Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dystopia and Social Psychology

So I went to the post office on Friday to mail out some books to bloggers. I usually just use the self-help thingy so I don't have to stand in line, but a few of these were international shipments and I didn't want to mess them up. So I stood in line with the rest of the joe-schmos trying to send Christmas gifts early enough (mine weren't Christmas gifts but they didn't need to know that) and when it came my turn, the woman who helped me started asking the regular retinue of questions:

(Ghost coming out of parcel.)
Do you want insurance or confirmation of delivery? No thank you.
Do the packages contain anything fragile, liquid, explosive, supernatural or nuclear? Not today. They're just books.

Then she asked if it was my book I was sending out to people. Don't know where a postal worker found that insight at ten minutes to five, two Fridays before Christmas, but I was impressed.

Yes actually, it is. 

She asked me what kind of book it was and I told her. She didn't know the term 'dystopian' so I explained it. (All I ever have to say is 'Hunger Games' and I can see the light bulb switch on.)
So then she started telling me about how she and her friend study social psychology as a hobby. She was kind of don't-think-I'm-a-geek about it, but I thought it was a really cool hobby and I told her so. She said her theory about why dystopians are so popular right now has to do with social psychology.

You see, society, like individuals, has mood swings and waves of belief and cycles that it goes through. For the past thirty years, according to her, we've been in a very individualistic place. Now, we're swinging back toward the communistic phase.

I gotta say, I think she has a point. I don't mean to be political (necessarily) but the results of recent elections surely proves it. And the last time communes were popular were in the seventies, right?

The idea is that people can feel the movement of society in a different direction, and it disturbs them, so we're reading and writing very anti-communal literature. Makes sense.

I would venture to add one more thing, though. I don't think of society's mood in this metaphor as just a measurable wave with peaks and valleys, but rather as a pendulum. Every time we switch directions and swing back the other way, we swing harder and go farther, which means we'll be more radical than we've ever been before. It's really only a matter of time before we hit something.

Which is why I write dystopia. That, and it's fun. :D

What do you think? Does this theory hold up? Why do you think we're so obsessed with dystopia these days?


  1. Would be so refreshing if we were moving in the direction of where we were in the 70's. Had to laugh about the postal worker questions about your packages. I get them all the time since I mail so many books for my giveaways.

  2. Maybe because we fear we're seeing the end approach?
    Hey, maybe you have a new fan in the making!

  3. It's not a new concept. The Machiavellian theory is that it moves in a complete circle between 6 types of government (the breakdown of one leads to the rise of its converse). That is why dystopia is so fascinating because it could totally happen. Can't wait to read yours!

    Christy Woods