Dystopia

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A dystopia usually refers to the disastrous result or results of attempting to make the world or humankind "perfect." It is a play on the title of the book Utopia by Sir Thomas More, about a perfect society where everybody is happy and has everything they need. In a dystopia, society has been arranged according to some plan that ends up making almost everyone miserable and needy.

The word dystopian can be used as a snarl word in many cases, particularly when applied to conservatives or rightist reformers. Anyone who wants to make the world a worse place (except for "them" and "their kind") can be called dystopian, no matter how pragmatic they are in doing so. It is often forgotten by true dystopians that one person's dystopia can be someone else's heaven.

A real life example would be the Third Reich or the results of some of the Communist states. Interestingly, in all literary dystopias, there must be some base level of material wealth—all of the characters should be eating (or drinking), if not well, and there needs to be some kind of technology.[1]

Prominent dystopian Works[edit]

Dystopian environments are often the setting for numerous fictional works and the study of dystopian worlds has spawned an entire genre. The novels Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and We describe dystopian societies; all three of these novels have become icons of the genre and have enjoyed considerable critical success. We is the oldest of these, and considered the innovator of the genre. Most of the conventions of the genre can be traced back to We.[2]

Books[edit]

  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami – Kids are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by an authoritarian Japanese government after they win WWII. The winner receives a permanent retirement package at great cost. This short description does not do it justice.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Huxley's portrayal of a world of eugenics run amok. This could also be considered a utopia, though, depending on your point of view.
  • Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail (translated from the French Le Camp des Saints) — a "breathtakingly racist" dystopian novel about a migrant invasion of Europe. It's believed by Steve Bannon, among others, to be prophetic.[3]
  • The Children of Men by P.D. James – The human race faces extinction when infertility causes the birth rate to plummet to zero. The novel was the basis for a successful 2006 film directed by Alfonso Cuaron.[4]
  • The Colossus Trilogy by D.F. Jones - A supercomputer is entrusted to assume control of the nuclear defenses of the United States of North America until the computer discovers an identically functioning computer in the USSR. The two computers soon function as one and in time, establish world peace by controlling humanity with the threat of thermonuclear destruction. The first novel, Colossus (1966) was the basis of the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project. The two other books are The Fall of Colossus (1974), and Colossus and the Crab (1977).
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A world on the brink of war, with books suppressed by a quasi-fascist government because of demands by a populace afraid of dissent.[5] This book has been adapted for radio, stage, and film, as well as a graphic novel and a computer game.
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry – A seeming utopia where the worst of human nature has been eliminated is revealed to the young protagonist, Jonas, as an effective prison where the chance for people to make their own choices with their lives is gone, thus the best things about humanity have been kept away as well. There is also some dabbling in eugenics and euthanasia as well, making for an incredibly dark novel for children, and yet is often given as required reading in schools, even as early as elementary school. Lowry went on to create a loosely-related series of sequels, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Jeff Bridges starred in a 2014 film version, after 20 years of attempting to get the story made. Sadly, many people felt it wasn't worth the wait.[6]
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood – the aftermath of a Christian dominionist takeover of the United States (with some help from radical feminists). Partly set (no doubt intentionally ironically) in the notoriously liberal city of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Kids are forced to compete (read: kill) in outdoor activities by a totalitarian government.[7]
  • Jennifer Government by Max Barry – A world where nation-states are run by for-profit companies, while government power has diminished.
  • Kys (The Slynx) by Tatiana Tolstaya – A satirical take on a post-post-apocalyptic Moscow terrorized by a real-life bogeyman (the Slynx of the title).
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick – An alternative history of the world in which the Axis powers won World War Two. Provided the basis for a TV series of the same name for Amazon Video's streaming service.
  • The Monitors by Keith Laumer – Benevolent, polite, and annoyingly efficient aliens launch a bloodless conquest of Earth and begin to correct all that is wrong with human society, much to the displeasure and frustration of the human race. Made into a film in 1969.[8]
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) – Stalinism/fascism transplanted to England, the novel details the life and struggle of Winston Smith, a propaganda writer for the deceptively named "Ministry of Truth". This book has had numerous adaptations for film, TV, radio, and the stage.
  • The Postman by David Brin – A drifter in the collapsed remnants of the United States, brought down by a group of radical survivalists, takes on the uniform of a mail carrier and starts to set in motion the possible restoration of civilization. Kevin Costner trashed his own career by producing, directing, and starring in a notoriously incoherent movie version.
  • La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle – a 1963 book translated into English in the same year as Planet of the Apes, later made famous by the 1968 film (and sequels and TV show) of the same name. It's not obviously dystopian until the ending, which is slightly different in the book than in the film.
  • The Republic by Plato – Plato's supposedly utopian government has become decidedly dystopian in its ideas over the centuries.
  • Utopia by Sir Thomas More – More's supposedly utopian government has dystopian elements by modern democratic republic standards (slavery, lifetime rulership, no private ownership, and limited mobility)
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore – Follows the story of an anti-government terrorist and his young protégé in a fascist post-nuclear Britain. (Author Moore has distanced himself from the 2006 film adaptation.)
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – Considered the founding book of modern dystopian literature.

Games[edit]

  • Bioshock - An underwater city called Rapture is built in secret and is run along Objectivist principles. Increasing wealth inequality alongside the discovery of a dangerous gene altering drug called ADAM with nasy side-effects (the sale of which is left totally unregulated per Objectivist ideals) collapses the city into civil war and drives most of its habitants insane.
  • Bioshock Infinite - Sequel to the above, as a city in the sky called Columbia is built to show off American power. However the cities leaders go rogue and essentially secede from the US, and go on to build a proto-fascist, racist, dominionist theocracy dedicated to worshipping and enriching the city's leader, Zachary Comstock. The widespread repression leads to a communist revolution, with the revolutionaries soon becoming as bloodthirsty as the Founders of the city.
  • Half-Life by Valve – one man's struggle to release humanity from domination by an alien power and its human collaborators. Considered one of the greatest video game franchises ever, and almost never gives the player a truly happy ending.
  • Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop – a strategy game set in a science fiction galaxy where a sadistic, hyper-repressive "Imperium of Man" (based around the worship of a messianic immortal God-Emperor who has been in a coma for 10,000 years and in whose absence the Imperium has descended into a twisted mockery of everything he worked for) are the "Good Guys"[9]—because everyone else is even worse. Well, arguably the good guys are the Tau, who work towards their socialist utopia by exterminating "lesser" races; yes, the least evil faction are the space-Nazis.
  • World of Darkness by White Wolf Game Studio – two series of games based around the same rule set, both of which share the central conceit that humanity is a bit player in a world controlled by competing supernatural conspiracies (albeit to a much lesser extent in the newer version).

Films[edit]

  • Akira (1988) Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo – In post-atomic Neo-Tokyo, a biker gang leader finds himself embroiled in a government plot involving children with psychic powers and a mysterious messianic figure. Adapted from Otomo's 2,182 page graphic novel series, this anime is considered one of the best of the genre.
  • Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) (1965) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard – A secret agent is on assignment in a city run by Alpha 60, an autocratic, dictatorial supercomputer.
  • Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott – A futuristic urban world where artificial humans called "Replicants" have only a set lifespan of no more than five years, and those who misbehave are executed by a roving police force. While not explicitly a dystopian story, the film is rich with themes to debate that can lead anyone to reach their own conclusions, including that the world in which it is set is dystopian in nature. Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
  • Brazil (1985) Directed by Terry Gilliam – A minor bureaucratic clerk attempts to correct an administrative error and becomes an enemy of the state in the process.
  • Idiocracy (2006) Directed by Mike Judge – Two people are placed in cryogenic suspension as part of a one-year experiment, and are revived 500 years later. Due to the fact that stupid people have outbred smart people (and the scientists who could've stopped it were too busy working on boner pills), they are the most intelligent humans in a world populated by the profoundly stupid. Oddly, the film was more of a commentary on the dumbing-down of pop-culture than it was about eugenics. Unfortunately, this film is already starting to look like a documentary.[10]
  • The Island (2006) Directed by Michael Bay – A very incoherent and messy attempt at a pastiche (that's like spoof except meant to be taken seriously) of dystopian stories. The first half of the movie deals with a vaguely defined world where humans have clones created to be harvested for surgeries, and the second half is typical Michael Bay action and car chase shit, with all his usual tricks pulled out. The only reason it's listed here is because it's his highest-rated film by critics besides The Rock, the design of the world is actually really good (it helped create the environments for the video game series Portal), and it, of course, made a boatload of money.
  • The Mad Max film franchise – Set in rural Australia, the films (all directed by George Miller) follow the title character, Max Rockatansky, a former high speed pursuit police officer, in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The first three films (Mad Max {1979}, Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) {1981}, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome {1985 - Co-directed by George Ogilvie}) starred Mel Gibson in the title role. The fourth film, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) starred Tom Hardy, although the film is mostly centered on the lead female role, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.
  • Metropolis (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang – A technological city is starkly divided between a cultured utopia for the wealthy and an oppressive underworld populated by the workers. This silent film is the first long-form science fiction movie and is considered to be Lang's masterpiece. Adapted by Madhouse Inc. into a 2001 anime film of the same name with similar dystopic elements.
  • Minority Report (2002) Directed by Steven Spielberg – Police forces have created a unit known as "Pre-Crime" in which people are arrested for crimes before they are committed. As the film makes clear, this process can easily be subverted, and people can easily be arrested just for crimes they think about committing, but won't actually follow through on. Like Blade Runner, this film was inspired by the short stories of Philip K. Dick, which also provided the inspiration for Total Recall.
  • Planet of the Apes (1968) See La Planète des Singes in the book section above.
  • Rollerball (1975) Directed by Norman Jewison – After corporations replace nation-states, the populace is kept happy and distracted with an ultra-violent sport. Based on the short story "Roller Ball Murder" by William Harrison (who also wrote the screenplay).[11]
  • Soylent Green (1973) Directed by Richard Fleischer – Film based on Harry Harrison's novel Make Room, Make Room. In an overpopulated world, a police detective discovers a disturbing secret about a popular artificial foodstuff.
  • THX 1138 (1971) Directed by George Lucas – In a sterile, subterranean future, a man and a woman rebel against their structured society by falling in love. [12]
  • WALL-E (2008) Directed by Andrew Stanton and produced by Pixar Animation Studios - A robot cleaning up a desolate, polluted Earth discovers love and humanity. American conservatives mostly hated it.

References[edit]

  1. This rules out North Korea.
  2. Seriously, go read it. Now.
  3. This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World: "The Camp of the Saints" tells a grotesque tale about a migrant invasion to destroy Western civilization by Paul Blumenthal & JM Rieger (03/04/2017 05:00 pm ET) Huffington Post.
  4. IMDb listing for the film Children of Men
  5. The book first saw print in installments in the March, April, and May 1951 issues of Playboy magazine, and was made into a 1966 film. In an ironic note, the book has appeared on lists of banned and censored books.
  6. [1]
  7. Yes, people have noticed that it is strangely similar to Battle Royale, just with a more teenage approach.
  8. "The Monitors" listing in IMDb
  9. Depending on whom you ask. Nobody is truly a hero however you look at them.
  10. 10 Things 'Idiocracy' Predicted Would Happen, and Sadly Already Have
  11. The 2002 remake received almost universally negative reviews from film critics.
  12. This was Lucas' first feature, and is based on his 1967 short subject Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, produced as a student project at the University of Southern California. The feature was later re-released in 2004 as a director's cut with new footage and computer generated imagery.