Academic journal article High School Journal

Engaging "Apolitical" Adolescents: Analyzing the Popularity and Educational Potential of Dystopian Literature Post-9/11

Academic journal article High School Journal

Engaging "Apolitical" Adolescents: Analyzing the Popularity and Educational Potential of Dystopian Literature Post-9/11

Article excerpt

Although dystopian novels have been prevalent under the young adult banner for decades, their abundance and popularity post-9/11 is noteworthy. The 21st century has found academics and laypersons alike discussing the supposed political apathy of young adults and teenagers of the Millennial Generation. However, despite this common complaint--and contrary to ample research that indicates that this age group has traditionally been uninterested in global politics--the reading preferences of this generation indicate that this label of "apolitical" may not be as fitting as some believe. In fact, the popularity of young adult dystopian literature, which is ripe with these political themes, suggests that this group is actually quite interested in these topics, although they often turn to the safe confines of fiction to wrestle with them. This article explores the potential educational uses of these young adult dystopias and argues that reading these texts may be a small step in the direction of engaging students in social justice issues and, perhaps, sparking more overt political action.

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Although dystopian novels have been prevalent under the young adult (YA) banner for decades, their abundance and popularity post-9/11 is noteworthy. In the 21st century academics and laypersons alike have discussed the supposed political apathy of young adults and teenagers of the Millennial Generation (1980-2000), (1) causing national panic (at least around election time) about the future of democracy in the United States (Pew Research, 2010; Wishon, 2012). However, despite this common complaint--and contrary to ample research and poll data that indicates that this age group has traditionally been uninterested in current events, global politics, environmental concerns, and ethical debates involving scientific invention, human trafficking, and social equity--the reading preferences of this generation indicate that this label of "apolitical" may not be as fitting as some believe. In fact, the popularity of young adult dystopia, which is ripe with these political themes, suggests that this group is actually quite interested in these topics, although they often turn to the safe confines of fiction to wrestle with them.

This article brings current YA dystopian novels such as Feed (Anderson, 2002) and Little Brother (Doctorow, 2008), as well as series such as "The Hunger Games" (Collins, 2008, 2009, 2010), "Uglies" (Westerfield 2005, 2006, 2007), and "Matched" (Condie, 2010, 2011), into conversation with various ancestor texts. Analyzing the socio-political commentary present within this popular body of literature provides insights into the concerns this generation may have for the future--concerns which are not always being expressed via traditional democratic processes. This article explores the reasons why this subgenre has recently become so popular with teen audiences, especially in light of the social critiques this group receives, and argues that these reading practices indicate that today's youth are often portrayed unjustly. Specifically, this article argues that the post-9/11 climate has contributed to the popularity of these YA dystopias as they present fictional fear-based scenarios that align with contemporary cultural concerns. While these texts do not always serve as direct allegories for 9/11, or draw attention to specifically post-9/11 concerns (although many do), they all provide social commentary that is relevant to society today. The eager consumption of this social commentary by youth is important to consider. The popularity of these novels may suggest that young adults do not warrant being classified as politically disengaged. Because much of the research concerning this generation's political involvement and civic illiteracy is convincing, critics might argue that this political engagement via the page is not enough to celebrate. However, this article explores the potential educational uses of these YA dystopias and contends that reading these texts may be a small step in the direction of engaging students in social justice issues and, perhaps, sparking more overt political action. …

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