Dystopian books and movies sell, a lot. But so does OK! magazine, and it’s also ridiculous and full of lies. The new Hunger Games movie comes out this Friday and it got me thinking. Why do people even care about post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories? “If you think about it,” I said to an empty room “‘dystopia’ is an oddly specific setting and the genre has really weird yet specific rules.” Why do we like the idea of the ideological death of freedom and happiness? All of these are questions I couldn’t begin to try to answer. However, I’m right to ask them.
I love books like Clockwork Orange, and Uglies, but why do such radically different authors and stories all fit under this umbrella? Dystopian fiction is always a means to an end. The story-teller doesn’t care that the world as we know it has ended, he/she only wants to get across certain ideas and uses their art as a way to do this. While this works in advancing certain ideas, I’ve always thought these writers come off as needlessly alarmist, more than they do philosophically sound. Things in life will never, ever, ever be dystopian the world over, the greater public won’t let it. Those books and movies are laughably unrealistic. Here’s why…
6.) Nothing Dystopian Has Ever Come True
George Orwell’s 1984 is the clearest example of this. In the book the totalitarian communist government watches you at all times and listens to everything you say and think. Everyone in the book seems to believe Big Brother’s lie that this is for their own good. It is also revealed that the constant military attacks from foreign enemies are actually being done by the government, which makes the citizens docile, agreeable and more likely to support its government in this perceived wartime. Oddly enough most dystopian literature follow’s Orwell’s precedent of giving an exact date for the time in which his alarmist propaganda would come to pass. The I Am Legend movie took place in 2013, the book in the 1960’s. In terminator Skynet was supposed to become self-aware in 2011. And Bladerunner takes place in 2019. While all of these were interesting well made pieces of media, they were in no way prophetic. By the time the year 1984 actually rolled around the world looked nothing like the book.
Although it was terrifying
Orwell’s book, while excellent was far from effective at predicting the future. Just like every other Dystopian novel and movie. While 1984 is a relatively recent example, religious materials can be considered their own fashion of dystopian literature. Whether it’s the Bible, Quran, or Bhagavad Gita each of them lay out their own sets of rules and what happens when you follow or chose not to follow those guidelines. So far, their promises have also not come true. Nothing terrible in the world can intelligently be called punishment for some unholy lifestyle. Now obviously these books, and the movies like them are not always supposed to be prophetic, sometimes they are trying to explain an idea in a way that would be easy to understand for the average citizen. Essays are boring and don’t sell, so people write novels or make movies so other people will give a shit about their message. And I understand that. But at the same time, it is a little difficult to take books like 1984 seriously when nothing about them ever comes true. It’s hard to accept these dreary ideas when they’re constantly and systematically disproven by the simple passage of time. The creators talk about these horrific consequences of some action, and those results never come to fruition. If this was a court of law in America, Orwell and the Bible’s credibility would be totally shot by the fact that half of their story has been proven totally untrue. Any judge wouldn’t believe a word out of a witnesses mouth if that whiteness was lying in over half the shit he was saying.
5.)None of it Rings True
“So what?” You’re saying, “Just because writers can’t predict the future, doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas.” And I don’t blame you for thinking this. Bram Stoker’s ideas on love and romance were intelligent and penetrating even if Vampires aren’t real. While this is true, but Dracula didn’t have real life implications the way that books like Fahrenheit 451 do. Ray Bradbury’s novel isn’t only easy to disregard because people don’t burn books nowadays but also because it is impossible to relate it to anything that remotely compares to real life. There is no country that utterly successfully commits any fashion of cultural black-out. Yes, China and a lot of other countries sensor parts of the internet, and ban certain books and movies. But in Fahrenheit 451 and a lot of other dystopian media the people are obedient for the most part and don’t argue or protest against the tyranny they’re facing. In China hackers finding ways around government restrictions, and protestors speaking out against the actions of their government, similar to the way people do here. Too often, the idea of taking actions against an oppressive body only comes up when it suits the plot. This happens in essentially every oppressive government dystopian book or movie I can think of. People are mildly unhappy with their everyday life, but don’t do anything about it until they do, then they fight back, and then they win or lose or both.
Nothing about this scene felt like a victory to me.
This isn’t how life works, though. And even though the three act structure is a time-honored and sacred thing, in the case of dystopian literature it only works to create a wider gap between fiction and reality. The events within a given dystopia don’t happen in life, and the methods and actions of the characters aren’t taken by real people. We simply are not able to identify with the world of any dystopia, and even though this doesn’t hurt all fiction it does damage the quality in the case of dystopia. Nothing in these books or movies is true, which is the case in most books and movies. But in dystopia the realness is in the philosophies, and not in what happens there or how any of it comes about. By being so irrelevant to the average person, dystopian media undoes itself ideologically. Because it is so untrue to reality, the aesthetic forces itself to be pointless.
4.) None of It Has Ever Been True
Nazi Germany was a pretty dark time in human history. We still tend to blame only the Germans for it, but if Aliens had come down in that time they would have seen Hitler’s Germany as a pretty apt example of human cruelty in general, and not just the actions of a single country in one part of the world. The implications of the Nazi political system are something we should all take responsibility for, if only so we can learn from our mistakes as human beings. With that in mind we should still remember that the effects of WWII were not affecting everyone in the world. Some people in some parts of the world had a better life because of what the axis powers did, and some had much worse qualities of life, and still other world citizens were totally unaffected. Although a lot of people in the world were killed, and tortured, things were not universally bad for every person in the whole world. This is because the world has never been a generally bad place to live, and it never will be.
Dystopian Aesthetic is all about its philosophy. As I said, the idea that everything will eventually suck doesn’t feel true to a casual observer. The most compelling explanation for this is that it has never in human history been the truth. Sure, things for Women are horrible everywhere east of Istanbul, and still not so great to the west, Brazil is in terrible turmoil over their economic situation, the mayor of Toronto is an admitted crack smoker, and the Affordable Care Act website still doesn’t work properly. However the world is not anywhere near universally bad. That is the very basis of “dystopian.” We don’t fundamentally believe the dystopian message because we know that things cannot entirely suck.
I stand corrected
The best reference for for us as people is always the past. We look back at earlier mistakes and try our best to correct them. For some reason characters in a dystopian novel don’t do this, they just assume that their horrible government isn’t harming them and it must be really fantastic the way they murder children on live TV for sport. This is one of the many reasons that the premise for The Hunger Games seems so outlandish to me. This futuristic society is just shamelessly shitting on the lower class. People are watching children kill each other as punishment for previous uprisings, and this is supposed to stop any future revolts from the lower class? That has never happened in history. If there’s one thing you can count on people to do, it’s raise some Hell. For absolutely no explainable reason at all, no Hell is raised over this obviously Fascist government blatantly killing its own citizens and forcing the parents of the fighters to watch. Even the more affluent of society have to fight, and send their children to kill or be killed in the arena. The rich kids do get more training and better equipment, but are still forced to either murder their peers or die horrible while their friends and families watch. If that was life, chairs would have been through windows faster than you can say “Thomas Pynchon.”
3.)All of It Is Too Rooted In Its Own Present Day
If we as a culture truly believe that books like The Giver and The Hunger Games as well as movies like I, Robot and I Am Legend are any good then we must unconsciously realize something very fundamental. All dystopian literature, as well as films are firmly based in the time period in which they are created. This means that anything dystopian is very much related to its contemporary time period. The Hunger Games is an allegory for uneven distribution of wealth, a hot button issue right now. The Stand and Dawn of The Dead were about America’s obsession with consumerism, a topic that was just as relevant in the seventies as it is today. Even if the messages do last, the way these messages are conveyed do not. Books by authors like Isaac Asimov, Richard Matheson, Frank Herbert, and Ray Bradbury routinely included technology like ball point pens and punch tape computers (ask your great-grandparents). You can’t really hold this against them. They didn’t know how amazing the future would actually be. We’ve got iPads, chemotherapy and all the internet we could ever need. It’s not the writer’s fault if he/she can’t predict the future. However all of that dated technology and those formerly topical ideals makes it hard to think of the philosophies as relevant. Time and again dystopia undoes its own importance by simply existing on the page or screen. It almost makes a person wonder why they even bothered with the format to convey their philosophies.
2.) Dystopian Stuff Never Exists in Dystopian futures
When real-world dystopian readers or watchers finally see their worst fears come into reality, they do not see a dystopian world. If a book or film is truly dystopian then that hopelessness must be all-encompassing. If the government is a good dystopian government then it needs to dominate its people. Usually this government uses some type of futuristic weapon or spying technique. At this point we all know that such techniques are totally unattainable.
We see dystopian technology all the time. And even though certain technologies terrify certain people, they don’t alter the world in which we live to a point hat can be considered universally horrible. Even thought things are physically existent seem unconscionable to sci-fi fans exist in real life right now, those things have not destroyed our current socio-economic landscape. Neither the NSA, nor Google Glass, nor Apple’s terms and conditions policies have done anything to disrupt our daily lives. We all live in a society that was supposed to be dystopian, but we all know is not. This is partly because the entities like the NSA aren’t powerful enough to disrupt our every day lives, and partly because we would never let them. In our heart of hearts, we as humans know better.
1.) Dystopian Books/Movies don’t exist in Dystopian Literature/Cinema
Giving credit where credit is due, I think Fahrenheit 451 is more true to life than many of its counterparts because the books are destroyed. This is the central point of the plot, but it is something that doesn’t happen in Minority Report, Blade Runner, The Dark Tower Series, Children of Men, or A Scanner Darkly. Most dystopian fiction doesn’t mention any sort of mass destruction of culture, and the one’s that don’t are total bullshit. This is an easy equation, and I’m shocked that most of these books and movies don’t ever make any allusion to. If books aren’t burned, movie’s aren’t destroyed, then why aren’t people reading/watching them. If they were then they’d be able to read books like A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, or Ender’s Game (or watch their corresponding movies). A few pages into We, and you’d think someone would be like “Hey, let’s just kill every police android we see, and just blow up the power company so The Overlords can’t watch us masturbate and punish us by showing the videos at sports games anymore.”
As if you didn’t know what Kanye Masturbates to
Dystopian aesthetic is reliant on the ideas it portrays, more so than actual plot details. This would be especially important for a character in any dystopian fiction to know. If Katniss was allowed to pick up a copy of V For Vendetta the third chapter of the book would have opened with her saying to Gale, “Fuck this tribute nonsense. Get some fertilizer from District 9 and some of that coal from District 12. We’re burnin’ this mother down.” In our totally not dystopian world we still identify with the ideas in post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s hard for us to believe that someone actually living under a futuristic tyrannical government would focus more on adoration of their oppressors than they would on freeing themselves from their Hell-scape of unhappiness. People find inspiration from fiction, it’s part of the reason we make it. Whenever the does hit the fan, we look to our story-tellers both past and present to try to piece together what we should be doing on a personal level. Why does the human instinct to find inspiration from fiction appear totally absent from the characters in dystopian novels and movies? That’s an easy one, because they’re horseshit.