Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Dystopian Novel’s Obsession with Gore

After talking non-stop with co-workers about the intrigue and heart-wrenching beauty that are dystopian novels, one young woman stated that she no longer liked dystopian novels as much as she once did. I decided to break down the differences found in the original dystopian novels (she was a fan of The Giver and was most recently finishing 1984) and the biggest books today when the greatest one jumped out at me: modern dystopian novels focus heavily on gore and physical suffering. Before, reading about corrupt politicians and overbearing governments and officials worked well enough to warn readers of what was to come, but what now? Most individuals couldn't care less about their government and how corrupt they are.

That idea alone is most likely the problem. Shouldn’t all people want to fight for better rights and easier access to healthy food, shelter, and clothing? Gore is necessary because readers will no longer take action unless they are scared senseless. There are few thoughts that will get a person angrier than the idea of murdering children, torturing children, experimenting on children--basically, anything to do with children. Unfortunately, these things already go on in the world. Dystopian novels cannot just stop at the government’s influence anymore; they need to take it one step further and show us destruction, death, and inhumanity (or perhaps, true humanity) in order for readers to understand that these books can still serve as warnings.

Real World Examples

Governments have been failing for hundreds of years. Since I’m a citizen of the U.S. and I’m sure everyone is more than aware of the problems in this country, we can simply look at other examples. Female infanticide in India is as large a problem today as it was fifty years ago. Poverty is also still dominant in large parts of the country, where clean water and enough food are difficult to come by. In Acapulco, Mexico, dozens of students (high school to college aged) were kidnapped and killed in the last few weeks, and the government turned a blind eye. Could it be they are too focused on stopping the drug trafficking? Doubtful, because just last year new murders in northern Mexico showed up every month in the streets.

Perhaps the greatest example of corrupt governments came last year when Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan, was shot for going to school. In 2014, many argue that we have achieved all equality of race, gender, and class, but how can we when women are threatened for earning an education and students who are murdered are not shown justice? You can Google any of these stories, but it will be the images that takes people's’ breath away. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch was a documentary on the Rape of Nanking in China, and that’s a World War II tragedy that was a Holocaust event in its own right, but few know it even happened. It’s not just corruption that is destroying our humanity, but individuals who take advantage of the lack of order. If these events aren’t prompting people to act, what else is there left to do?

Malala Yousafzai's memoir.  

Novel Examples

By now, the greatest examples of novels depicting true horror because of government corruption have been made into films, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less relevant. Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium, a sequel to the more censored Delirium, includes a scene where the government allows the murders of civilians and police officers to prove a point: that these underground gangs are bad and the people should trust the government to make more decisions. How can anyone who is willing to murder their own people be trusted?

Perhaps one of the most famous dystopian trilogies, The Hunger Games centers on a government that is willing to kill children to prevent their citizens from rebelling and fighting for better rights. Rather than allowing the adults to choose for themselves if they want to fight and risk death, the officials force them to watch the death of their children for those who fought generations before them. Every real world example provided featured children who were wrongly judged and executed (or, in Malala’s case, faced an attempted execution). Suzanne Collins may have been onto something when she decided her novel should focus on innocent childrens’ deaths.

Veronica Roth’s Divergent series went a step further: the final novel of the trilogy included the unveiling of the government’s plans and actions to experiment on people to create a human with pure genetics. The factionless were killed when they rioted, Tris lost half her family and friends, and the city nearly crumbled because someone wanted to test a hypothesis. Divergent resembled 1984 in the aspect that the government wanted to be all-knowing and all-controlling. A reader may read these novels and think that these extremes would never happen because they wouldn’t be dumb enough to let someone else control their choices. Unfortunately, they’re already doing that.

Building Walls and Creating Distance

Humans are all impacted when they see blood, torture, and death. The images may bring us to our knees or make us sick, but we are always drawn to them, just like individuals who want to learn more about war. These novels may have included too much gore for most readers, but the news coverage is no different from what you will find in a fiction novel.  Each of these dystopian societies succeeded in part because they built walls around the citizens, blocking off their connection and communication with the outside world. In today’s world, these same action occurs internally, when someone turns off the news because of a murder three blocks away, the starving children commercial comes on, or when news anchors debate about what will happen to the Middle East/the U.S./Asia/Africa/the world.

People put up walls to block out the suffering in the world because if they don’t see or hear about it, than it’s not happening so severely or maybe just not right this minute. Readers need this gore in dystopian novels. It’s not enough that they acknowledge and accept that governments become corrupt with time, policies, or people, but that they acknowledge that people are hurt and killed on a daily basis because of this corruption. In older dystopian novels, the people’s power had already been taken away, but ours is still here. There is still enough power in the world that is focused on helping people so the children and young adults who fight are not alone. Before, the characters needed to regain power. Today, the characters must fight back and be prepared to face harsh realities and sacrifice. Readers have the power and they see the truth of the world; now is the time for them to put the novel down and do something about it.

There will stop being gore in dystopian novels when the gore is acknowledged in our world.

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