Before I launch into today’s topic I want to make sure we’re clear in our definitions. Dystopia is (according to wikipedia) “–is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and more recently, The Hunger Games. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, various forms of active and passive coercion.” This is not the same thing as post-apocalyptic fiction. In post-apocalyptic fiction, society falls apart and chaos reigns. One is about oppression. The other is about chaos. Yes, there are stories and novels which combine the two and blur the definitions — nothing wrong with that, but I feel it’s very important to remember the actual meaning behind the words. Why? Because dystopian fiction is a tool used by the left to criticize the right. While post-apocalyptic fiction is generally used by the right to criticize the left. They’re two very distinct points of veiw. I believe in checks and balances. We *need* both points of view. Neither should be totally in charge. As one of my favorite dystopian writers, George Orwell, said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Both play upon our fear of the future. I enjoy dystopian fiction more than I do post-apocalyptic because dystopian tends to be more thinky. Post-apocalyptic fiction leans more toward the chest-beating, macho man schtick where white men are men and carry a BFG and women are doormats, punching bags and sperm banks. (So very, very much not my thing.) Although, if the story launches into how humanity might rebuild from there, if it focuses on the struggle for civilization as David Brin’s novel The Postman did and Stephen King’s The Stand did — well, you’ve got me. Anyway, my favorite dystopian graphic novel is V for Vendetta, my favorite dystopian novel is Fahrenheit 451, and as depressing as it is, I adore the film Brazil.
It’s been said before by the others that dystopian fiction isn’t new. It isn’t. The reason why is that, all in all, humanity is kind of dim. Seriously. We are. We repeat the same mistakes over and over again. We never seem to learn. I wish like hell we did. The planet would be a better place. But we don’t. History repeats itself. I wish I could say that we take longer to forget. We don’t. If anything, with the aid of computer technology we repeat our mistakes at ever faster rates. Americans repeat the same mistakes the Thatcher regime made when dealing with terrorists. Self-publishing mania ultimately repeats the mistakes of the dot com crash and the real estate bubble and the American gold rush and the dutch tulip market mania — oh, wait, I’ve forgotten the emu farms craze. You know what? There’s nothing human beings love more than a get rich quick racket. (Ask any grifter.) Anyway, you get the idea. The point is, I really wish we were smarter than that. We aren’t, sadly.
We need dystopia to keep us from flipping over into fascism. Order is good, but anything carried into an extreme is bad. Extremism is sneaky. It creeps up on you. Beware of it.