Leftist Complains about Right Wing YA Fiction

Popular right wing YA fiction “teach children to submit to the free market, not fight authority.”


I missed it when this Leftist critique first came out in the Guardian. I think of Katniss of The Hunger Games as morally compromised and the protagonist of Divergent bothered me with her tattoos. But, to Leftists, it is all bourgeois propaganda.

Thus, we get the critique that, “The Hunger Games, The Giver and Divergent all depict rebellions against the state, and promote a tacit right-wing libertarianism.” The writer pines for the good old days when dystopian novels presented “capitalist” dystopias—ruled by corporations. The more recent YA novels are a departure, he alleges.

What marks these dystopias out from previous ones is that, almost without exception, the bad guys are not the corporations but the state and those well-meaning liberal leftists who want to make the world a better place. Books such as The Giver, Divergent and the Hunger Games trilogy are, whether intentionally or not, substantial attacks on many of the foundational projects and aims of the left: big government, the welfare state, progress, social planning and equality. They support one of the key ideologies that the left has been battling against for a century: the idea that human nature, rather than nurture, determines how we act and live. These books propose a laissez-faire existence, with heroic individuals who are guided by the innate forces of human nature against evil social planners.

I have news for the writer. All heroic fiction assumes and teaches (by implication) “the idea that human nature, determines how we act and live.” Whether it is the recent Batman movie trilogy or the Arrow TV series, time and again people are drawn to a protagonist who fights against the system.

[See also, “Where did the Virgin Murderer Get His Worldview?]

In fact, even if a movie or show or book is trying to give out a left wing message against “capitalism” (which is portrayed as a state monopoly anyway), it will only attract an audience by caving into that idea. If “nurture determines how we act and live” then how could anyone ever overthrow a society ruled by corporations?

And, if a society is completely dominated by corporations, then how is that not the state? The author mentions the Blade Runner movie, but who cares if “corporations” or “the state” is in charge? It isn’t capitalism unless there is free competition without the threat of force to dictate people’s buying and trading. If corporations have the power to enforce monopolies, then they are the state. And what is the state, anyway, other than a corporation with a police force and a standing army?

A friend pointed out to me that this was written before Thailand’s junta cracked down on The Hunger Games. According to Bloomberg Businessweek,

The Hunger Games and its depiction of a popular rebellion against a ruthless regime strikes a little too close to home, too. The movie is a major inspiration for one of Thailand’s leading anti-junta groups, the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy. The profile picture on the group’s Facebook page is the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, and the group’s Facebook cover photo also features the salute, along with a quote from Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games heroine played by Jennifer Lawrence in the quadrology: “It must be a fragile system if it can be brought down by just a few berries.”

The generals running Thailand aren’t taking any chances. Yesterday, police in Bangkok detained three students for giving the three-fingered salute, a day after holding five protesters who made the gesture during a speech by General Prayuth in the northeast of the country. Police later released the three Bangkok students, but the cinema called off screenings of the latest in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1.

So yes, the movies inspire resistance to the state. I’d be curious if the writer is embarrassed about that evidence confirming his case. As far as “submi[ssion] to the free market,” that is simply respecting the decisions of other people, trading with them as equals, and refusing to threaten them with force or hurt them for not doing what you want. Calling such basic respect and equal treatment “submission” is a transparent attempt to promote authoritarianism. There is no other alternative.