Divergent: Strengthening Prediction of Totalitarian Rule

I watched ‘Divergent’ this weekend. I’d been meaning to read the book forever, but the movie plan was spontaneous, so I read only half the book before going for the movie. (Afterwards, obviously, I finished the series.) And what I found, was that the first book at least resembles Lois Lowry’s ‘The Giver’ to a great extent, besides having the feel of  the ‘Hunger Games’ series. Not a novel observation.

Now, first and foremost, this is not a critique. I thoroughly appreciated the Divergent series – I loved the story and, despite its formula-based beginning, the last book gave wonderfully rich fodder for intellectual debate. Second, I’m going to take this opportunity to give readers a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read any of the abovementioned series, or are halfway through one, please don’t read ahead. Suffice it to say that I believe, like Tierney Sneed, that conscious/subconscious piggybacking and bandwagon-jumping have led to this whole block of young-adult-fiction-inspired movies that are like different kinds of cupcakes – different-colored icing, same muffin-y thing underneath. But that’s not the problem – the problem is our ubiquitous prediction of dystopian futures, period.

I read ‘The Giver’ in the sixth grade, as I’m sure many of you must have. Enthralled by the story, I couldn’t confine myself to the pace of the class, and read ahead. The book was the first one, I think, to illustrate the meaning of ‘haunting’ to me. ‘The Giver’ shook me. In my mind’s eye, I pictured a circle of adobe huts, with palm trees and a trickle of a creek – all of which is far from scary. But then you get to the plot. Each of the children, at the age of 12, are chosen for a job by the Elders depending on their nature and aptitude. The protagonist, however, is chosen for the most important job of all – that of the Giver. It turns out that in this dystopian future, the people have been boxed into a community where things like vocabulary are regulated and everything that makes people different has been removed – including memories and even color.  All the memories of Earth and our past, the good and the bad, are passed down from Giver to Receiver, who is eventually trained to become the next Giver. What clues this boy in to his individuality is that he starts seeing snatches of the color red, first in an apple, and then in a girl’s hair. Slowly as his training progresses, he learns of both happy moments, like sledding, and horrible ones, like war. He comes to the conclusion that a world where people know of these things would be more meaningful, and finally unleashes his memories on the village, before escaping the confines of his village.

Similarly, the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy features a world of citizens divided into Districts which determine their  profession. As ever, the community is ruled by keeping people so caught up in their predefined jobs that they have no time or energy to question the way things are being run. Eventually the protagonist, Katniss, is caught up in a  rebellion against the Capitol and overthrows it to establish (hopefully) a better government.

 

             

 

Divergent follows suit, with children choosing Factions, or communities, at age 16, which they will then have to place above family. It is later seen that this is actually a measure of control. A girl with special aptitude, Tris, is the only one able to resist certain controlling measures of the governing body (the various serums) and so is uniquely placed in a situation that allows her to defy and go against the current state of affairs. Again, the people in this world are all walled up in one city, cut off from the world outside, and this enables their control. This turns out to be because the entire city is an experiment. Due to a nationwide attempt to improve society by improving our genes, and its utter failure, most of the population dies out, leading to experimental cities like the one Tris lives in formed to correct the error. Outside these cities, the ‘genetically damaged’ are treated as inferior by the government and blamed for violence, etc etc, much like racism-based conflicts today, while the government covers up war prior to the genetic experiment to maintain ‘genetically pure supremacy’.

These stories bring to mind the movie ‘I Robot’ and the classic parent of all dystopian books, ‘1984’.  ‘I Robot’, based on a book by Isaac Asimov, features a dystopian future where the world is almost taken over by robots, and is saved only by a man with a deep mistrust of robots. ‘1984’, as I see it, is the ultimate in dystopian futures, and is about a world where people are constantly watched by the government and controlled through language, thought, expression, living spaces, family planning, you name it. It is a beautiful representation of absolute perfect dominion of a government over its subjects.

Now, to the point. Many people have noticed and remarked on a trend here: books and young adult series seem to be following the same storyline, give or take: a dystopian future in which the governing body controls the population by the classic divide-and-conquer strategy, a ‘hero’ and an attempted rebellion, successful or otherwise. While it is generally believed that this is a result of piggybacking off pathbreakers’ success, I have too much appreciation for these books and the subtle but key differences between them to believe it is entirely so. Although I don’t deny the effect of  influence, I believe that these plots are essentially each the author’s own – which makes what I have to say of more import. Does it not disturb anyone else that all the future-based books and movies we’ve seen of late are dystopian?

From books like ‘The Giver’, ‘Divergent’ and ‘1984’ with oppressive ‘divide-and-conquer’ governments, to those like ‘After Earth’ which show the destruction of Earth as an inhabitable planet, when did we get so negative about our future? It feels like ‘The Jetsons’ was the last positive depiction of our future in the last couple of decades. Why can’t someone make futuristic action movies, or movies about politics or romance or mystery set in the future? Or is it a result of audiences demanding something “deep”? Has the concept of a “deep” plot come to be unshakeably associated with oppression and rebellion?  Or is it just that we’ve finally become pessimistic (some would say realistic) about our odds of survival, freedom intact, in this world plagued with divide, violence and power-hungry politicians?

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Each of these works of fiction, disturbingly, warns us against the government. And yet, despite popular culture going from subtle to blatant in its warnings, we seem to be doing nothing. For example, the United States’ highest turnout of voting-age population in the past 50 years was in 1960: 63.1%. [ http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html]

In general, there appears to be a negative trend in voting turnout.

 

With increasing distance between the rulers and the ruled, and increasing tendencies to label ourselves for whatever purpose, total domination by government, an idea once planted firmly in the field of fiction, is beginning to look more and more like a realistic future.

Authors and the literati have long been held in esteem for their insight. How does it bode for us that most of them are beginning to predict totalitarian rule? As always, I’d love to hear your views, so if you have anything to contribute to this discussion, please comment below!

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Cruising Through the Galaxy on an 846.37

WRITE NOW PROMPT FOR JULY 9, 2013

He sat behind what he assumed to be the steering wheel, stared at all the buttons and lights and wondered what to do next.

He sat behind what he assumed to be the steering wheel, stared at all the buttons and lights and wondered what to do next. He’d never stolen a 846.37 before. The rod he’d taken to be the steering apparatus was responsive to his touch. The Pod swerved, sped up and slowed in accordance with the intensity of his grip and the direction intended; in fact, he’d never managed to control anything so perfectly before. He grinned, enjoying the feeling of effortless success. He took a left off G-121 onto a connector road. This baby’s meant for more than galactic hinghways. Little chunks of asteroid seemed to be of no consequence to the 846, so he barreled on like a Kyfta, banking and speeding alternately. Just as the thrill was beginning to plateau though, a red light started blinking; and not any red light – an important one in the middle of the dash. Uh-oh. “The vehicle is now in manual operation mode,” a female voice issued from somewhere near the roof of the Pod. “The vehicle is now in manual operation mode.” Suddenly his uncanny adeptness at handling the Pod all made sense. He looked up and saw an incoming asteroid, about 5 yocgts wide. Crap.

 

Long Days and Lullabies

This week’s Trifecta Challenge:

CLUB

1a : a heavy usually tapering staff especially of wood wielded as a weapon b : a stick or bat used to hit a ball in any of various games c : something resembling a club 2a : a playing card marked with a stylized figure of a black clover b : plural but sing or plural in constr : the suit comprising cards marked with clubs 3a : an association of persons for some common object usually jointly supported and meeting periodically; also : a group identified by some common characteristic <nations in the nuclear club>  

[See more at: http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/2013/06/trifecta-week-eighty-two.html#comment-form]

Ray was exhausted. His top-level corporate job had paid for his lifestyle, but left him with very little time to spend with his son, Jason. He sighed. He’d have to make a better effort. Starting tomorrow. Today, all I want is a glass of…

“Oh, you’re home,” El called. She kicked her heels off and sank into the sofa.” Rick called today- he wanted to remind you about some concert thing planned for Saturday. Macklemore.”

Ray started. He’d forgotten entirely. He and Rick had spent their entire adolescent lives idolizing him. When they’d heard that this tour was to be his last, Rick had persuaded him to buy front-row tickets.

When he looked up, she’d fallen asleep. Poor thing. Covering her with a blanket, he headed for the kitchen to pour himself a drink.

Just as he reached, he heard noises from Jason’s bedroom. “Hey pal,” he said, finding him awake. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“I had a scary dream…I want Mommy to sing a song,” he said, eyes wide.

“Well, Mommy’s asleep, so how about I sing you a lullaby tonight?”

“M’kay,” mumbled Jason, happily. “Now, what am I going to sing for you today?” he wondered aloud. Is it too late now to call Rick? The concert is on Saturday.

“Mommy sings me songs from when she was a kid,” Jason murmured.

I remember my first concert, thought Ray with a smile.  We used to sing along to “Thrift Shop” all the time back then.

Almost without realizing it, he found himself humming it. “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket…” He grinned; lowering his voice, trying to disguise it as a lullaby, he continued, “Walk into the club, like what up I got a big – ” Oops

“-cork,” he completed, flustered, darting a glance at his son. Had he noticed? But Jason lay still, already asleep. Ray felt his throat constrict. “I promise I’ll be home more often,” he whispered fiercely to his sleeping son.

—————————-

So this is the short version. Initially, I got carried away and wrote around 750 words before I got a friendly reminder (thank heavens for those!) that it was way over the word limit. Still, I have a soft corner for the original, so I decided to add it below, just in case anyone’s interested in reading it.

Turning the key to let himself in, Ray made straight for the living room and put his briefcase down near his favorite recliner. He was exhausted. His top-level corporate job had paid for his house, his cars, and (he suspected) had also had a small role in his getting his wife. Unfortunately it left him with very little time to spend either on his hobbies or with his son, Jason. At three years old, Jason was reaching that age when parental presence (or its absence) sets the tone for their lifelong parent-child relationship. He sighed. He’d have to make a better effort. Starting tomorrow. Today, all I want is a glass of…

“Oh, you’re home,” El called by way of welcome, standing in the doorway, laptop bag in hand. Her job in the media kept her, if possible, even busier than his kept him. Elizabeth kicked her heels off and sank into the sofa, flexing the soles of her feet and moaning with relief.

“Long day?” he asked.

“You bet,” she said, closing her eyes. “Right now all I want is some sleep.” She settled in deeper into the sofa. “Oh, by the way, your childhood friend Rick called – he wanted to remind you about some concert thing you had planned for Saturday. Macklemore’s Grand Finale apparently.”

Ray started. He’d forgotten entirely. He and Rick had spent their entire adolescent lives idolizing him. When they’d heard that this tour was to be his last, Rick had persuaded him to finally give in to impulse. Together, they’d bought front-row tickets for the concert. Right now all I want is some sleep, he thought, echoing El.

“…but I need to watch the LVBN ’26 Awards thing,” El was saying. “It’s supposed to be on tonight. I need to,” she yawned,”make sure…,” another yawn, “that….” yawning again, she drifted off to sleep.

He smiled. Poor thing. Getting a blanket from their linen closet, he covered her, dimmed the lights, and headed for the kitchen to pour himself a drink before calling Rick back.

Just as he was tilting the decanter, he heard the sound of something expensive (grimace) falling. Eyebrows furrowed, he put down his glass and stepped out into the hallway. He’d updated his security system just a month or two ago; it was a pretty expensive one too.Just to be on the safe side however, he grabbed a steel ladle from the kitchen before heading down the hallway.

Peeking into the living room, he saw Jason standing there, teddy bear dragging, blinking sleepily, and inwardly sighed with relief. “Hey pal,” he said, squatting down to his son’s level. “Couldn’t sleep?” He sheepishly tucked the ladle behind a wooden table nearby.

“I had a scary dream,” he pouted, looking up. “I want Mommy to sing a song,” he said, looking worried, eyes wide.

“C’mere,” said Ray, standing up and lifting his three-year-old into his arms. “Mommy’s asleep, so how about I sing you a lullaby tonight?”

“M’kay,” mumbled Jason, already burrowed happily into his father’s shoulder.

Laying him on the bed, Ray tucked Jason into his solar-system-themed comforter. The absence of Pluto still irritated him all these years later.

“Now, what am I going to sing for you today?” he wondered aloud. Is it too late now to call Rick? The concert is on Saturday. Two days away.

“Mommy sings me songs from when she was a kid,” Jason murmured, snuggling into his pillow.

I remember my first concert, thought Ray with a smile. I had to practically sign my freedom away to go see Macklemore, me and Rick both. We used to sing along to “Thrift Shop” all the time back then.

Almost without realizing it, he found himself humming it. “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket…”

He grinned, realizing how much he’d missed Macklemore. Lowering his voice, trying to disguise it as a lullaby, he smiled at Jason and continued, “Walk into the club, like what up I got a big – ” and stopped himself just in time. Macklemore isn’t for lullabies, what’s wrong with me?

“-cork,” he completed, flustered, darting a glance at his son. Had he noticed? But Jason lay still, already asleep. Listening to the sound of his son’s steady breathing, Ray felt his throat constrict. “I promise I’ll be home more often,” he whispered fiercely to his sleeping son. “I love you.”

Pulling the door closed, Ray went through his phone’s contact list till he found the name Rick.