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The Allure of Dystopia

Perhaps it is the modern political landscape around us. Perhaps we are witnessing our own undoing, noticing societal trends, behavioral changes, the increased expansion of the police-state, or a combination of other variables.

Be that as it may, dystopian stories, — whether in book or film — are at an all-time high in popularity.  From old literary classics, including the famous works by Orwell (‘1984’) or Huxley (‘Brave New World’), among other notables, to more modern, contemporary multi-part sagas, like those of Suzanne Collins (‘Hunger Games series’) or Veronica Roth (‘Divergent series’), and many other notables, are Best-sellers and/or Blockbusters, generating immense revenues.

dys·to·pi·a — disˈtōpēə/ noun.  “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”
All of these stories share common features or characteristics. In their own unique way, they all portray human existence:
  • in futuristic settings, melding post-apocalyptic doom-and-gloom with high-tech and sci-fi;
  • unfolding in a society that has changed in unimaginable,  strange and unfamiliar ways: norms have been replaced, behaviors have been altered, education and conditioning are morphed, new taboos are created;
  • where inter-human relations have morphed into new societal strata or castes with cruel and unfair selection processes, where the haves are in even starker contrast with the have-nots;
  • where a small ruling elite govern and police the masses, while surveillance and behavior-control are ever-present, with brutal efficiency and zero tolerance for dissent or weakness.

While many readers or viewers would be horrified to live in these dystopian societies, these stories have an undeniable allure.  There is an attractive, powerful blend of fascination, fantasy and fear. We identify with characters who have to contend with living in these stories.

On the one hand, we tend to treasure our apparent, [relative] freedoms and our sense of [relative] peace and justice, while on the other hand, we perhaps see these dystopian portrayals as grim glimpses into the future that we might be heading into, if we continue in our ways, as cautionary tales, if you will.

Perhaps we see so many parallels between our “now” and the future “now”, that we can’t help but to have a tepid fascination coupled with a sense of foreboding of what might come.  It’s like watching something violent or gruesome, which we would rather not see, yet we cannot get ourselves to look away.

Regardless of which dystopian stories we take in, we should observe carefully and take heed.  They all contain a wealth of lessons. Do not make the mistake of simply dismissing them as fiction and entertainment.  Oftentimes, the amount of “precognition” by the authors can be astounding.

When Orwell published “1984” back in 1949, there was much dismissal and ridicule, as people believed his notions were too ‘far-fetched’ or ‘absurd’.  Go out today, poll random people about the current state of modern society today, and draw parallels to Orwell’s book, and suddenly it’s not so “science fiction” anymore, is it ?

As I sit here and type out this blog, my mind wanders why “sci fi” generally has always been so popular… take any comic or movie franchise you want, from Star Wars, to Battlestar Galactica, to StarTrek, to Buck Rogers, to Flash Gordon, to Stargate, and countless many more,… I’ll let you ponder that.  Feel free to write me your thoughts and musings on the subject. 

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