This month's issue of Harpers Magazine reveals a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of a University of Chicago study that correctly predicted the death of a particular human being on the dark, drug-infested streets of the South Side. Inputs were many and involved Stephen "Freakonomics" Leavitt, who continues to show us patterns driving our choices and their inexorable, predictable consequences. In the end, the unfortunate youth hung with the wrong faction, and placed honor to that faction above his own life's blood.
And from the Unbelievable Coincidence Dept.: "Divergent" hits the big screens of Hollywood tomorrow: the factionalized dystopian Chicago presented to us in this new major motion picture gives us a rather squalid extension view of today's compartmentalized subcultures, not gang insignias - factions that have evolved based on received wisdom, tradition, hereditary or learned instincts, at the expense of diversity and acceptance of differences.
The understated historical reasons for such an outlandish means of societal organization are buried deeply within a young-girl-coming-of-age tale, and are only vaguely alluded to from the viewpoint of the teenage protagonist, Beatrice, in the novel on which the new film is based.
"Achieving peace" is the nominal stated goal, the idea being that within factions it is easier to achieve cross-societal detente than it is in mixed "us and them" configurations, with their invariable messy clashes in heterogeneous social circles on random street corners.
From the HarperCollins Children's (!) audiobook I just finished, the author Veronica West seems intent on preaching socioeconomic diversity and teaming as a strength to be nurtured by our leaders, in opposition to mindless sectarian tribalism and absolute purist tendencies. All good so far as that goes.
Her putative factions, though -- "Abnegation", "Dauntless", "Erudite", "Candor", and "Amity" --besides failing abysmally the "Consistent Parts of Speech Test", also strike me as fairly arbitrary avatars (and therefore stereotypes) for certain religious orders and sects (Quakers, Mennonites, Buddhists, Jews, et. al. on one hand, and reckless, thrill-seeking militant street gangs on the other) -- "The Fight Club" meets "The Hitler Youth" as it were.
Competitive and often sadistic "initiation trials" leave many would-be tribe members faction-less (and ostensibly homeless) - a fate depicted as worse than death. "Faction Before Blood" appears as a universal mantra devised to minimize interfactional fraternizing.
The timing? Both the data-predicted murder and the novel have 2012 datestamps.
Naturally the factions in "Divergent" prove unstable and unsuccessful in preventing the war they were devised to allay, turning what could have been a probing lesson in social planning, government intrusion, and fair division of labor and wealth for the next generation into a Hollywood-ready cookie cutter screenplay for "Generation Xbox".
Nowhere to be found in this world is any social media, free press, music or arts, professional sports stadiums, twelve-juror trials, or democratically-elected leaders. Or education as we know it today, to help ameliorate societal ills - though somehow tattoos, paintball, ziplining, and virtual reality simulations - oh! and even computers, elevators and toasters - HAVE made their way from today into this future, along with cliques, rivalries, and redemptive teenage love on the down-low (in the off-hours between initiation trials only, of course).
I hope that the point of "Divergent" - that well-rounded, well-educated civil societies rely on each of their citizens to be candid, dauntless, amicable, self-effacing, *and* erudite, each in turn and in moderation, while keeping in check the signs of decadent excesses both in themselves and others, is not lost amidst the simplistic vilification of power-hungry zealot-traitor characters and the (literally) mindless zombie violence which clearly enabled this screenplay to be considered "Fine Hollywood Material" two years after its publication.
In short, "Divergent" stops well short of providing a new "Animal Farm", "1984", "Fahrenheit 451" or "Brave New World" for Millennials now coming of age and facing hard questions about who should lead America to its future.
That crucial treatment will apparently have to wait a multi-million dollar blockbuster sequel or two.
And several more predictable, preventable deaths in Chicago, apparently.