I looked over the list of dystopias and want to suggest that many books are truly about the same thing: freedom (as pitched against limitation), and can be interpreted in a thousand ways.
The list of characteristics of dystopias made me wonder how close we might already be to living in such a world.
1) Strict social stratification, or enforced egalitarianism. – Oh, what would we call the barriers between race, religion, and sex if not stratification? And, what might we call enforced egalitarianism but the quotas that schools, colleges, and workplaces (most importantly government jobs) force on employers?
2) Ubiquitous technology, especially the technologies of surveillance and control. – Don’t get me started talking about wire-tapping by the government (in the name of security).
Plus, there are more cameras on street corners, in buildings, and in the air than ever before. Isn’t this the basis of the new television program “Person of Interest”?
3) Dehumanized cityscape. – This may be debated, but I’d say there are already areas of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, etc. that are fairly dehumanizing (and downright scary).
4) Widespread pollution. – Ever watch the news?
5) Privations. – Although other parts of the world have greater problems in this area, the present economical situation can be said to have created huge deprivations on the general public.
6) Totalitarian regime or a police state, or a kind of unjust and oppressive political system. – Our present security commission has taken a lot of rights to privacy from us already. Perhaps it’s difficult to see some of the unjust and oppressive situations on the street, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t present. Are we close to tipping over the edge, here?
After all, even friendly protesters are not allowed to meet in certain areas.
7) All-powerful corporations. – So, why are the huge banking organizations (or corporations) allowed to get away with controlling the country’s welfare? Why is it that CEOs of corporations all over the U.S. make millions of dollars, have millions of dollars worth of perks, and still the labor force is struggling?
8) Biological determinism. – Hmm, we’ve already closed, grown organs, and created machines. How close are we…
9) Paranoia. – Even our government appears to be paranoid about other facets of itself. The right doesn’t trust the left, the public doesn’t trust the government, and foreign governments don’t trust domestic ones.
10) The last item is a breakdown of social order and man’s regression to earlier stages of civilization. We may not be there yet, but if some of the above items aren’t dealt with, could a breakdown be far behind. There is already talk of a breakdown of our economic system.
This list sounds terrible, I know, but my point was that each of these situations is already evident in our world today, even if in a small way. Taking any or several or all of them to an extreme is what the dystopian movie or novel is about. Exploring these factors is essential in understanding them.
I love reading, and I often note how many of the books I read have elements of corporate or governmental greed, pollution, paranoia on one level or another. And, as I said at the beginning, each of these items has something to do with freedom, whether it’s the freedom to live in privacy, the freedom to have a job, or the freedom to grow up and raise a family in a world that is not polluted.
As long as we continue to work through these ideas in books (and movies), I think we’ll find methods to deal with them in real life.
We may never have complete freedom, since we do live in a society, but we can have those freedoms that are most dear to us.
From SF Movie Explorers:
Thank you Terry for sharing your thoughts on dystopias.
What Terry, who, by the way, is a POW! The fiction of the Year and the Star of Washington awards winning author, didn’t mention in his article is that he not just reads books and watches movies about dystopian societies, he writes about them as well. You can read about one such society in his novel Cathedral of Dreams.