There are some words in the English language that just make me uncomfortable. Catheter (for obvious reasons, of course); Socratic Method (just the thought of getting called on in school is enough to quicken the pulse); and surgical tubing (because of its direct link with needles and blood) are just a few. Add to them this word—Dystopian. Man, how that word makes me shudder with unease.
Authors and filmmakers have taken such pleasure over the years in envisioning a future in which the citizens are no longer in control, a future in which the government or some ruling body has taken away all semblance of freewill and independence and has reverted us back to a repressed society. The people live in constant fear that missteps or, even worse, rebellion, will be quelled with surprising and extreme force, as a reminder to the rest of the people that conformity with the laws and restrictions is the only option. Authors such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Margaret Atwood, among others, have solidified their place in literary history because of their dystopian creations. Add to that list the latest craze, The Hunger Games, and you will see that society enjoys a good tale with a twisted view of the future.
So what is it about the word “dystopia” that is so distressing to me? It’s that each of the dystopian societies created in film and literature have entirely plausible explanations for their establishment. Ok, let’s discount the societies that were created by alien invasion or genetic mutations, I am not quite at the stage where I believe that either of those are entirely plausible.
No, I am talking about the societies that were created by robots, super-computers that began to think for themselves, a controlling few who rose from the ashes of an apocalyptic event… do you mean to tell me that none of these could possibly happen?
I am just finishing a book that I probably should have read a long time ago, but luckily I was never assigned it in school. (I say luckily because if I had been assigned it to read in school, I likely would have hated it.) The book is “Fahrenheit 451” and it, as well, presents a futuristic view of a dystopian society. What’s strange is that, while this book had been on my radar for many years, I had never felt a strong urge to read it. But Friday morning, while sitting outside my court appearance, out of nowhere the book popped into my head and the urge to read it was so strong that I bought it for my Kindle from the parking lot.
If you haven’t read it, “451” by Ray Bradbury is a view of the future in which books are illegal and entire homes are burned if books are found inside. Frightening for a book lover like me, for sure, but even though the book was written in 1953, the explanation for the rise of the dystopian book-burning society is not terribly farfetched; in fact, we have seen some of it recently.
Television is becoming overwhelming with thousands of channels, reality shows and our devotion to characters as if they were members of our family. When our favorite show goes off the air, don’t we grieve a bit, as if a favorite aunt has passed away? And while books seem to be as popular as ever, do you notice that they also seem to be getting shorter? The days of the Great American Novel, of the thousand-page saga of James Clavell or Herman Wouk or James Michener are becoming extinct as we clamor for shorter works that are more easily digestible with more immediate conclusions- we have become a society that needs instant gratification, resolution within the one-hour show, and pictures and diagrams to remove the need for our own imagination. Bradbury predicted this more than half a century ago…
I am not so naïve as to think that the extreme dystopian societies created in popular culture are “really” possible, but I cannot help but think that in some respect we are already headed in that direction. Suppression of the arts is the first step to a repressed society and we as consumers of entertainment have allowed ourselves to be “dumbed-down.” Ever heard the idea that a society can be judged by examining its lowest common denominator? Well, look no further than the Kardashians and Jersey Shore to see how we rank…
In the stories, other than some apocalyptic event, these societies do no spring up overnight but gestate over what may be generations. So while I am not so concerned for my own generation and the possibility of dystopia occurring while I am alive, the fear is that my children’s children might experience a society with far less freedoms than we enjoy today. The true geniuses of the arts, like Dickens, Hitchcock, Scorsese, and Tolstoy will barely register in the psyche of society, instead having been replaced by “Jackass,” “16 and Pregnant,” and “Twilight.” Hopefully by that time President Kim Kardashian and Vice President Snooki will have figured out a way to preserve all of our great works of art in museums as a reminder of what used to be.