What Happened to the Big “O?”

Sunny Frazier 5Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, opines on the current young adult dystopian fad and how pessimistic it is compared to real life even with its shortcomings.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

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I’m talking about Optimism.

If I’m to believe young adult books and movies, the world is doomed. There is no planning for the future because there is no future. The previous generations screwed things so badly that the Milleniums are left dealing with the dregs. Is there anything entertaining or uplifting in these works?

I never heard the word “dystopian” until it became en vogue. It’s the opposite of utopia, which was a dream of my generation, the Baby Boomers. World War II was over and our parents, who grew up in the Depression era, worked hard to give us a better life. As a result, we grew up with optimism and hope for an infinitely better society in the future.

Feeding that optimism was John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Young adults joined his Peace Corps. We were going to make a difference. We might have succeeded had Kennedy not been assassinated. All too quickly followed by Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Vietnam. Our faith in the previous generation was diminished.

Oddly enough, our response was not to give up on society. Out of it came the hippies. Love ’em or hate ’em, they believed they had the answers: peace, love, communes, free love and drugs. Stuffing flowers down gun barrels of the National Guardsmen. Hopelessly optimistic about a future for little Rainbow and Phoenix. (Note: I was not a hippie. I joined the military as a “hawk” and left as a “dove.” Go figure.)

Seven by SevenThere were dystopian novels out there: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, On the Beach. But these were about adults dealing with the aftermath of the destruction, not teens. And they were spawned by the realities around us. My generation was taught to duck and cover in the event of an atom bomb. People built bomb shelters in their backyards. My military family was sent to Midway Island where my dad “flew the barrier” to protect America from Soviet invasion. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? I was eleven. We were sent home from school and fathers had to brief the family. Rumor was, our base was the #3 target. We held our breath and waited for Kennedy’s next move. That was real, not some Hunger Game scenario. We lived it and survived. There was no need to create fictionalized chaos.

My message to the gloom and doomers of today is this: get over yourselves. You can wallow in disgust of the world you perceive or you can work to change it. Stop and smile once in awhile. Save all your black clothes for funerals. You are never going to be young again and there’s plenty of real sadness ahead. Don’t celebrate it early. And don’t infect the next generation with your poisoned outlook. They’ve already got enough on their plate.

17 thoughts on “What Happened to the Big “O?”

  1. So many valid, constructive and “hoping for…” words, Sunny. Depending whom I talk to, the new generation is as you outlined or are idealistic as we were in our youth and early adult lives.

    Though I did not leave as a dove, my leaving definitely as a tempered hawk. The time where Government was to be trusted and believed went by the way dramatically during our “watch” and all of us changed.

    I still hope and believe in the generations now and to come, but with that comes a huge concern about the media and its influence (whether via TV, print, social networks, the internet news feeds). The loss (well not totally lost but highly changed) of journalism and with its replacement with Sensationalism instead is a constant, unending feed of doom, gloom and all that is bad.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the change in subsequent generations if the Media was required to publish/print/cite positive stories 66.7% of the time and only permitted to convey tragic/sad/dis-heartening news the remainder? Are many not influenced by what they continually hear when they do not take the time to see for themselves?

    As always, Sunny, though provoking in others definitely is NOT missing in your arsenal of words, thoughts and lessons to teach others!

    Casey

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  2. I feel like this post was a little harsh. As one of the “doom and gloom” people who loves dystopian stories, I don’t see why I can’t be disgusted and help at the same time. I volunteer and I donate to charities on a regular basis, which is my way to help make the world a better place, and I think being angry at the fact that most of the people my age won’t have the skills necessary to succeed in college because of messed-up public school systems, a Congressman was playing internet poker when Congress was in session, and some people in China have to wear masks to walk down the street, is a perfectly normal reaction.

    Maybe we don’t have atomic bomb drills and we’re not worried about a Cuban Missile crisis. But today there are school shootings, armed robberies, and drugs to worry about. Last year a classmate of mine was robbed and beaten very badly within a block of the school and no one could go outside. I was afraid to walk down the street because of people on Bath Salts who were hallucinating, paranoid, and unable to feel pain, and they were in my hometown. Last year one of my friends lost his best friend when she went missing for three days before what was left of her body was found in the river. In my middle school there was a break-in and the school was in lockdown for three hours. I was stuffed in a closet with three of my classmates during that time and we held our breaths, wondering if we were going to hear our teacher and friends get slaughtered by a mentally unstable person with a machine gun. Believe me, we don’t need fiction either.

    Of course, we’re still optimistic and most people my age aren’t just walking around with bad attitudes going “Society sucks” in sulky voices. In fact, we make fun of those people, just like we make fun of the people who think everything is good. Most of us are volunteering, organizing food drives and city clean-ups, participating in Race for the Cure, and having bake sales to raise money for cancer research or the Humane Society. A friend of mine is throwing a benefit concert to raise money for cancer research, and another classmate of mine is recording an album to sell where all profits are going to the Malala Fund, a charity to help spread education. We want to graduate, go to college, and then try to change the world. We recognize the good as well as the bad, and we try to encourage the good. It’s not just teenagers that see the problems in the world. Aaron Sorkin has been writing shows that illustrate those problems for decades, and he writes his show for adults. In his recent show Newsroom, he wrote this speech for the opening scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zqOYBabXmA

    We read dystopian for the same reason that anyone reads any light book: to escape reality for a little bit. We love the love triangles, the battles, and the well-developed characters in good dystopian fiction. I love strong female heroines and a lot of them happen to be in dystopian fiction. We want character that we can relate to, and that’s easier when they’re our own age. We also want a lot of action and we want those characters to be tough and strong and willing to change the world, which can’t be perfect if there’s going to be change made.

    And even though there are many dystopian YA novels, let’s look at a few that aren’t:
    The Fault in Our Stars
    The Lightning Thief
    Troy
    The Hobbit
    The Princess Diaries
    Abandon
    Insatiable
    Harry Potter
    The Song of the Lioness
    The It Girl
    Gossip Girl
    Kiss of Deception
    Love and Muddy Puddles
    The Sanctum series
    Twilight
    Far-Knowing
    The Septimus Heap series

    As for YA books that depict corruption in society, one of my favorites is Lord of the Flies, published in 1954, and for a generation that is obviously not for Millennials.

    We do smile, by the way, and we like smiling, which is why there’s comedic relief in just about all YA books, including, yes, dystopian. However, smiling constantly makes my face hurt and when I seem to be smiling for no reason, people think I’m not right in the head. And yes, black is good for funerals, but it’s also a good color to make you look thin when leaving an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, and no one can easily tell if you spilled a bit of water on your shirt. Also risk-free for teenage girls when there’s rain the forecast and they have to walk to school.

    Even though I don’t agree with your post, I think it’s well written and well argued. I have actually read and thoroughly enjoyed Fools Rush In, as well. I hope you’re not insulted by this comment because that’s not my goal. I just wanted to give my opinion on your post. Have a good day.

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    • I love your comments! I think both sides need to be presented and argued. I fear falling into that senior “Oh, the good ol’ days” syndrome, especially since they weren’t so good. But, do the books and movies reflect what we fear or promote actions of what we fear? When I sit down to enjoy a book, I don’t want to get depressed–I have newspapers for that! Could we be a gentler nation? Are we beyond that with all the guns and violence out there? As I grow older, I want hope for the world, unrealistic as that may seem.

      And, thank you for reading my books!

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  3. A lot of the dystopian books I read actually do reflect what I fear. The current book I’m reading right now is about the year 2087 where global warming has caused the ice caps to melt and the world is hotter. Because of the wetter and hotter environment, mosquitoes have multiplied and carry a fatal disease that is quickly wiping out the human race. The Hunger Games deals with wealth distribution, which is a huge problem in America where some politicians want to cut back on welfare because of fraud, comparing the working class to stray animals who shouldn’t be fed in case they breed, and the rich and corporations seem to get away with everyone. Unfortunately, these stories often do reflect our fears based off of current events and problems in the world, just to more extreme levels. They always have happy endings though, so I don’t believe they are depressing. If anything it’s a call to action for my generation, which is considered the most apathetic generation alive by many people. I think the readers and writers of these books also want a better world, and showing stories about teens winning despite all odds make us think that we’re not helpless and maybe we can do something before the world becomes like a dystopian society.

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  4. I agree, the O is missing. Very few are unapologetically happy (be it characters in real life or fiction). But I qualify my first sentence with a ‘for now’. When we examine the entire history of literature, we can delineate phases, (take any Dickensian story – insert sad face). We happen to be in a certain phase right now. We just don’t always see it that way because we’re immersed in that environment of doom. While ‘good writing’ is always in fashion, the fashion goes through cycles. (We all know the answer to whether War and Peace would be published today (epic work that it is). I see the current trend like platform shoes, they’ve been in before, they went out. We cycle. And we, the writers, have the power to create works that usher in new forms, combined styles. It’s like we hold mood altering drugs, really. It’s up to us to rise to the challenge, insert what’s missing, find a way to push the envelope with new genres or combine them.

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  5. I liked the post. I think it needs to be said. I don’t think we have the same “Big O” as we used to have, and that’s sad. But do I think the world is going to hell in a hand basket right now? No. But there is a lot of work to be done, and nothing will help that like a big dose of optimism.

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  6. I do think we are suffering from a lack of leadership. Where are the visionaries? Our federal leaders, even our state governments seem to be floundering. All I hear from my fav political party is, “send us money.” For what? But I”m “cautiously optimistic.” The is still the country other immigrate into.

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  7. Sometimes when one writes an opinion, some feel that it has solidified that person’s thinking in stone. It is so important to rebut without fear and with an open mind as well as without childish insults. Back and forth discourse is one of the things that expands our universe. That is what makes the blog you wrote, Sunny, and all the responses, wonderful to read!.

    Pendrah

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  8. Emo is in vogue with the tweens and teens and they eat that stuff up. And they spend a lot of money on whatever is in vogue at the moment, so until it goes out again I expect there will be more of those type of books and movies (and movies made from books.)

    I brought my kids and one of their friends to a Booksamillion in Birmingham (day trip from where we were staying in north Alabama) and my almost-13-year-old and her just-turned-12-year-old best friend both bought the same hardback $20 book about a girl who wakes up blind after an accident. Then my daughter got the second in the series to some other book that was made into a movie that I can’t remember but is really depressing, and the book that comes after Maze Runner, which is more of the same. I kept asking her if she wouldn’t like to get something happy to read, and she just said, You want me to read, don’t you.

    The lesson I take from this is that right now it’s all about depressing emo stuff and wastelands and futuristic societies with no hope, tomorrow who knows. Last year she was reading a young romance-ish series about a girl who works in her family’s dry cleaning business and has crushes on boys. Everything has its day, I guess, and then the fad is over and something takes its place. Of course, everything also comes back into style, whether it’s book genres, clothing, hairstyles or health crazes, so I’m sure after it goes out it will eventually come back in again.

    I have to commend you Sunny on once again writing a topic that seems to get people’s blood stirring. And isn’t that part of what writing is all about? So kudos.

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    • These books can be dark, but all of the successful dystopic books right now have happy endings, with the exception of one I can think about. It’s not so much as the destruction of everyone as it is seeing the human race survive. And most of the time when these books are talked about, the statements aren’t along the lines of “We’re all doomed and society sucks” so much as it is along the lines of “Isn’t Gale so cute?” and “I would give anything to be trapped in a cave with Peeta right now.” It really is still about the romance, but the fight scenes make the guys interested in it too and join in the conversation. So they really aren’t dark and gloomy, and they are definitely less gloomy than the books they read in school, or at least in my schools. Also, it could just be where I’m from, but I can’t ever remember emo being in vogue with kids my age– I’m seventeen by the way. There was a gothic faze six years ago with Twilight, which was not a post-apocalyptic book, but that’s been gone for at least five years. I think it’s not so much depressing emo stuff as it is reassurance that we can survive middle school and high school. After all, these teens survived much worse conditions, right?

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  9. When Sunny sent me her post, I raised a mental eyebrow because I happen to be a fan of dystopia and because Sunny and I rarely disagree about anything 😉 She and I had a brief back and forth about this and, among other things, I said,

    “Keep in mind they’re not the ones writing these books, it’s adults, mostly women. Never fear, though, because this too shall pass. The fad-of-the-moment has been faeries, sparkly vampires, high fantasy, zombies, etc., and for now it’s dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic. Something else will come along.

    The teens and post-teens I run into (online) don’t necessarily see the world this way but they do have a great appreciation of the strong characters who overcome such adversity in these stories and they also are attracted to the relationships (often, but not always, romance) that people in dire circumstances manage to form. There is a lot that’s positive about their enjoyment of these books.”

    I’m not 17 like Kara (and haven’t been since, well, forever) but she states this all as well as I’ve ever seen, cementing what I found when I had my bookstore. Back then, the big draws were Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight but I think it’s important to note that the teens in those days didn’t think they lived in a world of wizards or sparkly vampires nor did they believe they were headed for a future in which children would be gladiators for the entertainment of frivolous adults. The teens and pre-teens who shopped with us were completely wrapped up in these worlds that took them out of their everyday lives and that, after all, is what books have always done for readers.

    Amusing sidenote: we used to be kind of surprised at how many boys bought the Twilight books until the day we overheard one say to his friends that carrying one of the books was a surefire way of getting a girl’s attention. Smart boys 😉

    In direct response to Sunny’s concerns, I think it’s important to delineate between dystopian and post-apocalyptic. There are differences of opinion about this but, to my way of thinking, post-apocalyptic is about surviving a cataclysmic and/or disastrous event, be it nuclear attack, pandemic, alien invasion, supervolcano or whatever, while dystopian is all about living in a civilization that is overly repressive in some way. That civilization might have arisen from an apocalypse but could just as well come about from the deterioration of society, something like the fall of the Romans. Looking at it that way, there’s a clear difference in the story lines but both involve people, adults and/or teens, finding ways to rise above severe adversity. Teens like these tales at least partly because they are depicted as kids who can survive even though they are kids.

    My love of dystopia and post-apocalyptic comes from a fascination with watching the characters (teens in this case) deal with terrible things while learning how to maintain their humanity. Yes, there is doom and gloom, but the story is about triumphing over what could be the end of the world and I find that to be enormously comforting. It’s a validation that, no matter how dire the circumstances, we can and will win out over the dark.

    And, yes, let’s not forget that these books are also a great vehicle for romance and, while I’m not fond of the faddish “insta-love” or the love triangle found in so much YA fiction, romance is still a strongly-felt antidote to whatever it is these kids are faced with. Isn’t that, after all, true to life in many ways?

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    • Great comment, Leila. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I never really thought much about the difference between dystopian and post-apocalyptic, really, but I agree with your definitions. And it’s pretty funny that guys read Twilight to meet girls 😉 That is a pretty smart way to do it.
      Love triangles are pretty popular in YA fiction, and sometimes they feel a little stale, but I like most of them, even though I totally feel cheated with insta-love stories, which was why I never liked Edward as a love interest in Twilight. My favorite love triangle had to be when the girl decided to just keep both guys.
      I also like seeing how the characters can go through these scenes while keeping their humanity. It’s one of my favorite reasons for liking those books, as well as the world building in dystopian and fantasy. And, like I said before, I like strong female heroines :-). (In all genres, though, even in nonfiction).

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  10. Having raised two kids through teenage years and still seeing one of them enjoy those dystopian stories and films that I never liked, I sure appreciate Sunny’s post. Couldn’t agree more with the need to gain more positivity and Optimism for every generation. And glad to see some comments confirming there’s still much out there.

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  11. Sunny, I loved the post it evoked conversation, and conversation is what is lacking in today’s world. We all are so focused on the here and now, especially with the use of our electronics (get your head out of phone and tablets). Be it dystopia or utopia does it matter in today’s fads (here today gone tomorrow), it all becomes full circle (eventually). What is new under the sun…not too much? It takes writers with imagination and bravado to fill the minds of readers. It takes thinkers to open a new door of hope. Thank God for diversity in culture and words. Personally, I would not want to live totally in a dystopian society or an utopian society…I do not want to be controlled by anyone or anything (read Vonnegut, Sheckley, etc) This is too heavy for me…one of my characters is demanding attention (smile).

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  12. Sorry to be so late in responding to this, but I feel this is an excellent post. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, right now, in this time and place, I see too much negativity. Maybe this is one of the reasons I tend to read books with some optimism and humor. While we need realism to deal with everyday life, a little optimism can’t hurt. Maybe it will even spread; one can always hope. Thank you for your thoughts, Sunny.

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