I really enjoy Dystopias in fiction. Dark fascist futures are interesting, in the same way the Nazis in WWII were interesting.
In science-fiction though, Dystopias come with certain hallmarks that I find ridiculous only because they’ve become so common.
Wall screens or surveillance that monitors everything you do. Big Brother. It’s not just Orwell’s 1984. George Lucas’s THX 1138 did this as well. So did Terry Gilliam in Brazil. So do some of Philip K. Dick’s stories.
The other clichés are having government organizations like the Ministry of Truth or Justice, which are always some futurist version of the Spanish Inquisition.
I would like to see a defiance of this cliché. For one, if you look at Hitler and the Nazis, or Stalin , or any regime of that nature and examine the personal stories an obvious fact rises to the top; These are people.
Dystopias tend to abstract the fascism, to pull it back to The System. It’s The System that does it. You have Re-Education, and centers for various processing. It’s all bureaucratic elements that have allowed to be built up or evolved into something totally crazy that’s destroying what it means to be human.
What I dislike about that perspective is it paints a very de-humanizing view of fascist regimes and ideologies themselves. We start thinking of these people as ‘monsters’ and nothing more. We think of the system as a big machine, just bulldozing everyone, grinding up and spitting out.
I don’t think that’s nearly as horrifying, or nearly as personal as realizing it requires people to set the wheels in motion. A person has to hold the ideology, they have to propagate it. They install their own authoritarian or totalitarian control. It’s about people. Not things, or places, or systems, or government. Just people.
Another disappointing element of Dystopias is the way the protagonists deal with them, and the way hopelessness is presented.
In 1984 the protagonist ends up being re-educated and the end is quite dark.
In THX-1138 the protagonist escapes, but escapes to what? There is still a society crushing people under the boot heel. He hasn’t actually changed anything.
Brazil’s protagonist ends up much like 1984. Being tortured/re-educated.
In Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, Hitler won and the Nazis, Mussolini’s fascist Italy, and imperial Japan have divided up the world. The protagonists never do anything to stop it or change things. They can’t even escape for themselves. There is a realization at the end that “Somewhere exists a parallel universe where Hitler lost.”
Hmm. Ok. Great. Next?
I was watching a documentary on the 1960s, and after JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were shot, a great many people thought the U.S. was going down the toilet. There was despair, a bleak hopelessness. The country was more divided than it had ever been to the point of violence, with maybe exception of the Civil War. One historian commented “That’s when the generation of baby-boomers became could-have-beens”
Wasn’t that time representative as a Dystopia to some? Yet, heroes were still born, problems were still solved, and life went on.
Even Hitler’s reich came to an end. Stalin eventually died. The Berlin Wall fell. Hardline communism–probably the closest thing I can imagine to one of these sci-fi Dystopias, failed.
Where are the heroes in these stories? Where are the people who made a difference?
It seems more often than not that Dystopias are a thesis which says “Everything sucks.” While there’s an appreciable style and attitude to that,in current forms it hasn’t lended itself well to heroes and change, or resolution.
The villains are barely human, the heroes are non-existent, give up, or are defeated by the antagonists or society itself. Where are the people? Where is the humanity in these stories?
Are Dystopias and the concept of humanity mutually exclusive? Where is the face of good and evil in the world? Is the point of a dystopia that evil doesn’t have a face? Is that what lends its theme, or makes it frightening?
Watch Downfall – story of the last few weeks of the reich, Hitler in his bunker. The madness, sheer insanity builds to a climax until Hitler and Eva Braun kill themselves. The horror is very human. It’s about time somebody told the other side of the story, so we can gain some perspective and learn about the madness of men.
I’m afraid dystopias lack perspective.
Dystopias are cliché.