The International Writers Magazine: Dystopia
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
Huxleys Brave New World warns us of the dangers
of our increasingly hedonistic lifestyles, while Margaret Atwoods
The Handmaids 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 Orwells 1984. If we buy
into the messages of the writer then are we letting ourselves
be controlled by their fear?
In Neil Postmans, Amusing ourselves to Death (1986),
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 dont believe that bird flu will wipe out millions of people;
I dont think an asteroid will hit our planet and kill all life,
and I dont think we will be controlled by a totalitarian state,
but havent 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 its
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
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