I have nearly finished reading the Hunger Games in three days. There’s nothing quite like a dystopian narrative to start the new year just right. And there are any number to choose from these days.

My husband and I recently watched the film Divergent: also with a post-cataclysmic setting, segregated society, and female protagonist. Those three elements I find particularly intriguing. In both Divergent and the Hunger Games, the main characters’ self-understanding is closely linked with a connection to others. In the former, she is part of a naturally occurring subset of humanity that encompasses all the personality types and who cannot be categorized, which is also to say, contained. In the latter, she is always aware that survival requires strategic partnerships, and she exists indebted to the knowledge, kindness, and sacrifice of others. This connection to others hearkens back (oddly enough) to the film that initiated our zombie craze of recent years, Night of the Living Dead. In 1968, George Romero used religious lore to construct a horror film about race relations. For the living, staying together means staying alive regardless of where the person next to you originally came from or the color of their skin. In film, extreme situations burn off the superfluous like dross leaving “what really matters” exposed and purified for the viewer to see.

The uptick in post-apocalyptic and post-cataclysmic storylines makes me wonder: what is it our society is trying to burn off, and for whose eyes to see?

2014 was among the most turbulent in terms of social unrest that we’ve seen in a while. Lines on graphs display a growing discrepancy between the household incomes of CEOs and corporate stakeholders, and those who either make their money for them or consume their goods. As our society becomes further polarized, the class system that seemed to offer some stability and cache to the dream of Horatio Algers, is beginning to falter. In our present setting, narratives like Divergent and the Hunger Games are attempting to cast a vision for a way out–but, for whom? Those who are truly Other (as in Divergent), or those who are oppressed by the ruling center? What makes them different?

Before I can begin to address any of these questions, I feel the need to read more, to see how the authors resolve the narratives. There is a lot going on, both in the stories themselves, and the resonances held in our present situation–and then there is the not unbiased mediator of film. I will attempt in future posts to address questions individually, even as they interrelate and inform one another. I hear echoes of a prophetic voice in these post-cataclysmic narratives, and I hope to find out if there is a vision of hope that lies underneath, or if these are simply the first blaze of warning signals.

To be continued…