In the time of the COVID19 pandemic, one of the things to fall back on or many of us has been streaming TV and movies. Although I usually like watching these, there is no doubt I have done more than usual in recent months. One of the genres that has caught my attention for some years has been young adult, post apocalyptic and science fiction drama.
The steady output of movies such as the Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner series, and TV / streaming such as The 100, Colony, and others share features with a tradition of post apocalyptic science fiction productions. They also have embedded serious messages about the state of the world politically and environmentally, and the organisation of contemporary society. Amongst the glittering, choreographed, mostly CGI violence of recent action movies, they stand out for the themes running through them and teased out in various, often very dark, ways.
A teenager killed by bone marrow extraction carried out by adults - The 100, season 2.
Much has recently been written about young people like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. They are remarkable people, and their coming to prominence comes as messages about the state of the world surface in daily news as well as popular entertainment. But young people - teenagers for the most part - also feature in post apocalyptic action fiction in a clear, somewhat disturbing way.
All of the entertainment mentioned (excepting Colony) above have to consistent themes: the world has been lost or wilfully destroyed by previous generations; and the younger generation, must take control of the world, often at the cost of killing their elders. In some ways the Harry Potter series might also be read in this way despite being in a different genre, with adult cruelty towards children and subsequent revolt, mostly featuring the younger generation.
All of these works also feature 'bad' teenagers and 'good' adults, so as in most drama the lines are not perfectly drawn, however the great majority of characters on either side conflict are drawn from clearly different generations. (One of the interesting facets of this division is that the 'good' older characters are often from an 'other' group - predominantly black - The 100, Hunger Games, Maze Runner - but also obviously from lower class and of mixed parentage, as in Harry Potter).
There has long been both post apocalyptic fiction and teen-heroic fiction. The savage action depicted in recent works however, where children are killed, violated or set upon each other by adults, and in turn willingly set out to kill adults responsible for this abuse, holds a dark message for the older generations who may be thinking this is simply entertainment, and only entertainment.
If we read the them against the backdrop of generation uncertainty, not only in regard to climate change, but employment, housing and cultural expression, the theme of generational waste and irresponsibility - and their consequences - become clear.
The message is: we — because I am one of these older people — have not handled things properly. We have let greed, stupidity, cruelty and complacency ruin the future of our children. For this, they will be forced to kill us to have any future for themselves.
Of course, contemporary entertainment never spells things out so clearly, and these are not the only themes that can be picked out. Despite this, it is obvious that the mood of youth oriented fiction has darkened. And perhaps we should be watching more carefully.