Tag Archives: media

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

Pig Icons in American Culture


Hungry Pig

Within the first five minutes of Civilization (all you can eat), the audience is introduced to Big Hog; DC favorite Sarah Marshall’s intricately crafted and cunning pig character. Big Hog makes his way through the piece consuming everything in his path from the English language, images of the vast American landscape, to maybe even something larger than that… (no spoilers!) This brave pig’s journey through the arc of Civilization is interspersed with scenes of humans trying to find their way and stake their claim at the dawn of the Obama age. Or is it the other way around? Whatever the case may be, there is room for interpretation as to what Big Hog signifies or represents. Are we Big Hog? Is Big Hog a victim of our economic system? Is Big Hog the American Dream?

I find it interesting to explore the symbolism and iconography of pigs in our own culture. Pigs—when you really think about it—pop up EVERYWHERE.


Cute Pig

There’s Piglet from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – the loyal sidekick of Pooh himself. In Disney stores there are often t-shirts and other merchandise that depict Piglet as being shy, sweet, and oftentimes a bit clumsy. I know when I was younger my best friend and I used to refer to ourselves as Piglet and Pooh.


Sexy Pig

To turn the tables, there’s Miss Piggy, the sex icon of The Muppets cast. She’s fabulous, she has a great sweeping sense of style, and her boyfriend is Kermit the Frog. She clearly has the upper hand in that relationship.


Lipstick Pig

Just when you thought Miss Piggy was the only pig in the cultural sphere who would wear lipstick… A popular idiom in American politics is, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” referring to dressing up a political issue (or something in general) but not acknowledging its underlying nature. Barack Obama drew some heat in the 2008 election campaign when he used this phrase referring to John McCain’s policies—except critics said it was offensive to VP candidate Sarah Palin.


Greedy Pig

More often than not, our instincts lean towards thinking about pigs as a symbol for greed or gluttony, as is represented in this political cartoon about Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan.

What are some of your favorite representations of pigs in our culture? Do you have a favorite pig character in the media?

~Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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Filed under Civilization (all you can eat), Communications and Connectivity, Uncategorized

Media as a Storyteller

The wonderful thing about theatre is that an audience can walk in a space full of strangers, watch a story unfold, and see a great piece of art that makes us feel really good about our world or become inspired to make our world better.

The media is made up of this same being. Media hooks the public with true tales of disaster, murder, love, money, blackmail, and everything else in between. I’ve attended many a lecture on the media monster, and there has always been a negative opinion of how the media spins its stories and manipulates the public. I used to critically listen and analyze, but then I got lazy. Granted, we all have selective hearing, choosing to listen only to what we connect with.

And look how easy it is to connect! The media surrounds our daily lives and there are thousands of stories being published on paper and on digital news feeds. Take a look at how much the media bubble has expanded in just two years: With the creation of Twitter, and the growing popularity and accuracy of blogs, people are getting media coverage from more than their local channel. All these things have become media outlets that transform our thoughts and actions.

There’s an ongoing argument that print journalism is losing its appeal; that it’s losing in the race towards King of all Media. I admit, I read more blogs than the pages that get tossed on my driveway. Why? Maybe it’s more accessible or perhaps it’s more fun to read. Blogs tend to be more opinionated and more specific. Blogs sometimes publish more of the gritty parts of the story.

The media has to tell the truth, but it also has to sell something—a product, an agenda, an advertisement, an idea. In order to do that, it has to tell a story through some sort of angle. That angle does not always make the community happy. Parts of the story can be left out and insignificant parts can be embellished.

How does the media paint your neighborhood? Do you feel like parts of the story are missing? In Clybourne Park, Lena does not like the way her neighborhood will be changing and worries that its history will be forgotten. Lena wants to protect the history that she grew up in, and she takes action to make sure her community’s story still exists.

In short, stories are the connecting factor between the media and its public. The media is a storyteller that we choose to listen to (or not). When you take part in this exchange, you are connected to the community. An entire culture can be connected by one story—emotionally, intellectually, or physically—and it happens over social media, at work, at a bar, and in theatre.

“Our shared stories create a connection to others that builds a sense of belonging to a particular community.” – Daniel Siegel

Want to be a part of this discussion? Come see the July 31st matinee of Clybourne Park and stay for the Mammoth Forum “Media as a Storyteller.” Special guests will include Lydia DePillis, author of “Housing Complex” blog for the Washington City Paper, Shani Hilton, author of “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier”, Elahe Izadi, reporter for WAMU’s Dcentric, and Philip Stewart, reporter ABC7/WJLA-TV and News Channel 8 team.

~ Noel Edwards, Marketing and Communications Assistant

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You Have Seen This Girl: The Changing Face of Media.

I teach a graduate level producing and theatre management class at Columbia, and this past Monday we were discussing various technological and sociological shifts that have occurred over the last 100 years. We spend a lot of time on television, some time on telephones, mentioned magazines, and talked a lot about Facebook. The conversation naturally turned into a heated conversation about whether or not Facebook has made us into voyeurs—totally self-involved, relationship-less people who project their personalities onto social networking sites. And what does the consumer of such sites then do? Does this result in an overly sensationalized relationship? Is it false? Is a weak tie?

Then, a student asked a question: Is this a new way of behaving, or do we now just have the technology to leverage this obsessive behavior and make it more widespread? I’d like to argue that we have always behaved this way.  It is NOT the “new” media’s fault.

Isn’t it true that the media (print in particular) can only survive if consumed (bought)?  So, if people are consuming… let’s say tabloids in this case…then is the producer of the content to blame? Or the consumer?

~Alli Houseworth, Communications and New Media Manager

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Filed under Communications and Connectivity, In the Next Room or the vibrator play