Dystopian Media & The Modern World
BY ELSA LEWIS '25
Are we living in a dystopia? Believe it or not, many of your favorite books, movies, and TV shows reflect this concept: a world or society that distracts the public from fundamental issues such as corruption, ecological disaster, or foreign invasion with a seemingly “perfect” life. In each story, a character realizes their simulated reality is not what it appears to be and fights to expose it.
Many wonder what effects climate change will have on future Earth. This is a question scientists and dystopian authors deliberate today. Environmental destruction is not uncommon in dystopian literature, as its effects reflect ignorance and misconceptions of the real world. If you want to be immersed in a story about this kind of dystopia, I highly recommend The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau. The story follows a young girl, Lina, living in an underground city threatened by supply shortages and a lack of natural resources. Lina’s loved ones are dying while the city’s population is rapidly declining. One day, Lina carelessly stumbles upon a secret that could change the future of her city and others. I thought that this series, especially the first book, accurately captured the potential consequences of global warming while catering to both elementary readers and teens. This twisty, unexpected series appeals to those interested in or concerned by a detrimental future of our planet.
Most people have read my favorite dystopian series (of all time), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you haven’t read this series, it is a must. It contains the classic features of dystopian literature and also touches on the extreme social and economic class divides in the real world. Because many teens read this series at a younger age, they may not be able to pick up on its key motif—government control. The story follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a self-reliant teenager that has learned to raise her sister in the absence of her mother’s emotional stability. Katniss faces many traumas and hardships throughout her journey. However, one power dynamic in the fictional world stays the same: the Capitol’s control of the surrounding districts. Eventually, readers begin to understand that the death and destruction characters face in their society is for the government’s entertainment. Disturbingly, the governmental corruption and control in The Hunger Games could easily parallel the modern world. Is the government responsible for certain worldwide disasters? Does the public really know of certain closed-door operations in the government? The way you interpret these themes is up to you!
If you’re looking for a series with an apocalyptic dystopian trope, The Fifth Wave series by Rick Yancy is a perfect option. The story is told by main character Cassie, a girl whose life was completely normal before changing forever. This series is exhilarating; it tells the story of various waves of destruction on Earth. First, a seemingly indestructible group of extraterrestrial foreigners cut Earth’s ability to communicate, followed by the near-extinction of all humans through artificial weather disasters, disease, hunting, and the creation of a young army. I highly recommend this series because it involves invasion and other survival concepts while also incorporating other subgenres of dystopian like ecological disaster. Plus, the ending is a complete plot twist, and who doesn’t love an unexpected surprise?
If reading isn’t your thing, keep reading! The classic 1999 film The Matrix is the perfect example of the final category of dystopian, technological control. The main character, Neo, quickly discovers that he is living in a dystopia dictated by advanced technology. But how exactly does he escape? Will Neo ever be able to live contently in the dystopia after discovering the truth behind its reality? Above all, The Matrix makes viewers question their own sense of reality in a world of ever-changing technology. Each time I watch this movie, my prediction for the future of technology changes. The Matrix truly does not get old. Sometimes I look around the room, scanning for hidden cameras in the mirrors. Who knows—hidden robots from another dimension could be watching us right now.
The dystopian genre as a whole is a neverending set of possibilities in our world’s timeline. They make readers question their current reality while also predicting the social, economic, and environmental future of the human population. If your life’s mission is to save the world like Katniss or Lina, you will have to go on your own journey to answer the question: is society truly what it seems?