The YA (dystopian) genre, it’s death and partial resurrection

8 mins read

Eleven years after its film debut The Hunger Games is having a resurgence. This could be due to a couple of factors, such as the prequel film The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, due out in November of this year, and its lead actress Jennifer Lawrence is stepping back into the spotlight.

However, the young adult (YA) genre as a whole does not seem to be experiencing the same treatment. Around the same time as The Hunger Games, many other YA books and films were popular, Divergent and The Maze Runner to name a few, so it can’t be that the genre itself is experiencing a resurgence, but rather just the one series in particular. 

To be clear, the apparent pattern is that the dystopian branch of the YA genre seems to have massively decreased in popularity, around the 2012-2014 time period, when these aforementioned films were being released. The books had already garnered mass attention, which meant the films were insured to massive box office hits, and any actor starring in them guaranteed to be served on a silver platter into the jaws of fame.

However, it’s not the quality of film that has moved the YA dystopian genre out of the centre of the public eye, but rather the source material itself.

Image Credit: https://erdacomunista.blogspot.com/2021/07/good-dystopian-books-for-young-adults.html

It is not to say that the books are not well written, but the same old tropes were becoming overused, and thus the market became oversaturated as a whole. The narrative of a young teenager becoming ‘special’ or ‘the chosen one’ and being so very different from their peers in the book became quick to recognise, but could perhaps be the reason it seemed to work so well as that was the demographic they were aimed at.

What young adult/teen doesn’t want to believe that they can change the world? It’s this brave, young naïveté, and optimism that allowed this trope to resonate with teens and young adults across the world.

When you’re young and you first start to see the wrongs of the world, there is some part of you that truly believes that if you just try hard enough you can change the world, all by yourself. Of course, you then get a little older and realise that the big bad guys are a little too big and a little too bad for you, and that the world is bigger than you and your imagination. There’s simply too many big things for you to solve.

The resentment at the state of the world and the want to effect change does remain, but not in the same youthful way in once did. Real like can’t be wrapped up into a neat set of tropes that always reaches a tidy conclusion where the hero wins, the big bad is destroyed, and the world is an ever-peaceful state.

It would be a huge generalisation to say that anything dystopian has retreated to the blind spots of the public eye. The dystopian genre is one that has proven to still have not just the ability, but the need to be front and centre. Recent entries into the genre include Black Mirror (2011- present), Squid Game (2021-present) and Years and Years (2019). All of which have had great cultural impact and significance, demonstrating that dystopia is something that needs to evolve in order to not be eradicated.

Years and Years takes a much less fantasy approach to genre and chooses to place us in a more realistic setting— a family experiencing the changing world and the challenges that come with it. Obviously, there are fictitious elements, but these are so much less grand than a world where children are sent to their deaths in the name of entertainment or put in a maze for an experiment to save humanity.

By putting a relatable family facing relatable problems at the centre of the show, and having a clever crescendo up to the more dramatic moments, a dystopia is created that’s full to the brim of fresh and new, exciting ideas and narratives— it invigorates dystopia to be something more for a wider audience. It is not written to play simply into childhood optimism but rather acknowledges the adult awareness that the world is full of wrong, that there is no ‘chosen one’ but rather a chosen collective. A unified front of people rather than one hero. It is what the genre needs. Stories of heroes are fun, but if stories are to be a medium through which the cruel calamities of the world can be shown to us, to allow us to realise them, then more innovative dystopias are needed.

Image Credit: Years and Years, BBC/HBO

Perhaps more human is a better way to put it, as it often feels as if dystopias are so wrapped up in how to be the most warped version of humanity, that it is forgets that at the centre of the problems of the world are humans, and not characters and tropes. People are not something that can be easily written and defined, and so when these tropes are broken, we can see a dystopian bit of media that really show us the harshness of reality.

Ultimately, it seems that the need for fantastically dystopian YA fiction has been outgrown. Everyone will always say that the world has gotten so much worse as they’ve grown up, but it is just the universal truth that comes with age. The world is not worse, we just see it in all its ugly truth, and the dystopian fiction that we consume needs to keep up with our more mature outlook. The resurgence of certain series is limited to waves of nostalgia that will soon find something else to dredge up to the shores of public interest.

Image Credit : Meah Peers, Screenrant

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