Friday, 25 October 2013

Here comes the sun, and I say it's all right

I don't read dystopian fiction.

I realize this is a pretty broad statement, especially considering that the market- especially the young adult market- is absolutely saturated with dystopias right now. For instance:

"IN A WORLD WHERE [x] IS OUTLAWED, OUR [straight/white/non-disabled/cisgendered] HEROINE DARES TO BREAK THE RULES!" - half the YA section of my local bookstore

There are two reasons I'm not a dystopia reader. First, it's BORING. Not that I begrudge you if you do enjoy dystopias- and I know people who do, and who have very valid reasons for doing so- but there's only so any retreads of Anthem I can take before my eyes roll out of my head and go bumping across the floor. (Also, has anyone else noticed the distinctly Ayn Randian slant a lot of dystopias have taken these days? Where our hero is the only one smart and special enough to realize that the world is messed up? This isn't just me, is it?)

But disliking/not being interested in various aspects of the genre isn't unique to dystopia; it's the same reason I don't read hard sci-fi, or literary fiction, or romance novels. There's one very particular thing about dystopia
that keeps me from reading/enjoying it, and while it might say shallow when I say it out loud, it's very true.

Dystopias are sad.

Moreover, dystopias are cynical.

Look, I get that a lot of people see sad, depressing, nihlistic works of art as inherently holding more meaning and value, and they can . . . well, they can think that. I don't agree. But that's not why I avoid dystopian fiction. The reason I avoid dystopian fiction is very simple: I'm sad enough already. I don't need my fiction making it worse.

I have OCD. Depending on the season (all through fall and winter) I also have depression. Depression convinces me that life isn't worth living and that I shouldn't bother to get out of bed in the morning. OCD tells me that I'm an awful person who should just kill herself right now to spare everyone else the trouble. I take medication for both these conditions; they help. But there is an ever-present danger of something tripping me up and sending me down a self-loathing spiral that can last for MONTHS. I have been down those spirals before. They are not fun. They are, frankly, something I'd like to avoid when all possible. And you know what has the potential to set them off? Reading or watching something that happens to push just the right buttons at just the wrong times, especially buttons that say things like "the world sucks!" or "nothing is ever going to get better!" It's like the opposite of taking anti-depressants. I don't like it. I don't enjoy it. And the other side of that coin is- well, my life as someone who deals with mental illness is not always an easy one. I'm not trying to perpetuate the idea that people with mental illnesses live in a state of constant despair, because it's not true, but what IS true is that we face challenges that neurotypical people simply don't, including a sometimes-skewed image of what the world is. This makes up enough of my day-to-day existence that I don't need to see it reflected in fiction.

The Toast has been doing a series of posts called "femmeslash friday" (highly recommended, by the way) and today's post is on Sansa and Brienne in Game of Thrones. GoT is (arguably) not a dystopia, but the writer of the article, E.M. Freeburg, neatly summed up a lot of what I'm trying to articulate here:

“If I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept magic and dragons, then you are overestimating my restraint if you expect me not to smuggle happy ladies along with them. Fantasy breeds fantasy, and if we’re building worlds than I’m going to build myself into them . . . Cynicism and skepticism and an assumption of the worst-case scenario for people like myself is for every other waking moment of my life, thanks.” (x)

Freeburg is writing about popular depictions of queer women, which is a dicussion for another post, but it's also extremely applicable to all groups who live in a society that treats them like crap. I've had enough of endless reminders that I shouldn't expect anything better. Society tells me that. My own brain tells me that. I don't need it on my fiction, too.

(P.S. if you attempt to insinuate that I- or people like me- are just don't understand art for not enjoying sad books, you're kind of an ass. Actually, strike the "kind of." You are an ass.)

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