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Why We Need Dystopian Fiction More Than Ever

Culture December 4, 2017 By Vincent

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We live in troubling times. Extremism is seemingly on the rise, the far-right is seeing a resurgence across the globe, global conflicts and strife continue while the gap between rich and poor is increasingly widening. No wonder then people turn to media as a form of escapism, as fantasy and sci-fi dominate what we consume; clear, distinguishable alternative realities from the one we inhabit as we seek solace in something different, but one area where this is lacking is that of dystopian fictions, worlds of oppression and hopelessness. 

In a real world where many feel they can't meaningfully impact what is around them, it is perhaps understandable why many don't want yet more bleak universes imposed upon them, but we are here to argue the case for dystopias in fiction.

Any truly great piece of fiction, whether it be in film, television, books or other forms of media has an element of truth to it. It has something in there that those consuming it can find relatable even if it is set in a far-flung corner of space some many millions of years away from our own. There will be a relatable human struggle with emotions and situations we can attest to even if we have never fought hordes of aliens or battled authoritarian regimes. We see reflections of the real world mirrored at us via different angles and whilst we may want something to perk us up perhaps we should be making more of a concerted effort to pay attention to these darker stories of what the world could be because they also tell us of what the world could become if we are not careful.

Image Source: Colin Dunn/Flickr.com

Take, for example, George Orwell's classic '1984'. Many will state that it is a simple allegory for Stalin's Soviet Union, written in 1948 when the Second World War had just finished. 

Rationing was still prevalent in Europe, and the Cold War had now become the new fear and, to some extent this is true but it is not just a like-for-like fable of failed ideologies in the real world like its predecessor 'Animal Farm' but it also tapped into fears about the future for Britain outside of a communist coup. Its use of a surveillance state and a media reporting only what it deems necessary speaks to a society beyond that of Bolshevism. In fact, you could argue many aspects of it apply to us today. Sure we may not live in a world where 'newspeak, erases all 'thoughtcrime' but we do have 'fake news' that has led us to a state where we can't really trust much we are told anymore. 

We may not have ubiquitous television screens everywhere that monitor our every move but we know that companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Google have backdoors in their technology and gather much data on us through location services on our phones, our social media, and browsing habits and there may be no 'Room 101', but we know there are facilities such as that in Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh in the UK for those that their respective governments deem subversive. 

Are you paying attention yet?

Perhaps 1984's depiction of a totalitarian regime is a bit beyond the realms of what we are seeing right now, but it does serve as a warning. Aldous Huxley's equally as celebrated 'A Brave New World' has no such major political upheaval at its core but rather a social one where corporations run the world, where we are fed Soma, a drug to keep us happy and numb to the pains of the world. Again, we may not be guzzling down drugs by the handful like they were penny candies, but Nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two, and painkilling opioids are most commonly prescribed. 

In Huxley's native Britain, the figures are far less but still stand at about 1 in 10. Our food is pumped with antibiotics, steroids and all sorts of other drugs. We may not receive an electric shock whenever we feel a negative emotion or be constantly bombarded by 'feelies' designed to distract us from bad feelings but we do have 'light boxes' in our pockets at all times in the form of our phones that give us a release of dopamine each time we see a new notification of someone validating our vacuous existence via social media or other apps.

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Maybe this too is a stretch too far, we still have control of choice as to whether we swallow these pills or own these phones so let's take a look at Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' in which women are traded and treated as a commodity, kept for their breeding prowess and little else, surely we don't live in a world where women are treated as nothing more than playthings for rich and powerful men? No...been reading the news lately? If not perhaps you should read our article on why we still need feminism by clicking here to bring you up to speed.

The point is, all of these stories are, or at least supposed to be, gross exaggerations of what the world could become but as time passes, we march inexorably toward a state of affairs that represent them that their prescience becomes more and more poignant. We're not saying that you should stop watching that sword and sorcery series that has you rapt or put down your spy-thriller you've been reading on your commute, but perhaps the next time you look up from your phone that you've been staring at for hours on end desperate to see what your friends are up to or becoming jealous of better-looking people, travelling the world; if you can momentarily clear your mind from its drug-fuelled haze and need to choose something else to briefly distract you from the lurking exestential crisis at the peripheries of your mind, maybe you should consider a dystopian fiction as a good starting point.

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