Thursday, March 29, 2012

Because I Said So: Family has advantages in dystopian, sci-fi future

I woke up last Sunday morning and sat on the couch in my office with a mug of coffee, a pencil and a legal pad to write this week's column, just as I do every two weeks. And I wrote it, and I was okay with it. Then I woke up Monday morning with a whole new column in my head.

Dystopian S
It seems there is no escaping "The Hunger Games." Even if you didn't read the book, even if you won't see the film, it's everywhere and in the collective subconscious. So that's where this week's column originates. I had a vision as I came up through the fog of sleep of my own kids involved in such a struggle and how woefully inept they may be based on what I've seen of their exemplary lounging habits here around the house. It was frightening, and funny all at the same time.

I wrote a story for The Commercial Appeal ('Hunger' Fever: Young adult novel of dystopian future headed to screen as next 'Twilight'; March 15, 2012) on the popularity of the book and the anticipation of the film's release. I spoke with adults and teens, and the excitement was the same in both camps. I haven't read the book, but I had Kristy and C tell me about the plot and characters, and the appeal of a story about a child who has to defend her life, and that of her sister, in this dystopian setting. I don't think I'd ever uttered the word "dystopian" until I began writing the story and this column but I bet I've said it a million times since.

The original column for this week, by the way, had to do with The Rolling Stones, their saxophonist Bobby Keys and encouraging our children to follow their dreams and passions, though not too far; not to the point of throwing a television set off a hotel balcony. I may put that column right here in this space next week as a bonus.

Until then, enjoy this week's column from all of us here at Because I Said So:

I'm in the minority in my house in that I don't read young adult fiction. The kids read it. My wife, an English teacher at Central High School, reads it. I think I can't get into it for a couple of reasons. First, I'm a not-young adult. Second, I don't really go in for fantasy and science fiction and the lot. This may put me in the minority of all of today's readers, come to think of it, but I need the action to take place in real cities and countries; I need the plot to twist on something other than time travel, wizardry or the backs of sparkly vampires.

Regardless of my views on young adult literature, there is no escaping the latest craze, "The Hunger Games." There are more than 20 million books in print, and the film adaptation opened last weekend with a record-breaking box office. Well played, author Suzanne Collins.

It seems that quite a bit of such books has to do with a postapocalyptic world, a dystopian future where a person relies on wits and cunning to survive against roving bands of marauders, dictatorial and all-seeing governments, or zombies. My family wouldn't make it very far in such a world. I hope they're learning survival skills by reading these books and watching these films, but if it comes down to who can get to the dwindling food supplies first, we'll starve waiting for 5-year-old Genevieve to find her shoes so we can leave the house.

In "The Hunger Games," children are forced to fight each other to the death for the amusement of television viewers tuning in to the reality show of the same name. When I asked my kids which of them would win, 9-year-old Somerset was the first to exuberantly claim rhetorical victory, followed quickly by, "Wait, what are 'The Hunger Games'?" Seems she hasn't read the book after all.

My children aren't so competitive, and their strategy in such a format, from what I've seen, would involve them walking around the book's setting of the Capitol looking for their mother so they could tell on lead character Katniss Everdeen for trying to shoot arrows at them.

The advantage this family will have in any end-of-the-world scenario is if the new wasteland and societal machinations work more like the world of Mario Brothers than that of AMC's "The Walking Dead" with its abandoned urban landscape and roaming zombie population. When confronted with flying turtles and fire-breathing plants, there really is no one more nimble than 10-year-old Joshua.

Of course, to survive in any such scenario, the basic necessities are first priority, and we have our own version of "The Hunger Games" that plays out around the dining table. The kids are hungry, I know they must be hungry, yet they insist on playing games. "How much of this do I have to eat?" "I don't like this." "What kind of animal does that meat come from?" I'm defeated nightly.

The Mayan calendar predicts the world will implode or explode or freeze or do something unknown this coming December. I just consulted the all-knowing Google calendar, however, advancing the months until I got bored, so I know we'll be around until at least August of 2041. I also found that my birthday that year is on a Wednesday.

Whether the world and our society as we know it ends tomorrow, in December or on my birthday in 29 years, my kids are as ready as they'll ever be. They've read the literature, seen the films, found their shoes and are ready to take on whatever Hollywood, or Donkey Kong, might throw at them.
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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