It is a word that conveys many different thing, including the destruction of worlds, the fear of the many, and the power of the few. But beyond a mere glance of well-known science fiction dystopian works lies a web of characteristics that illustrate the darker aspects of society. Contrasting this is the term utopia, which references a location of good and perfection. But it does not reveal the happiness and joy that is present in society; rather, utopia illustrates the pinnacle of human existence that, while desired, can never be reached. So while both utopia and dystopia lie on opposite ends of the social spectrum, they share many similarities that only serve to heighten discontent and tensions within a society.
The word dystopia comes from the Greek prefix of dys, meaning bad or diseased. In particularly, this describes a place of darkness filled with despair and hardship. Typically, a small congregation of individuals amass enormous power and are able to subjugate the masses through a show of strength. That stratagem employs one of the most impactful emotional responses known to humankind: fear. And such a fear confines those subjected to the cruelty to salvage for scraps among themselves. As in The Hunger Games, a common misdirection of hate runs rampant between the poor, and the focus on who is the real evil there is lost. These negative emotions break down a society from within, and all good thoughts are abandoned.
The word utopia compounds the Greek prefix ouk, meaning not, and suffix topos, meaning place. In this instance, it is a description of nothing, or, to be more specific, a place that does not exist. Over time, this has translated into a sort of “good place” where you can search for in order to escape the horrors of society that someone is existing in. But the concept of perfection confines us in another way: hope. The partner to fear, it is potent in its own right. The potential to reach a kind of Elysium holds our hearts in a cage that is just as binding as before, as in The Matrix. And the entrance to such a location is a very selective path, with devastatingly few being able to set foot on those softer beaches. So where as dystopian rule destroys any ideas of hope, utopian societies elevate it into a plane that traps all who dare dream of a better life.
So where is the perfect middle ground? What qualities are necessary to allow society to achieve its full potential without overdoing it and leaving the majority behind? To be completely honest, we may never know. As a species, we are plagued with conflict and inequality. It is, quite simply, just how the world works. But when the dust settles, something is revealed. This is the fact that one cannot exist without the other. For humans have the power to hope in the darkest of places, and despair in the best of times. It is what makes us human. But as long as we accept our shortcomings and revel in our successes, we can truly find harmony in whatever disharmony the world decides to throw at us.
- The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Henderson, Greg. “Futurespect: Utopia vs Dystopia – 10 Depictions Of The Future.” Rootnotion, 22 Aug. 2014, http://rootnotion.co.uk/utopia-vs-dystopia-10-depictions-future/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.