Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Dystopian Consequences of Utopian Societies

Since the dawn of civilization, we as human beings have been assigned the seemingly impossible duty to create the ideal utopia. Our founding fathers wanted to present future generations with a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but as our country ages, so do some of its original values. We now understand the extensive list of flaws in the nation’s original Constitution and since then have revamped to mold it into the current understanding of human-worth within modern society.  So what have we found? Mike Daisey shows us the commercialized attempts at a utopia: Disney World, Burning Man, etc., but what about the Everyman’s utopia? As in most scenarios, when we have nothing left, we rely on the teachings of literature and the arts as a form of escapism—specifically the genre of utopian fiction.

First used by Sir Thomas More in 1516, the word utopia derives from the Greek word “eutopos,” translating simply to “good place.” More’s work of fiction, A Truly Golden Little Book, No Less Beneficial Than Entertaining, of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia, otherwise known as A Fruitful and Pleasant Work of the Best State of a Public Weal, and of the New Isle Called Utopia, otherwise known as Utopia, is believed to be the first published piece of utopian fiction. The novel caused quite a stir during the 16th century because although some of the successful Utopian practices were comprehensible, More also demonstrated the ease of sac-religious institutions; divorce, euthanasia, and marriage within the parish. On top of that, More was also a devout member of the Catholic church—this did not go over well. Although Utopia has become less common in the world of academia, it is still viewed as the novel that really started it all, inspiring many of the utopian novels we read today.

blog photoMap found in Thomas More’s Utopia

The 1931 utopian fiction novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has become a staple in high schools’ literature curriculum. Exploring a world compacted with reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning, Huxley paints a portrait in which the arts are almost non-existent. Instead, society is governed by science, technology, and manual labor. Before birth, embryos are assigned a caste and their lives follow the path laid out for them by the government. Freedom to choose your own life is gone, but what Huxley makes us question is the value of knowing the truth. Would you rather know what could be or continue your life in unknowing blindness?

Similar to Huxley, Suzanne Collins explores the same consequences of a genetically altered society in her 2008 trilogy, The Hunger Games—yet it is not studied in public schools. In a post-apocalyptic nation striving for order and progress, The Hunger Games displays the social stratification of predetermined castes when each year 24 children from 12 districts are placed in an arena and forced to fight to the death. The game is always televised as a reminder to the rest of the country that the Capitol holds all the power. It is no surprise that this attempt at a utopia quickly turns into chaos, disorder, and dystopia very quickly. But even with all of the violence and mature themes, The Hunger Games is still classified as a young adult novel.  In the last few years, Katniss Everdeen has become a pop culture icon of strength, skill, and bravery of the millennial generation and District 12 has become a common metaphor for poverty and oppression. There is even a Hunger Games inspired theme park in North Carolina where for four days you can learn archery or indulge in luxuries of the Capitol, all at your own risk of becoming Tribute.

So what is it about these works that draw us to them? Time and time again we see utopian fiction result in dystopia, yet it is a genre that thrives in our society. Are we trying to convince ourselves that we are capable of creating our own Utopia? Or perhaps we believe that through the power of text, action can be invoked? Each work shows us the dire consequences of such an attempt. Maybe what makes utopian fiction so enticing is that no one has yet to actually achieve it. Once we reach our utopia, then what?

– Emily Wilson, Communications Assistant

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My trip to Disney World

We asked you to share with us photos from your trips to Disney World and here are some of the awesome snapshots we got. Thanks everyone!

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Ariel and Me

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Lockwood.Magic Kingdom. 1994

How about you? What was your trip to Disney World like?

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You can do WHAT in the lobby?!

The word is getting out about our lobby experience for American Utopias. The design team’s goal was to create the look and feel of a camp at Burning Man as though it were conceived and built by Disney Imagineers. They also wanted to create an environment that had no factual, think-y data but instead to evoke feelings and emotions, and to stimulate the senses in a way that is playful, fun, and visceral, in order to prepare the audience for the work that follows. Here is a sneak peek:

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There’s even more to experience, but you’ll need to head on over to Woolly for American Utopias to find out what!

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My Experience at Burning Man

It can be difficult to explain what Burning Man is like without sounding like a cult, or worse, a cliche. But what I love about Burning Man is the impossibility of it all.

Sure, we build an impossible, temporary city in a brutal, harsh desert, but, more than that, we create an impossible community. It’s people you might never know in any other city on Earth, but for that week on the playa, they are the family you choose to share with, build with, explore with. And it’s those connections that ground you as you see the most impossible things you’ve ever seen in your life.

And so you stare, eyes wide, at some impossible thing that someone built in an impossible location, while lasers stream overhead. And then your new best friends lead you to the next impossible place and you dance until sunrise.

– Ed Conley

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