Opinion: It’s time for teen dystopia to make a comeback

Frances Marsh | Comment Editor 

The 2010s saw an explosion in the teen dystopia genre. Stories like The Hunger Games became an international success and there wasn’t a teenager in the country who hadn’t at least heard of a book from the genre. Despite the cultural phenomenon it became, the craze seemed to die out as fast as it took off, with the last film in the Divergent series never even making it to production. Many have speculated why this is the case, as the genre certainly had the potential to become a staple in teen literature.

The simple answer is market oversaturation. A common criticism of the genre was the formulaic narratives, and once it exploded into the mainstream it was suggested by some that these were becoming predictable. The genre was firmly cemented in the consciousness of tweens in the early 2010s, but it’s easy to see how it quickly became too much of a good thing.

This being said, I would argue that over a decade on from the initial craze we are now in a time when teen dystopia could (and should) make a significant comeback. Of course, the genre itself never disappeared. Authors and filmmakers continue to write and produce these stories, but the hunger for them that existed in the early 2010s just isn’t there anymore, and perhaps I can speculate as to why.

As the trend progressed, the formula that these books tended to follow started to feel outdated. They often focused on a love triangle or romance at the core and whilst this is a trope that is by no means going anywhere, in this particular case it just stopped resonating with consumers. Many of these stories are set in futuristic societies where modern societal expectations can be played with and changed. Yet, many of the most popular centred around a female protagonist with a male love interest. Surely, in a setting where contemporary norms are being challenged, it only makes sense to play with the idea of gender and sexuality in a more subversive way? For me, this was missed opportunity which could be explored better today, when conversations on these topics have entered the mainstream in a much more significant way.

Furthermore, there was usually a message at the heart of these narratives, and whilst this may have gone over my head as a pre-teen reading them for the first time, it is now blindingly obvious. The Hunger Games is a perfect example, at the peak of its popularity it was often reduced to its central love triangle and (admittedly) hot protagonists, but when looking at it several years later the more complex themes are what stick out to me. The books explore the power of propaganda, a tyrannical government, the class divide, and the ability of one individual act of rebellion to spark change. The imagined future of a war-torn country segregated into districts is clearly one inspired by modern-day America and if the genre shifted to aim itself at a young adult audience, rather than the younger teenagers it initially attracted, these are themes which would likely be well received and discussed today. With some changes, this is undoubtedly a genre which I can see having a resurgence over a decade after the initial craze began.

Image by Tom Britt via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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