The International Writers Magazine

Fear Itself
Liz Barlow

ystopia as a concept has long been of literary interest, with George Orwell as one of the pioneers of this genre with his novel, ‘1984.’ Many writers have followed in his footsteps, and have achieved great success and recognition. Moreover, in the last ten years or so it has transcended from the page to the big screen with films such as ‘28 Days Later’ and ‘Deep Impact’. These films foresee the end of the planet or the human race, so with Hollywood cashing in on it we must ask ourselves, what is it about the horrifying nature of this genre that we find so appealing?

It may be easier to start with why writers are drawn to it. Authors can use dystopia to highlight their own concern about societal trends. For example, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ warns us of the dangers of our increasingly hedonistic lifestyles, while Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a warning against the rise of religious fundamentalist totalitarianism in the U.S.A and the dangers of extremist feminism.
It is fair to say then, that writers of this genre want to warn us about a future of possible fear, hate and corruption. However it seems ironic that they use scare tactics to achieve this – the very thing that totalitarianism and authoritative states use to achieve control, just as the Party did in Orwell’s ‘1984’. If we ‘buy into’ the messages of the writer then are we letting ourselves be controlled by their fear?
In Neil Postman’s, ‘Amusing ourselves to Death (1986),’ he says,

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban books, for there would be no-one to read one. Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.’

One can assume that these fears were their motivations for writing their now world famous novels, however by communicating their fears in such a medium, they have spread them further into mainstream culture.
I do not object to the expression of writers, for how would we ever learn or discover if we could not share our thoughts? However, as a result of this now popularised genre the possibilities of dystopian societies seems endless, from bird-flu to Nuclear world war, news bulletins and the media only seem to draw upon the negative; of worries, concerns and ominous speculations, yet the possibilities of a utopian society seem limited to none. Why are the powers that be selling us ideas about death and destruction and not hope and positivity? Perhaps it is us; perhaps we as a species are prone to worry and have pessimistic tendencies, and so the demand for it is now so easily supplied.

In order to identify our hunger for such negative art and culture, I have asked myself what I am most scared of, and are these fears typical of most people.
First and foremost, I am terrified of my own mortality – my innate ego and will to survive cannot fathom a world without me in it; a world not seen though my own eyes. Sometimes I convince myself that I will cheat death and live forever, while other times the idea of my own demise consumes me utterly.
Similarly I am scared of my family and friends dying. I am scared of being alone; I am scared of being the first one and of being the last one. I am scared of growing up, and of change, and to a lesser extent I am scared of snakes. It is easy to see then, what a fearful species we are, and it is clear that this can be used against us as a weapon.

I don’t believe that bird flu will wipe out millions of people; I don’t think an asteroid will hit our planet and kill all life, and I don’t think we will be controlled by a totalitarian state, but haven’t these things already happened? Numerous natural disasters, such as the Boxing Day Tsunami in Thailand a mere two years ago killed 50,000 people; dinosaurs were supposedly all killed off by an asteroid and there are many countries controlled under dictatorships – but these things are far enough away from me not to effect me directly, and this is a terrible thing to think, yet I do.

If ignorance is bliss then I wish all my brain cells would leave me now, for I cannot dismiss the things that I know and have read. Worrying about a future that I have no control over is no way to live, though as much as I try not to think about these things, the more I realise that it is useless; we should worry about the future and all it’s possible horror as and when it happens, and not let ourselves be consumed by fear and possibilities of dystopia.

© Liz Barlow December 2006

Liz is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
 More Comment


© Hackwriters 1999-2007 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.