Tag Archives: dystopia

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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Filed under American Utopias, Connectivity

“I Can Tell That We Are Going To Be Friends,” Maggie Smith

What’s your favorite TV show? Mad Men or Millionaire Matchmaker? GIRLS or Bad Girls Club? Downton Abbey or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

I find the teenage mothers on Teen Mom to be immature, UNrealistic (ironic, huh?) and incredibly annoying. However, I can easily escape into the aristocratic world of Downton Abbey, imagining being BFFs with the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I can’t even laugh at Honey Boo Boo because I find it so ridiculous. On the other hand, I identify with a lot of the struggles that Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa deal with on a weekly basis in the HBO hit GIRLS.

Why is that? Why can’t I watch TV just for entertainment purposes? Why can’t I just turn on the boob tube and zone out? I think it’s because I want to watch things that I can imagine — but don’t exist for me. My utopia. Utopia is a place with perfect qualities — that doesn’t exist.

Dystopia is an undesirable or frightening society. Nothing describes this idea to me more than living in a house with seven strangers — and having our lives taped. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to the Jersey Shore or compete on The Bachelor.

I love Mad Men because of the formal dress, the formal language, and the simpler times. You don’t see men walking around dressed head to toe like Don Draper and Roger Sterling. Women may stress about clothes — but aren’t expected to wear a dress/skirt every day and heels. I wish we did.

In my mind, Downton Abbey would be an amazing place to live. Someone else to help make my hair look perfect every day? Okay. Walking around on those gorgeous grounds with that perfect Labrador Retriever? Count me in. Calling lunch luncheon and having tea every day? Swoon.

Each of our ideas of utopias are relative. What works for me, doesn’t work for someone else. What is euphoric and relatable and realistic to me isn’t necessarily the same for you.

In American Utopias, Mike Daisey explores the ideas of three different utopias: Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street. Chances are the people who enjoy a character breakfast at Disney World don’t like sitting in a cuddle dome at Burning Man. Likewise, those of us who love The West Wing don’t enjoy Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.

– Robbie Champion, Claque member

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Filed under American Utopias