Dystopian lit lights the way to better future
When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to slay vampires, demons and the forces of darkness. Perhaps I should have dreamt about cell phones and Hollister (a middle school girl’s biggest luxuries), but instead, I wanted to fight evil. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my hero, and I didn’t just look up to her. I wanted to be her.
In a world where nothing was certain, Buffy remained cool, calm and collected. She manipulated authority figures and dismissed the rules, conquered seemingly insurmountable obstacles and demon-spawn enemies. She did it all with a flip of her perfectly unruffled hair and the delivery of a pithy one-liner.
Recently, there’s been a resurgence of strong, female characters like Buffy tackling difficult odds, often in dystopian worlds. From Katniss in “The Hunger Games” to Tris in “Divergent,” women in worst-case-scenario universes have become common. While it’s easy to roll your eyes when you see yet another woman kicking her away across a screen, we shouldn’t forget the — ironically uplifting — value of dystopian media.
Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, explained some of the appeal of consuming dystopian media in a recent article.
“[Young adult] dystopias externalize the turmoil that’s already taking place in adolescent minds, hearts, and bodies,” Stevens writes. “The social, interpersonal, and biological phenomena that define teenage life — competition and jealousy, anxiety about exclusion and belonging, shifting alliances, first crushes, wet dreams — are codified and, in some way, dignified by their transmutation into fiction.”
I may no longer be in middle school, but there’s still something oddly satisfying about seeing characters solve problems that are much more difficult than even real-world struggles.
Regardless of age, we can see ourselves within these stories. As college students, we’re past adolescence, but obstacles and issues never really disappear. We are still learning about life and discovering who we want to be.
Buffy routinely faced the apocalypse, but we’ve all been there. If anything, as adults, we’re more acquainted with what it means to suffer now than we were five or eight years ago.
Still, seeing worlds much worse than our own, in which monsters run rampant and the government mandates battles between youth, provides relief.
Though our lives may be relatively ordinary, our problems can still feel extraordinarily hard. Our obstacles may be fights with friends and rising tuition, rather than monsters or oppressive regimes. However, when we see others flawlessly executing takedowns and railing against corrupt authority, we start to believe we can, too.
We may have problems, but we don’t have fictional characters’ exact problems, and for that we ought to feel grateful. Seeing a character successfully overcome astronomical odds also reminds us that we, too, can persevere. We’re inspired to emulate those we see on the big screen and take action.
We’re not obsessed with books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” because we’re forever 13 years old and uncool. We like them because they reflect our lives on a larger scale. The physical demons Buffy fights symbolize ordinary demons — like heartbreak and rejection — that plague us all.
This type of media shows us that it’s OK, even celebrated, to be different. They make us feel that with hard work, we can be extraordinary, too. We can overcome anything.
These lessons, while particularly appealing during the middle school years, are important for everyone. In the midst of our own hectic lives and flawed world, we want to see the good guy win.
If you go to see “Divergent” this weekend, there’s a chance you may be surrounded by hordes of middle-schoolers, but don’t let that deter you. Seeing characters conquer situations much worse than our own is oddly uplifting, and there’s no better time for it. After all, finals are only a few weeks away.
Brittany Rudolph is a sophomore studying English and art history. Follow her @DailyWildcat