what makes it dystopian?

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what makes it dystopian?

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Aug 27, 2006, 3:52pm

One more summer book fun question before my classes begin tomorrow: What are some common characteristics of dystopians?

Possible answers:

1. Dystopians are cautionary tales that explore how moral dilemmas today might play out in the future.

2. Dystopians offer social criticism. You can often tease out the author's political sympathies in the course of the novel.

3. Dystopians explore collective human stupidity. Couldn't you say that underpinning most dystopian novels is some notion of Original Sin, or at least Original Stupidity of the Collective Mind?

4. Dystopians are predicated on the notion that the "haves" maintain power by "somatizing" (to borrow from Huxley) the "have nots" in some way, either with lies, sloganism, drugs, sex or consumer goods.

5. Most dystopians go from dark to darker in tone, though a few like Fahrenheit 451 end with a flickers of hope.

Edited: Aug 27, 2006, 7:22pm

Quickly thinking about it, writers seem to come to dystopias from two distinct directions - socio-political beliefs or issue-based.

Huxley's Brave New World comes from the modernist belief that the modern world was being overrun by the masses, and nothing good could come from it. 1984 from Orwell's distaste for communism.

On the other hand, Stand On Zanzibar takes it's starting point from the idea of overpopulation.

I think the reason they move from dark to darker is that in some ways they are warning novels - if you don't pay attention now this is what could/will happen - and the best way to highlight this is to take it the nth degree. In that way they are linked to some of the earliest sf - the Victorian invasion novel, in which Great Britain was invaded by Germany, Japan, or whoever was that week's villain. Why did that happen? Because the British government wasn't paying attention. It also connects them with anti-nuclear novels like On the Beach, or any work in which mankind destroys the world by not paying attention to something that is happening now.

Aug 27, 2006, 8:41pm

Wikipedia has an extremely thorough entry on dystopias, and what qualities make a dystopia.



Aug 29, 2006, 9:07am

I was going to list wikipedia's characteristics here, but they're WAY too long. Wonder if we can agree on a list of essential bits, perhaps using that list as a starting point, that apply to the dystopias we know and love.

Mar 21, 2007, 9:57pm

Hi, I'm new and I just realized I'm jumping in this conversation a little late, but.... I agree with most of the above. In the case of power struggles, I think it is more than just the haves and have nots, Aplha+/Delta-, Party Members/Paroles, because all of these class structures are constructs of a oppressive system. I see the crux of the power struggle belonging to the individual who wants more freedom ( be it political, artistic, intellectual) than they are permitted. Maybe the sequels to F. 451 is about the mass movement of equal forces… but that takes time and that brings me to the second necessary ingredient of a Dystopia, Memory. The word dystopia, makes me think that there once was a utopia of some sort, or at least a better time in the past. From the past, either through books (F. 451), trinkets, (glass paper weight, 1984), or ancient culture (“The Savages” BNW), reminders of how good it USED to be infect the memory of the oppressed. If so much time had gone by that no one remembered, no traces existed, if the oppressed had thoroughly done their job, then I think we would have very different story lines. The third thing I was thinking about is the role of fear. The oppressed use it to keep the masses down. It is a fear that starts at such a basic level, fear of being seen, fear of being overheard, but it isn’t a fear of death, because in many cases they choose death. It is a fear of a fate worst than death. Now I will go read the wiki and see how far off I am. If you have time, check oout my work on dystopias on my website, www.amykrobinson.com

Edited: Jun 30, 2007, 9:02pm

Here is the Wikipedia definition:

A dystopia (from the Greek δυσ- and τόπος, alternatively, cacotopia,1 kakotopia or anti-utopia) is a fictional society that is the antithesis of utopia. It is usually characterized by an oppressive social control, such as an authoritarian or totalitarian government.

Some academic circles distinguish between anti-utopia and dystopia. As in George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a dystopia does not pretend to be good, while an anti-utopia appears to be utopian or was intended to be so, but a fatal flaw or other factor has destroyed or twisted the intended utopian world or concept.2

Common traits of a dystopian society

The only trait common to all dystopias is that they are negative and undesirable societies, but many commonalities are found across dystopian societies.

In general, dystopias are seen as visions of "dangerous and alienating future societies," often criticizing current trends in the culture.5

It is a culture where the condition of life is "extremely bad," as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.6