Why Is Utopian Literature Less Popular Than Dystopian Literature?
What is the universal fascination with books or television or movies that depict a negative, corrupt, dystopian society? Is it perhaps the ability for readers to relate better to a broken world rather than a perfect one? Or is it the impact of modern day society on our perspective of what a “good” world is?
Dystopian culture is a prominent setting in many young adult novels today. From authors like Veronica Roth to George Orwell, the dystopian world has been a popular one for writers to explore and for readers to experience for decades. But why is it that we become so enraptured in these unpleasant, fearful dystopian worlds?
One proposition for the reasoning behind why dystopian novels fly off the shelves could be because we are knowledgable enough as humans to recognize when our world could turn into the world in which we’re reading about. The possibility that our society could become run by a tyrannous dictator, or that our choices and freedoms could all be stripped away are real possibilities, now more than ever. Now, when it feels like the Earth is dying, and animals are dying, and humans are dying because of unknown viruses is when dystopia becomes so much more relevant. Suddenly it feels like these worlds that have been imagined up could actually happen. Humans could become desperate, and start rioting, the government may become extremely controlling, democracy could cease to exist, etcetera.
So in reading about the types of settings like in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or in Divergent by Veronica Roth, or even 1984 by George Orwell, one can begin to envision the possibilities of the future, and therefore mentally prepare oneself for the destruction of the current world. One thing humans seem to like to do is to prepare. Whether that’s stocking up on canned goods, layering sandbags outside the house before a storm, or boarding up windows, we’re always prepared for the worst. And so perhaps dystopian stories – where destructive, unpleasant, and scary worlds are depicted – help us prepare for what seems could be possible in Earth’s future.
Furthermore, the popularity of dystopian novels could be due to one wanting to feel grateful for the world today, and these dystopian worlds remind one of all that is good in the current society. Perhaps I’m giving humankind too much credit here, but this could be a possibility. Think about it: would you feel more gratitude for the freedoms we have today if you read about a world in which women are forcefully impregnated to populate the human race, as in The Handmaid’s Tale? As a woman, I know I appreciate my freedoms and my rights even more after reading that novel. But maybe this isn’t true for everyone. Perhaps one just enjoys reading about worlds in which people are submissive, and fearful, and abused, and powerless because that is what is interesting. In that case, there still must be a reason why these aspects of a world would be interesting, right? This brings us to another reason: the characters.
Maybe it’s not about the dystopian world at all. Maybe it’s about the development and growth of a character and the traits exhibited by them in this unpleasant world. Perhaps reading about how Tris kills herself for her traitorous brother in Allegiant by Veronica Roth makes one want to be a more selfless person. Is reading about her bravery and selflessness inspiring? Or, maybe one can relate to her character on a deeper level because being selfless and brave in dire situations is who you are.
Looking deeper, maybe reading about Tris’ act of bravery and selflessness for her brother teaches the importance of family, and how strong familial love can be. Either way, readers may enjoy dystopian stories for this reason. Seeing characters exhibit traits you have or wish you had is inspiring, or enables one to relate to them on a deeper level. Because let’s face it, how many characters are you going to see act as brave or as selfless as Tris in a completely utopian (ie. perfect) world?
Onto another idea: do we read or watch dystopias because of the eventual utopian ending? Maybe we’re suckers for a happy ending, like every childhood story we grew up with. Even though transforming a whole corrupt world into a more positive, less corrupt one is more complicated then a superhero saving the world and all of a sudden it’s sunshine and rainbows, the evolution of this dystopian world could be what interests readers. It is the final chapter, the final book, or the final episode where everything is okay again that one looks forward to; it is the reason one endures reading or watching all the hardship of the dystopian world. Otherwise, why would one read about experiences of human pain or destruction? It is the eventual ending that is exciting, and that causes readers to think, “maybe everything will be okay” or “our world isn’t that bad”.
All in all, there is no denying the popularity of dystopian stories. It is interesting to divulge the possibilities for why one would enjoy these horribly corrupt settings, like for mental preparation if Earth turned out similarly, or for character development, or for the eventual utopian ending. Maybe none of this is true, and maybe one just enjoys dystopia “just because”, but subconsciously, one of these reasons might be the cause.
What do you think? Leave a comment.