Our generation is known for its outspoken activism. Right now, some academics and researchers have argued that this culture of engagement could be an effect of the literature that we enjoy. Psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley explains: when we read, our minds essentially enter the world of the protagonist, as we picture ourselves in their shoes. Oatley adds that we feel the emotions created by the characters in the novels, which allows us to develop an understanding of the fictional world and create parallels with our own existence. Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher and the author of Poetic Justice, writes that we also become better people by empathizing with stories. Literature makes us aware of social issues and compels us to address the flaws identified in the literary and real environments.
Nonetheless, the sources of information and entertainment preferred by each group is ever changing. This information poses a unique question: Are generations unique because they receive different books and movies?
For example: the most influential books during the adolescent period of the Baby Boomer Generation were The Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, Whole Earth Catalog, Portnoy’s Complaint, Sisterhood is Powerful, and The Fire Next Time. Each of these books contains a strong moral theme that encourages action on a specific political issue, whether it be anti-war sentiments, environmentalism, racism, or others. If what we read affects the way we think, then these books can explain why Baby Boomers created the counterculture movement of that time.
According to Ronald Brownstein of the Atlantic, both Baby Boomers and our generation are the most involved in activism. Baby Boomers started the anti-war movement and the Civil Rights movement, while Generation Z has taken a key role in the Black Lives Matters movement, the #MeToo movement, marching for gun control, and taking part in Global Warming protests. Other thinkers have concurred with this argument and added that Generation Z has not only been one of the most politically active groups, but also the most polarized and opinionated generation. If Gen Z is in fact the most political generation, what has been the cause of this change?
The dystopian young adult genre – popularized by novels like The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent, and The Maze Runner – had a rapid rise in the 2000s. According to Dena McMurdie for Brightly, these novels are directed toward twelve to eighteen year olds, and rapidly became the most popular genre of literature. This type of novel is categorized by its criticism of political and/or social structures in fictional societies as commentary on our own. Margaret Atwood, the renowned author of The Handmaid’s Tale, says that dystopian literature started as a revolt against the ideas and morals in Utopian literature. She argues that a dystopia can be used to warn society of what the future can be. Common issues in dystopian literature like governmental control, environmental destruction, and a loss of individualism are all concepts that have received pushback from Gen Z in recent times.
Who knows if literature made Gen Z what it is today. But if philosophers and psychologists say it is true that literature influences people; then the peak of dystopian literature surely had an effect on Generation Z.