There is a game that is played by some teens called Persona 5 (PS4, 2017 edition). I enjoy watching the gameplay, the soundtrack is excellent and the manga style of the game itself is appealing. It was just a game until I saw this tweet after the protests by young people in Florida following the murders of their schoolmates:
‘Katniss’ of course refers to the young protagonist of the Hunger Games series who quietly rebels against an overarching political system in the country Panem, which keeps 12 districts in states of poverty while people in the Capitol enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.
The series falls under the genre of young adult dystopian novels, and there is a narrative thread which links all of them—a society that is corrupt, a system that punishes the ordinary people while a select few reap the rewards of control and material wealth, and finally, a teenager or group of teenagers who work toward overthrowing the system.
The Harry Potter series is another example, as with each book, the world grows increasingly violent. Finally hunted because of his threat to the growing darkness, and because the institutions of state and education can no longer be trusted, the three teenaged friends, Harry, Hermione and Ron must be on the run. Adults have failed to keep the society safe and indeed, in some cases, support blindly the very structures which keep them oppressed.
I took another look at the game. The principle is the same. A young man happens upon a scene of near rape. The older gentleman is a man of power, and punishes the young man by having him arrested, and attempts to ruin his life. The young man is forced, under probation, to relocate to another school where during the course of the game, he meets a number of teenagers like himself who have been the victim of adults in more powerful positions in various spheres.
These become members of a group called the Phantom Thieves, and via a phone app, enter the Metaverse—the cognitive worlds of corrupt individuals. Their purpose is to change the hearts of these men with their distorted desires in the Metaverse, and consequently, create change in real life.
In the Metaverse, true selves are revealed, and shadows are fought. The anonymous, masked teenagers enact a vigilante-type justice in this alternate world. In the real world, (once the heart has been changed in the Metaverse), public confession is followed by remorse and a cessation of the abuse from these individuals.
Of course, there is more to dystopian literature that I cannot get into here; the advent of young adult (YA) dystopian novels has context in literary predecessors, like 1984 by George Orwell, or A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, to name two of the more popular novels.
It can be safe to assume that there is an underpinning awareness that we walk around with daily, that all is not well. Both in the alternate spaces of game and YA novels, and in the real-world in the aftermath of the mass school shooting, were yearning, disillusion, anger and attempted action within a limited scope of control.
There was a clear indictment of adults who had allowed matters to continue unfettered; adults who were weak, with distorted desires who failed to adequately protect. These were not hapless youth who were going to be bound by the same dispositions. They were going to bring about change. Inaction is the death of a society.
I had the experience of speaking to someone in their thirties who, frankly, was battling disillusion with older people, the preoccupation with issues that had no impact beyond themselves.
On a local urban radio station, the young DJs commented on the religiosity of unnamed people, that prayer was not enough when it coincided with a safe approach to the state of affairs: “God helps those who help themselves….and If you not helping yourself, how you could expect anything?”
In a discussion among peers, we wondered at the impact if, during the protests which followed the death of ‘Christmas’, if religious-minded people had also been present between the police and the protesters, to assist in quelling the anger, a public and brave show of faith, a combination of prayer and action. We joked that perhaps we should go, link arms and sing “Kumbaya, my Lord”.
Are adults, as a body, doing enough? I don’t know. Young people and their disillusion and anger may have context in the realities into which they have been thrust, and in which they may feel they have little control. Where does responsibility lie?
I remember as a teacher in a secondary school, knowing how good the teens were at assessing their teachers. Young people are keen-sighted, and I have heard some acute observations from my child’s lips in our quiet moments of conversing.
I am not sure our young people have real avenues to express healthily how they feel about the world around them, nor do I think they feel empowered. Sometimes, I think it’s no surprise they prefer to keep their gazes on a smartphone screen, because when they look up, what are they confronting, if not from you but from the other adults around them? – Simone Delochan