In my research on media and communication in relation to dystopian fiction and to society today, I found a very interesting and informative source titled, “Living the Orwellian Nightmare: New Media and Digital Dystopia,” by Greg Diglin. I found it extremely helpful in uncovering some new ideas and new information for my paper, and it seems like anyone who is interested in the topic of surveillance or that of media and communication in dystopian fiction would find it highly applicable and helpful.
The basic, underlying argument that the author makes throughout the article is that many elements of George Orwell’s well-known book, 1984, can be observed in society today due to the fact that governments today are able to use new, unprecedented technologies in order to have similar powers to “Big Brother” in the dystopian novel. To elaborate upon this argument, Diglin first offers a description of the political and social conditions that 1984 emerged from, so that even someone who has not actually read the book could understand his argument. He then goes on to further his ideas through the use of events that have actually happened, as well as real organizations and people as examples of Orwellian influence in modern society. Some of these examples include the WikiLeaks Project, Edward Snowden, and real governments’ use of propaganda. He makes strong connections from the real world to the Orwellian dystopia, and successfully covers a range of issues, from surveillance, to propaganda, to netspeak, to create a very well-rounded and soundly reasoned argument. A few of his main points are that all people using new media are constantly subjected to surveillance through various government organizations, that the US government has used digital propaganda to promote warfare and influence citizens’ opinions, and that the use of the internet is leading to the breakdown of language and knowledge.
This argument is made easily coherent with the organization of the article into different sections based on those core issues of surveillance, propaganda, and destruction of knowledge, which makes it simple to find the information that you are looking for and gives it a logical flow. Overall, it’s an important source because it directly relates fact to fiction, and the dystopian world to the real world, rather than resting solely in one or the other, which makes it easy to connect them through common themes.
Take a moment to imagine what life would be like without any communication with other people. Each person would become an island, isolated, with no connections to anyone else and no ability to forge connections. There would be no reason to have any of the things that we use to facilitate communication today. We would have no telephones, no internet, no newspapers, no television, no radio, no magazines, no advertisements, and no books. Furthermore, no one would talk to each other. And there would be no exchange of ideas and information. This means that we would lose the need for language, written or verbal. We would lose one of the main things that makes us who we are, that makes us fundamentally human: language. That, in and of itself, is a terrifying prospect. Because, without communication, there would be no progress as a society. Would there even be a such thing as society? It’s almost unimaginable. Dystopian fiction takes this idea of the lack of communication and uses it to play upon some of our most deeply rooted fears. By taking our current system of communication and breaking it or altering it in order to make it dysfunctional in some way, authors of dystopian novels force the readers to think about the necessity of communication and they comment upon the issues inherent in our current system of communication. This is the topic that I will be discussing in my research presentation this Friday and in my research paper. I am going to use the books that we have read in class along with my independent reading book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black, and academic sources on the topic of communication and media to analyze how communication and dystopia combine to reveal how our system can break down and is currently breaking down. The main ways that it is failing, as revealed by the dystopian novels, are that people are questioning what sources of information are trustworthy, there are concerns about larger entities controlling information, and there is possible surveillance of private communication. So, get excited to hear my presentation, titled, “Severed Connections: The Dysfunction of Communication in Dystopian Literature.”
In dystopian novels, one issue that generally manifests itself is the issue of communication. This can happen in many ways. For example, in the book, Little Brother, the main character, Marcus wants to hold a press conference but doesn’t want to reveal his identity, so he uses a game on the Xnet as a mode of secure communication for himself. Another example is in The 100, a dystopian television show. When the ship lands on earth, all of the communication systems get broken on impact and there is no way for the teens on earth to communicate with the people still on the Ark except through bracelets that relay their vital signs. The photos show the bracelets on the characters’ wrists and the readout on the Ark. I think this theme recurs in many dystopias because for humans, communication with others is essential for survival, no matter what the time period is. Just the simple fact that our language is so complex and sophisticated, and that it is continually developing into modern modes of communication, is proof that it is absolutely necessary.
It is therefore unsurprising that this issue came to light in my independent reading book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The basic premise is that vampirism has become a disease and is spreading throughout the population and those that are bitten must be quarantined in what they call “Coldtowns.” The communication between the outside world and those inside the Coldtown is very unreliable and skewed by the media. Those outside the Coldtown have to rely on the news and traditional media sources in order to hear what goes on, yet these are not necessarily accurate. The main broadcast is of an endless party held in a mansion, which glamorizes life in the Coldtown, when the reality is much less than glamorous and is in fact very dangerous and difficult. The more reliable sources of information are the people in the Coldtown that have a social media presence. One specific character, Midnight, entered the Coldtown with the intention of sharing her experiences online with her followers. She makes blog posts and YouTube videos divulging the true things that happen within the walls of the quarantined city. So, social media, because it is not filtered by other people that have their own agendas, and comes directly from the source, becomes more trustworthy and honest. Even in our society today, more people than ever are relying on social media as a mode of communication and a source of reliable information.
For my research paper, I want to investigate the relationship between traditional media and social media, and their role in society and in dystopian fiction. At this point, the topic is pretty general, but I think it will get more specific as I continue to research.
In 2008, Disney came out with a new movie based on a futuristic and dystopian world where humans utterly destroyed the earth and left robots to clean up the mess that they left behind as they made a long voyage through space. Yet, audiences weren’t necessarily interested in the dystopian aspect of it. They instead became entranced with the main character; a lovable little robot who was the namesake of the movie, Wall-E. This happened because the film and the advertisements for the film emphasized the relationships between the characters. It made the destroyed world become more of a backdrop for the drama of the love story between Wall-E and Eve. Although there are still important elements of the plot that revolve around dystopian themes, such as the fight to bring plants and the spaceship full of humans back to Earth, the advertisements for the animated film really emphasized the characters and not much else.
In this movie poster, there is a clear focus on the relationship between the two robots due to the fact that they are in the center of the poster and are illuminated by both the moon in the background and the streetlight. The robots are surprisingly expressive and exude personality through their body language; in the adoring gaze of Wall-E and the scrunched up giggly face of Eve. This makes them more appealing to audiences and makes the audience want to get to know them better. The dystopian theme literally fades into the background of the poster. The desolate and grungy landscape, the spaceship in the upper left, and the hovering robot make it evident that this movie takes place in the future, but there is really no other distinct information. Overall, whoever sees this movie poster would walk away thinking not about the setting, but about the adorable characters.
In this advertisement on the side of a building, it is really stripped down to the essential element of the movie, Wall-E himself. Yet, it is still an effective advertisement. This image brings Wall-E’s personality to the foreground and creates interest through his body language. The way that Wall-E holds his hands and has the little tilt to his head and the expressiveness of his little robot eyes make him seem like a person, not a robot. Despite the fact that it gives absolutely no more information or context for the movie, it doesn’t matter. It still communicates exactly what it needs to, the character of Wall-E himself.
Even in this movie trailer, the surrounding circumstances of the movie are not well explained at all, it instead develops Wall-E as a character. Showing his daily activities and how he reacts to different things in his everyday life. It establishes his intensely curious personality and lovable, quirky sense of humor. It gives the audience a character to latch onto and something to care about. Making the audience care is essential, because it establishes a relationship with the character and makes them want to watch the movie.
This approach to advertising the movie is a stark contrast to the advertisements for The Hunger Games that we examined in class, where the ads were from the point of view of the Capitol and were ineffective in really grabbing the attention of the audience. By eschewing the point of view of the dominant group, the corporation Buy-n-Large, Pixar relates more directly to the audience with character appeals.
As a middle school student, I came across dystopian fiction pretty early in my numerous visits to the public library, and read all of the novels that I could get my hands on. For some reason, these books were fascinating to me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Nonetheless, I kept going back to the library to find the newest releases of these books, usually set sometime in the future, with drastic circumstances that the main character must overcome in order to save themselves and their loved ones. I plowed through The Hunger Games, The Giver, Wither, Divergent, and so many more. At that point, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly dystopias were, I just knew they were extremely interesting. Now I have a more solid definition of what it is and how young adults are drawn to it. Dystopian novels are books in which the setting is defined by a society that is inherently flawed in some way that makes life unpleasant for the occupants and the main character has to deal with these issues and overcome them. For example, in The Hunger Games, society is broken up into twelve districts after a revolution and the corrupt government forces twenty-four teens to fight to the death annually and the main character has to fight in the games, which allows her to rebel against the government. Every dystopian book has some version of this struggle. I think that these books are so appealing to the young adult audience because the main character of books is generally of a similar age and is highly relatable. This allows the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the character and feel personally involved in the story, making it a more interesting read. The main character in Divergent, Tris, is sixteen years old, which makes the story more relatable to young people. If she was a middle aged woman, the story would definitely not have the same draw. Not only the age appeal, but also the fact that these books allow the audience to contemplate larger problems like politics and social issues and form opinions for themselves rather than learning about these things from dry textbooks and in class makes them more interesting. Overall, I now have a better understanding of what a dystopia is and why I enjoyed reading these books when I was younger and why they continue to appeal to me.