Tonight, millions of fans around the world will flock to watch MockingJay part two. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading stories within the same genre -- enduring stories like Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and more recently, Lois Lowry's four-part series beginning with the Giver. Why do we love dystopian stories?
It seems strange to migrate towards these bleak stories, especially considering their settings are filled with Totalitarian regimes, the dehumanization of society, and they rarely have happy endings. Furthermore, as dependent on technology as our culture is, interestingly technology rarely rescues anyone in these stories -- instead, tyrants hatch schemes to suppress people with technology.
In such stories, many of our deepest fears take flight. For example, computers conquer and enslave humans, dictators rule hawkishly, nature harshly turns her back on us, and the main characters are henpecked by peer pressure to conform to a decoy of civilization.
But then dystopian plots snare us with the old “battle of good vs. evil,” and as we become emotionally engaged, we eagerly root for the protagonists throughout their transformational character arc. Even though the odds are stacked against the heroes & heroines, in a clutch they eventually soar past their enemies as they overcome with limited resources & a little grit, the strength of their community, and through a common determination to be free.
If you were to raise a duckling in a desert wasteland, instinctually it would long for the wetlands. Likewise, deep inside we know we are made for heavenly realms. To some degree, existing east of Eden, we inhabit just the opposite of Utopia. Since our world often has pockets of brutality & fanaticism and the dystopian genre confronts similar topics, we are drawn to these stories -- regardless of how much we might brood over them.
Basically, there’s enough reality within this intimidating genre to draw us in (along with the potential for these stories to actually happen), and we cherish freedom from bullies who seek to break the will of the masses. We naturally long to be victorious over oppressive forces -- so maybe it’s not so cryptic that we enjoy these gloomy stories.
The dystopian genre isn’t a fledgling storyline, it’s been around ever since people have put quill to parchment, just take a gander at Scripture. For example, in the opening of the book of Genesis we see disorder and chaos ruling over nature, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2 ESV)
Something cataclysmic happened in between Gen 1:1 & 1:2, perhaps a great battle resulting in satan being cast to the earth -- he is after all already strutting around the Garden when we meet Adam & Eve. Also, consider the crisis mankind faced in the antediluvian period before Noah’s voyage. And, what of John’s Apocalypse...?
Is it hard to see a dystopian world when you read this passage? “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” (Revelation 13:11-18 ESV)
Maybe in the end, the dystopian genre resonates with us because it’s a story-pattern as old as time itself -- with a niche lasting until the end of time. So, if you are like us and you plan to see MockingJay part two this weekend, keep an eye out for Biblical principles such as good standing firm against evil even when it’s painful, the effect power has over us when we lose sight of goodness/compassion, and redemption. Remember, many spiritual lessons can be learned from secular stories, since the story of humanity, created in God’s image but stained by sin, is so interwoven within them.