic in me believes that dystopian popularity is also connected to our hope that things will never really get that bad.; cynical because too many people would bury their heads in the sand (or a good book!) thinking it won’t get that bad rather than prepare themselves to be self-reliant.

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    1. Yes! I think that’s part of the draw, “What would I do if…?” It would be nice if we were more prepared than we are. I’m writing this dystopian book, knowing the possibilities I’ve studied, and I’m still not doing what I probably should. Oy. Gotta get on that. :)

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