Musings on the post-apocalyptic genre

I keep hearing the words “Hunger Games” being bandied about. I see signs with the words “Hunger Games” plastered on them. People keep making references to “the Hunger Games”. I believe there is even a blog on the front page of WordPress that has something to do with the “Hunger Games” on it. I never really paid enough attention to figure out what they were about or why I should care.

And then I read Thingy talking about “The Hunger Games” on her blog, and so I decided it was time to find out about them. I whisked myself to Wikipedia forthwith, and commenced to read. So, The Hunger Games is a series of books for young adults, which, like all YA books nowadays, has been adapted into a movie, which comes out tomorrow.

I have to admit, just reading the synopsis made me a little bored. “Post-apocalyptic America…dystopian totalitarian government… sacrifices by lottery…” It all seemed tired to me. As Thingy noted, the “deadly lottery” aspect of the story sounds a lot like “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. (Full disclosure: I only know about that story because it’s the model for Vault 11 in Fallout: New Vegas… another post-apocalyptic tale.)

But then,as Zaphodb2002 commented on this post: “It is more about how the story is told, not necessarily what the story is about.” So, just because it’s got a lot of familiar trappings doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting book. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I wonder why the post-apocalyptic idea is so popular. I guess because it gives the author a “clean slate” to build the kind of world s/he wants. And maybe because it lets you show familiar settings in a state of destruction, and that’s pretty dramatic. But it certainly seems like the post-apocalyptic genre is popular with audiences these days. I wonder why.

I’m not an expert on the genre, but I don’t think it was always thus. It seems to me that fiction that dealt with “the end of the world as we know it” used to be just plain apocalyptic–e.g. Dr. Strangelove, where the end of the movie is the nuclear annihilation. I wonder what the change signifies.

And another thing: is it true that one of two things almost always happens with the post-apocalypse: either there is no government, no law and order, and humanity is reduced to fighting gang-warfare style, or else there is a tyrannical, all-powerful government controlling the wasteland. Or is that just my impression?

As long as we’re on the subject, how is this related to another phenomenon both Thingy and Ferrerman have addressed lately: “preppers”? That is, people preparing for what they believe to be the imminent apocalypse. Are they fans of post-apocalyptic fiction? If so, since they all seem to be going the “gang warfare” camp, where’s the sign-up sheet for the “tyrannical government” camp? I bet the first 50 people in get cushy positions in the Thought Police or something.

Anyway… how depressing. Perhaps Tom Lehrer can make us feel better:

What's your stake in this, cowboy?