From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Attention Citizens: Dystopia is Good!

Dystopia is the next hot trend, my droogies. Just look at reviews of movies like Salt, or books like The Hunger Games, a novel that is leading the next wave in young adult fiction the way Harry Potter and Twilight did before it. Dystopia generally means a repressive society, often run by a totalitarian leadership, with extreme social controls and some form of martial law. But are dystopias really so bad? Here’s my take on a few dystopias from recent popular books and films.

GEORGE ORWELL’S NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
Considered the epitome of dystopia, this would actually be totally awesome fer sure! I loved 1984! Granted, Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, and in the US we had a President who vastly grew the gap between our nation’s rich and poor and put a lot of people on the wrong side of that gap. But William Gibson’s Neuromancer was published, officially kicking off cyberpunk. We had the first space walk by a woman. And the music! Who could forget the music?

Also, movies that year included Gremlins, Ghostbusters, (David Lynch’s) Dune, The Last Starfighter (with computer generated graphics!), Neverending Story, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Red Dawn, Repo Man, Starman, The Terminator, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! Plus, my youthful optimism had not yet been crushed by the soulless weight of reality. So yeah, what’s a little “Real World” video surveillance and Ministry of Faux News in exchange for that? Bring on the parachute pants, prol, it’s time for some Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo!

CHILDREN OF MEN
I was in line at the grocery store’s video kiosk the other day. Ahead of me stood a woman and her three rotund children who were loud and obnoxious and fighting over what movie to pick. So I turned around and almost tripped over another set of spoiled little hell spawn whining and pestering their mother for cupcakes. Movie theatres, restaurants, airplanes, swimming pools, even amusement parks — they are everywhere it seems, especially when you are trying to enjoy yourself. Why, they’ve completely overrun most of our schools!

So I have to admit, I’m a bit torn on this one. A world without children? Would it really be so bad? I do not mean ridding the world of your existing and perfectly lovely child. But rather, what if there were no more babies going forward? We’d enjoy a kid-free world for years and years! Granted, it might mean the extinction of the human race in 100 years or so, but hey, let’s face it, it is not like the Earth would miss us. Though I’m sure aliens may someday weep that there are no more episodes of The Hills being beamed into space.

THE MATRIX SERIES
What is that, robot overlord? You’ll feed me, house me, take care of me, and let me live in a non-stop dream? And all you want is my body heat? I’m failing to see the downside here. Unless, of course, in that dream my job is to clean up peep show booths or something equally distasteful. In which case, I would have to insist on being a healthy young millionaire instead. Who knows kung fu.

THE OVERTON WINDOW
The cover of this near-future dystopia novel from Glenn Beck’s ghostwriters reads: “An unprecedented attack on U.S. soil shakes the country to the core and puts into motion a frightening plan, decades in the making, to transform America and demonize all those who stand in the way.” Clearly, from that description it must be based on 9/11, the “dystopia-lite” that was the Bush Administration, and Beck’s role as a pundit, though apparently he sets it in the future and changes names around so, you know, it is fiction (wink wink).

I’d read it to confirm, but reportedly the writing is so bad it is like waterboarding your brain, and, well, torture is no longer allowed.

It is, however, like 1984 for the 2000’s in the sole fact that it evokes an era. Now while most of us would like to forget those years ever happened (and many doublethinkers are conveniently pretending they didn’t), let us not forget that in that decade we finally got good superhero films like Spiderman, Xmen, Batman reboot, and The Incredibles, good scifi television like Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and Lost, and quality online speculative fiction magazines like … well, I’m sure you can think of at least one.

So while the economic fallout of a dystopian government may lead to a wave of dystopian fiction, living under a dystopian government apparently leads to some pretty good fantasy and science fiction media. Yay dystopia!

V FOR VENDETTA
I believe this is the future where Sesame Street takes over the world, right? And how can that be bad?

THE RUNNING MAN
This story posits a nation with a ginormous percent of its population in prison and the remaining populace numbed and distracted by reality programming. Yeah, like that could happen. But the overall concept isn’t bad – after all, a running nation is a healthy nation.

More importantly, finishing the job of imprisoning the majority of Americans and making them compete in game shows would solve so many problems. For example, no more unemployment and a halt to the steady flight of labor jobs overseas. After all, prison workers have similar wages to foreign sweat shops, making them truly competitive.

No more transportation problems since everyone will be able to walk from their cells to work or the prison malls. No more health care debates, since all prisoners have mandatory exercise periods, access to counseling, and basic medical treatment. No more gun control debates since prisoners can’t have guns.

And this would actually be a move forward for equality. Currently, for example, a disproportionately large number of African Americans have lost their right to vote due to lopsided felony convictions, and homosexuals are denied the same basic rights as heterosexuals. But in this future, all common Americans, whether gay or straight, white, black, yellow or red, man or woman or both, will have an equal number of rights. Which is to say, very few.

So heck yeah. Let’s not just settle for watching and reading a new trend in dystopian fiction. Let’s bring back the trend towards real dystopia that they started last decade and, with luck, I’ll be seeing all you fellow citizen-inmates at Death Race 2020!

Randy Henderson stays crunchy in milk. He is a speculative fiction writer, a Clarion West graduate, a relapsed sarcasm addict, a milkshake connoisseur, and master of a robot meerkat army. Most importantly he has won the prestigious “Fantasy Friday Blog for a Beer” award five times (to date). For his further genre-related musings, go to his blog or find him on facebook.