I fought the law: a trope
That song from the 1960s keeps getting stuck in my head.
In the dystopian genre, there is a trope that I like to call, I fought the law and the law won. Where the main characters don't change the system at all. Here is a list of some movies that I think fit that genre that I like and recommend. So, changing the system isn't really the point of the story. Equals (2015) Never Let Me Go (2010) Brave New World (I haven't seen the most current tv series, is it good? but I've seen 1998) Moon (2009) Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
This trope is at odds with the Chosen One trope, where the entire point of that trope is that there is The One who takes down the entire system. This trope seems to pop up a lot in YA stories, like The Hunger Games or the Divergent Series. Hope comes from the ability to tear down the system, but the endings don’t often deal with what replaces the system that is torn down. It’s just enough that the dystopian/authoritarian system is destroyed, and the audience presumes that a “better” system replaces the old. Better is never defined or explored.
Not that “better” is particularly explored in stories like Equal or Never Let Me Go, but replacing those systems aren’t the point of the story. Exploring the system is the point of those stories, and by extension, how those systems play out in our world. Hope isn’t always the point for these stories, either. Illumination and discussion are the point.
What both tropes have in common is that they are exploring how we deal with dystopic (is that a word… it is now) elements in our world. Some say that dystopian stories are just stories where the oppression of the marginalized are being applied to the privileged. In some respects, I can see that. Dystopian stories do allow a safe distance for sympathetic viewing of oppression of the privileged to the oppressed.
In my book series, there is no chosen one. Yes, I have a main character through which we enter the world. She is from the privileged class within the dystopian/authoritarian society. Her privilege had allowed her to not see a lot of the oppression that is present in the society, but the oppression occurs everywhere. No one really escapes it. The difference between classes is how comfortable you are while you’re being oppressed. At the start of the story, the veil of her privilege starts to lift, as she is thrust into full adulthood and citizenship in this world. She is to become part of the system that oppresses people. What does that do to someone? As she descends into becoming a cog in this system, what does that turn her into? Can you lift yourself out of that?
If a system is seemingly immutable, how do you change it? What can you do? How do you fight the law that will always win? And even if you could win, what would be its replacement? We’ve seen in historical scenarios that one authoritarian regime is often replaced by another. Is that inevitable?
These are some of the questions that I’m exploring in this book series.
As a writer and as a person, I don’t know if I have an answer. When I first began this project 25 years ago, the story wasn’t a dystopia. It was just sci-fi with a utopian origin story. Some 25 years later, I’m not as… naïve I guess. I didn’t know about systemic oppression back then. I didn’t know about a lot of things. I still hope for our future. In part, looking back on human history things look better to me than they did thousands of years ago. In part because I have to have hope. I’m a mom. I hope that the world that I leave my child will be one that he will be okay in. So part of the reason that I’m writing this book series is exploring my fears about the world I’m leaving my child, so in that way it’s not just about geopolitics and economic theory, but a personal love letter from a mother to her son.
He is my reason.