Dystopia, Why?

It rained sometime during the night. The world’s been distorted into shades of wet greys and everything has a slight sheen to it. The sky’s still an ominous shade of grey as if it’s threatening to drown the world again, whether this proves to be an empty threat or not remains to be seen. Back home rain made everything seem fresh and clean, but down here? Everything seems just as dirty and foul as it did yesterday when it was dry. It’s like a particularly hideous ornament has been polished up because guests are coming round. Polished or not, they’ll still hate the damn thing. I’m once again sitting in my grotty old desk chair, it’s made of faux leather. It’s got a great big tear across the seat where the seams have split, leaving a ragged maw with atrophied lips and misshapen teeth of grey sponge. I’ve tossed a grey tartan blanket over the top to hide the worst. It’s made of acrylic and I like to snuggle into it when it gets too cold. It’s always too cold in my house. I’m choking down factory milled bread slathered in hydrogenated vegetable oil made to imitate churned bovine lactate, this is turn is coated in the black, tarry dregs of a brewer’s vat. It’s all being washed down with a tepid, brown liquid that might once have been tea. I’m a product of the lower middle-class, struggling under the yoke of a disconnected government of rich-elite who hate their population. The divide between the rich and the poor widens daily, inflation spirals ever-upward, the economy’s in recession and the living wage of the average working stiff isn’t going up. The powers that be are trying to introduce plans to monitor all forms of electronic communication. Dystopia doesn’t seem so far away after all. Or perhaps I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I don’t think anyone can argue that living in a dystopian world would be pretty awful. But why is it that dystopian fiction is so popular and so prevalent?

Girl with bow and arrow - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games came out last week to some pretty rave reviews. As of yet I haven’t heard anyone say a bad thing about it. I was even thinking of going to see it this weekend so that I had a better idea as to what everyone was going on about. But it was cold outside so I stayed inside where there was tea. It is the most recent in a long line of dystopian films to grace cinema screens. We’ve had The Matrix, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Logan’s Run, the list goes on, spiralling all the way back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 1927. The world of books is littered with similar pieces, from the comic-book worlds of Transmetropolitan and Watchmen, to the familiar fields of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New world and more or less everything that Philip K. Dick ever wrote.

Spider Jerusalem - Transmetropolitan

Dystopia is nothing new in fiction by any means, it can trace its roots through H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes and The Time Machine of the late 19th century all the way back to the vague murmurings of the idea in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726. Before that there was the plague and the threat of an eternity being boiled alive in the bowels of Hell. Perhaps dystopian fiction is as much a remembrance as it is a warning. The concept of it being a warning seems to be a pretty prevalent theme. It’s certainly what Orwell and Huxley seemed to use it for, even if they opted for two very different sides of the same coin. Orwell going with the totalitarian regime that watches your every move and Huxley going with a populace rendered apathetic and disinterested by a massive tide of information and personal distractions.

Whatever the root cause of the theme is, it’s something that seems to resonate strongly with humanity regardless of the era. I can’t speak as to what the broad and overarching pseudo-psychological reason behind this is. I can only comment on the why it gives me such a raging word boner. I am a deeply pessimistic man. I always expect the worst of things be it the weather, the outcome of the football, the government, or just people in general. As much as I crave a happy, utopian society filled with unicorns, rainbows and gumdrop mountains, I know it’ll never happen. I fully expect myself and humanity to fuck up every opportunity that’s thrown our way. Dystopian fiction is a tiny little window into a world of morbidly intriguing possibilities. A glimpse into a myriad of futures which are slowly rushing towards us, but which I hope never arrive. A place where people have let the animal emotions of fear and lust contort their world into something alien yet terrifyingly familiar. Ultimately it’s a reminder of one thing: “It could be worse.”

About The Rogue Verbumancer

A chemistry graduate consumed by the demons of apathy and disinterest. Likes tea and cheese. Sleeps less than he should. View all posts by The Rogue Verbumancer

2 responses to “Dystopia, Why?

  • armondikov

    Also think of what a dystopia can give to a narrative. It gives you a system to work against or to fight against. It provides obstacles and friction that just doesn’t come from a perfect society. The conventional story has the bad guy out to destroy and ruin the world, but with a dystopia the bad guy is out to preserve the world exactly as it is and it’s the heroes wanting to change it. That’s the basic premise behind at least half of the ones you name-dropped above.

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