By Lauren Gray
As I have been scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I have noticed a theme among the aggregate of statuses and memes. Since the resurgence of the “zombie apocalypse” starting around 2010, it seems the general population has once again become fascinated with the idea of dystopian futuristic societies. This trend isn’t new, however; in fact, we have been at this “trying to predict the dark forthcoming of our society” thing for a long time. Novels like “1984,” “Brave New World” and “Fahrenheit 451” are popular, older examples of us trying to analyze the potential consequences of our lifestyles and political systems. “The Purge,” “The Walking Dead” and “The Hunger Games” are more recent portrayals of such analyses.
But why are we so fascinated with the idea of a future where everything is dark and awful and full of struggle? Which of the most popular depictions of desolation have the highest prospects of coming true and what aspects of them are already prevalent in society today? How do we stop these stories from becoming reality? In my attempt to answer these questions, I will break down commonalities throughout the dystopias into three categories and compare them to today’s Western culture.
Category one: Mass Distraction
This is the major thread between almost all of the most popular dystopia, because it is the indispensable tool for controlling society at large. To be completely controlled, citizens must be rendered incapable of free thought while remaining ignorant of the fact that they are being distracted. In other words, the distractions are normalized. The “Brave New World” political system pushed sex and drugs on its people to keep them malleable. In “Fahrenheit 451,” everyone had giant TVs in their homes which only displayed government-approved content. “The Purge” and “The Hunger Games” had, well, the Purge and the Hunger Games to keep everyone obsessed over one, terrifying, extremely propagandized event all year long. And the government in “1984” used a totalitarian system and large workload to dominate the comrades.
Sports are commonly criticized as a systematic means of mass distraction. Sports are, in essence, scheduled entertainment. People divide themselves based on teams that represent their country or territories/states they feel represent them. Through marketing and brand management, fans attain strong obligations to be loyal to their organizations, organizations that provide little practical educational value and little real-world news. Fans spend money on sports memorabilia and argue about player and team statistics. There is a strong tie between American sports programming and military propaganda. In America and around the world, riots will even break out over the outcome of games, sometimes in a similar fashion to political protests.
Category two: Stunted or Dismantled Societal Progression
This one is obvious because the whole idea of a dystopia is that somehow, somewhere, society as a whole failed and either regressed in some major way or fell apart completely. In the TV show “The Walking Dead,” society is dismantled entirely due to everyone being eaten by or becoming zombies. In “1984,” any forms of societal advancement are restricted to government spyware or war technology. Don’t worry about health care, education or the economy because Big Brother is watching you! There was also a whole department in “1984” called “The Ministry of Truth” where language was being minimized in an attempt to limit the ways citizens expressed themselves. A more disturbing example of regression is how “The Purge’s” perpetuates classism with violence. Instead of offering progressive solutions for the lower-class citizens, the government decides to do away with them systematically by making them sitting ducks for the upper echelon who have bountiful resources and a manufactured desire to kill people. In“Fahrenheit 451” books were incinerated and citizens were legally prevented from reading based on the very idea that literature would induce progressive thinking.
A recent uproar over the rise in tuition increases for universities can definitely be labeled as an obstacle for societal progression. As education becomes more expensive, fewer citizens will be able to attend. America then becomes less educated and therefore less progressive as well as easier to manipulate.
Category three: Hope
Spread across the dystopia, hope is what keeps the characters and plot proceeding. Every society mentioned exhibits hope for change, for a better world. Katniss Everdeen is the champion rebel who symbolizes hope for the people in “The Hunger Games.” In “Fahrenheit 451,” Guy Montag begins to realize he can find meaning in his life through literature and questions the perpetuation of ignorance by the oppressive government he lives under. Winston in “1984” gets very close to free thinking and personally breaking away from Big Brother’s oppressive brainwashing regime. A rebellious militia starts to show promise in the society of “The Purge.” All of “The Walking Dead” is based on hope that somehow the ragtag group of survivors will cure the zombie virus and society can rebuild itself. And in “Brave New World” we meet John, who grew up outside of the World State and protests its dehumanizing policies. Regardless if rebellion is successful or not, the idea of a moral uprising is essential for dystopian conflict.
Across all forms of media, in classrooms, in workplaces, political rallies or at the family dinner table, the invigorating sense of hope is felt everywhere. We all hope that the ideas and beliefs we hold will make life better, and that is the biggest driving force behind almost everything we do. The movements for marriage equality, gun control, world peace, education, health care, animal rights, civil rights, women’s rights, global warming and more are all examples of people hoping that the society they live in will implement their ideas for a better world.
I could go on forever and ever about the elements in each dystopia and how they relate to us. This is why dystopian futuristic societies are so appealing; we can draw a plethora of parallels between the fiction and reality. It’s fascinating and terrifying to think that the consequences portrayed in the dystopias could come to fruition. Luckily there are takeaways from the nightmarish tales of tomorrow: don’t let yourself be distracted, in other words, stay aware; don’t let fear or apathy stunt progress on a personal or systemic level; and, above all, remain hopeful and never stop fighting for the changes you want to see in the world. May the odds be ever in your favor, comrades.
Lauren Gray studies journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.