Panem versus pandemic: COVID-19 and the dystopian generation

Sophia Rossetti, R1 Editor-in-Chief, R2 Back of Mag Editor

Dystopian fiction is to the young people of today what John Hughes films were to the kids of the 1980s, or what disco was to the youth of the ‘70s: an iconic cultural landmark that defines the youth perspective of the world we live in. Having grown up on trilogies like James Dashner’s Maze Runner series and Suzanne Collins’ iconic Hunger Games saga, the current youth has been taught to perceive the future as bleak, anarchic and dangerous, yet full of potential for one hell of a story.

Spending our formative years consuming fiction of the genre that thrives on the possibility of a disastrous future may have had both a positive and negative effect on the youth mindset regarding COVID-19, and each result stems from the concept of familiarity. 

We have become so used to tales of uprising and national cataclysm that we identify with characters like Katniss Everdeen or Tris Prior. Their stories have become so ingrained in our cultural landscape that we have begun to make light of the very real situation we are in as if it were a work of fiction. 

Social media apps, particularly TikTok, have become inundated with comedic videos and memes comparing the current quarantine situation to the plot points of various science fiction works of the past decade. The jokes may not be saving the world, but they provide a little levity and ease the qualms of the app’s users, primarily children, teens and young adults who have never experienced an international crisis of this scale before. Though living through the coronavirus era is hardly similar to volunteering as tribute or choosing the Dauntless faction, sharing jokes about living in a real-life dystopian world can help us feel like we have some level of control, even if the metaphorical bow and arrow is not in our hands.

However, this sense of familiarity may also prove detrimental to the global citizens working to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases. Perhaps the youth are not taking the news of a pandemic as seriously as they should be. The concept of large-scale disaster has been normalized for so many young people and watered down to nothing more than a pop culture reference—could this be why we see teens congregating in groups downtown or college students disregarding quarantine and partying in Miami?

 Whatever the case may be, now is the time to make intelligent decisions regarding our health. If Katniss can risk her life for her sister and volunteer as tribute, the very least we can do is look out for those around us by staying home.

The dystopian generation’s response to a potentially deadly pandemic, whether productive or harmful, undoubtedly reflects the art with which we have grown up. Whatever the outcome of this pandemic may be, here’s to hoping the odds are ever in our favor.