Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Round Robin - Dystopia: Unhappily Ever After

Dystopias are quite fascinating ‘what ifs’. What if the government became a tyrant? What if all our rights and freedoms were taken away? What if our lives were completely disposable? It gets pretty scary, like a horror movie on a sociological scale. And that’s what I believe dystopias were originally meant to achieve: to scare the hell out of you with terrifying Big Brother societies that could toss you around like their personal play thing. Your life meant nothing. You meant nothing.

But why all the unhappiness? Can’t we have a glimmer of hope that the hero may make? Sure, but it’s going to be a false hope. The idea of dystopias was a warning, that this was the sort of society you didn’t want and for good reasons too. George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society was brutal fascism, where propaganda was pounded into your head and Big Brother invaded your privacy. You learned to believe in contradictions and to always trust the government’s decision. If Big Brother said ‘jump’, you would ask ‘how high?’ And in the end you couldn’t win. Oh, the hero (Winston Smith) does try, but ultimately he is broken and re-educated. It’s unhappy and it’s meant to be.    

A happy ending would only offset the warning that Orwell was trying to show. Imagine if the Surgeon General’s warning ended on a light note: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema – oh but with modern medicine, you have a fair chance of surviving just about anything. Doesn’t quite have the same impact.

And think about it, if it were really that easy for the protagonist to escape or fix society, wouldn’t it have been done long ago? It takes a lot for society to change, massive movements and sometimes bloody revolutions. And if the government has an iron grip over the citizens, chances are any change has to occur underground, which really hinders it. Escaping may not be so great either as most folks don’t know how to survive on their own, and unfortunately, society has done nothing to prepare people – hell, they can’t even prepare kids who are entering the real world. And then there are surviving the elements, disease, and predators. After a while, Big Brother might not be so bad. 

The best way to stop a dystopian society is to prevent it from ever happening, because once it’s set up, you going to have a helluva time trying to get away. And although dystopias may be speculative fiction, there’s always a shred of truth to them, art imitating life. So be mindful, because Big Brother hasn’t stopped watching you. 

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