The Evolution of Dystopia

 “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

― George Orwell, 1984

1-boot.jpg
 Orwell’s reference of the future, illustrated by Monie Wolverton in a recent context, demonstrating the relevance of oppression and authoritarian dominance seen in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. Image sourced from CagleCartoons.com

It may not have been Orwell’s intent, but in saying that, George Orwell effectively demonstrated the authoritarian dominance of power which exists within the 21st Century. This idea, that a dystopian text can highlight the potential of society’s flawed traits to transcend into dystopic, chaotic realities was previously explored in my blog ‘Dystopias of yesterday as today’s reality’. Within the blog, I distinguished potential texts which highlight this concern and relevant research into the dystopian genre. However, in developing a video essay, I have chosen to narrow my focus and instead focus on four main texts to showcase the potential and relevance of dystopian texts in contemporary society.  ‘Just Another Media Blog’  has also, previously dissected dystopian texts to compare to contemporary society as seen here. However, through curating a video essay I hope to further develop and contextualise this idea in relation to contemporary societal concerns and crises.

Through examining and analysing the vast list of texts I had previously curated, it was evident that a fundamental aspect of many of them was the interdependence of an array of concepts, primarily, an authoritarian government preventing a lack of autonomy, censorship, and an omnipresent government surveillance. Often, this interdependence emerged as a result of the technology or in conjunction with technology resulting in a lack of humanity. Therefore, I will explore the interdependence of these concepts in a range of texts and their relevance today.

These texts are:

  1. 1984– The 1984 Film Adaptation of the 1949 George Orwell Novel

2. Blade Runner– 1982 Film

3. Fahrenheit 451– The 1966 Film Adaptation of the 1953 Ray Bradbury Novel

4. The Hunger Games– 2012 Film

Between these texts, the interdependence of the concepts listed above can be seen to span 6 decades of literature and film. To highlight this, I will create a video essay which is explained in greater detail in a podcast here.  Below is the list of dominant concerns from the texts and their relevance today which will be included in the video essay to show how the texts, which are “a detailed and pessimistic presentation of the very worst of social alternatives“, have become realities.

  • Authoritarian Government preventing a lack of autonomy:

In examining the texts this emerges as a fundamental concern. In 1984, INGSOC/ Big Brother control society through surveillance, propaganda and policing thoughts. In Fahrenheit 451, the book burners control the people through burning knowledge. In Blade Runner, the Tyrell Corporation can be seen as the authoritarian government, controlling society, whilst the Capitol is the controlling state in The Hunger Games. Today, the Marxist theory of an authoritarian government preventing a lack of autonomy is daunting as our economic freedoms have been altered through neoliberal policies which allow the wealthiest people of the world to remain powerful as David Harvey explains “has become incorporated into the commonsense way we […] understand the world”.

 

orwell-1984-propaganda.jpg
Example of propaganda used in 1984 to ensure control of the state. Sourced from High Noon blog at https://davidoffutt.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/trump-and-the-g-o-p-1984/orwell-1984-propaganda/ which contrasts 1984 propaganda to President Trump‘s use of propaganda.
  • Censorship:

Censorship in these films is very direct. In 1984, censorship occurs as the state controls the past, often altering reality. In Fahrenheit 451, censorship is very obviously seen in the practice of book burning as well as through radio and television. In Blade Runner, censorship can be seen through the contrast in Blade Runner’s and replicants, as Blade Runners are provided with only the knowledge that the state deems necessary. This is evident when Deckard is unaware of Rachael’s replicant status. In the Hunger Games, censorship can be seen through what is shown from the games as well as what the state chooses to keep from the districts. In the current context, censorship can be seen in many aspects of both Eastern and Western societies including China’s approach to Internet sovereignty as Min Jiang explains the need for the regimes cyber policies and users to “tear down the Great Firewall” and present “greater transparency, accountability, and freedom”. Whilst in Western societies, there is concern about censorship through the limitations of the freedom of information and the fear of net neutrality.

  • Surveillance:

In 1984, surveillance can be seen through telescreens, child spies, and the thought police. Fahrenheit 451 uses firemen and the reports of neighbors to monitor society, whilst Blade Runner uses a constantly roving spotlight, present throughout the film. This suggests constant surveillance, as well as the ‘panopticon’ approach, where one can be unsure if they are being watched or not when it is possible to be monitored at all times. The Hunger Games has an omnipresent surveillance system throughout the games as well as state-employed soldiers and aircraft which monitor the districts. In relation to contemporary concerns, Simson Garfinkel highlights that “today, more than ever before, we are witnessing the daily erosion of personal privacy and freedom. We’re victims of a war on privacy that’s being waged by government eavesdroppers, business marketers, and nosy neighbors.” He elaborates, highlighting that metadata, online tracking, and surveillance cameras have meant that our human right to privacy is in grave peril.

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Image of the surveillance systems present in ‘The Hunger Games’, sourced from Panem et Circenses blog at https://panemetcircenseshungergames.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/playing-with-fire-surveillance-punishment-ageism-in-the-hunger-games/ which highlights the rule of many by the few. 

All of these concepts within the texts, collectively, demonstrate a lack of humanity in the societies they present, as well as the relevance of them today. Therefore, will make a compelling and powerful video essay. If you would like further understanding of the development of the video essay, the video below shows an initial construction of excerpts from the texts in relation to surveillance.

 

Academic References:

Garfinkel, S., 2000. Database nation: the death of privacy in the 21st century. ” O’Reilly Media, Inc.”.

Harvey, D., 2007. Neoliberalism as creative destruction. The annals of the American academy of political and social science610(1), pp.21-44.

Jiang, M., 2010. Authoritarian informationalism: China’s approach to internet sovereignty. SAIS Review of International Affairs30(2), pp.71-89.

Moylan, T. and Baccolini, R. eds., 2003. Dark horizons: Science fiction and the dystopian imagination. Psychology Press.

Moylan, T., 2018. Scraps of the untainted sky: Science fiction, utopia, dystopia. Routledge.

 

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