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While reading Gathering Blue, my attention has been drawn to the people’s acceptance of the existence of beasts. Throughout the story, Kira, the protagonist, is always mentioning how she lives in fear of them. To be fair, based on her understanding of events she should fear the beasts. Her father was killed by some, and when people are sent to the field to die they are eventually taken away by beasts as well. Kira fears Vandara because Vandara is a survivor of fight with a beast in which she only received a scar.  This fact of life, that the beasts are out in the forest trying to eat you, is false. The very foundation of Kira’s persona is based on a lie, and, because of this, I have become more cynical of the things I hear on the news from the media and the government.

Recently, there have been lots of stories that have very definite stances on the global stage. America should let in refugees. Russia is not our enemy, but our friend. Britain should have stayed in the European Union. Assad is using chemical weapons in Syria. These events and opinions are released to the public and both sides of the issue treat their ideas as absolute facts. People like dismissing each other’s arguments on the sole basis of their ideology and not the argument itself. Overall this has caused me to take almost every article I come across with a grain of salt instead of treating it like it is one hundred percent factual. When the government says that sending missiles to Syria was the best choice, I’m not so quick to agree. When the media likes to repeatedly claim that Russia is trying to bring about the end of America, the argument brings me back to Gathering Blue. Maybe Russia is just a beast.

WALL-E

When you look at a movie like WALL-E, what do you see? The cute animation disguised it as a children’s movie to be seen by younger audiences. When I watch this movie, what I see is a glaring image of what our future could be. WALL-E portrays a dark story for the human race: we’ve been forced to leave the planet and are living on a huge space ship until Earth is deemed safe to live on again.

The biggest issue is obviously the cause of the human’s exodus from earth: the planet has been completely trashed. Not only has this become a huge issue today, but there’s also lots of people who believe it isn’t an issue at all. Our planet should not be taken for granted, and its conservation is extremely important for our continued use of it as a home.

Another dystopian issue in this movie is the extreme power that one corporation has gained. I’ve been talking a lot about how media consolidation is a huge issue today but this isn’t exclusive to the media. Internet companies consolidating and making deals with local governments has had a drastic effect on internet quality across America in areas that may only have one available provider. Companies themselves should not be considered inherently evil, but we need to ensure that the biggest of companies do not have so much control in society.

The third issue is the humans’ absolute dependence on technology. We currently live in a society where technology has slowly but surely added so many conveniences to our lives. Bicycles have been overwhelmingly replaced by motorized vehicles like cars or even segways and hoverboards. Computers are absolutely everywhere and we have become insanely reliant on them in our daily lives. WALL-E depicts a world where humans are too large to move on their own and they just move around on their hover chairs. With the way that we are currently headed, this is easy to imagine.

As a whole, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the movie as a children’s tale. But if you really dig deep into the movie, you will uncover something much less childish.

 

Dystopian novels as a whole usually have a purpose: to serve as examples for why certain systems are not good ways to run society. Inside these systems, there are often common themes. One of the major themes I’ve been following throughout the semester is the way that information flows through society. For oppressive people in power, having a tight control over the flow of information has a huge role in maintaining that power. The goal of my presentation is to demonstrate that the way information is transmitted in today’s society is dystopian.

Firstly, it’s good to look at the way that dystopian novels show how information is controlled. In Animal Farm, everything the pigs say must be taken as truth. The collapse of the windmill was not an accident, it must have been cause by Snowball, the enemy of the pigs. The truth is warped and the narrative is constructed to fit the agenda of the animals in control. The next book to draw from is Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. The protagonist, Kira, is warned her whole life about dangerous beasts that live just outside the village and killed her father. The council constructed this fake threat to explain away things that could damage their reputation and to keep the people in line.

My argument is that these things are happening in today’s society as well. The media, which used to represent many different organizations and remained largely independent has been reduced to just six major media corporations. While many dystopian novels depict a government being the oppressive power, large corporations are just as able to take control of society if left unchecked. This is what the media has become. A mere 300 executives control the news that millions of people digest every single day. These people aren’t elected, yet they have a massive impact on way these people think about and understand current events.

A prominent theme I have found interesting in the dystopian societies that we have discussed is how the people in control have a tight grip over the flow of information. Most, if not all, of Gathering Blue was focused on the information that Kira became privy to during her time in the Edifice. One of the cornerstones of her identity was that her father had been killed by beasts, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. Besides being dishonest about how her father was attacked, the Council tied the attack into a lie that everyone in the village accepts: the existence of the beasts. As Kira begins to find out that she is being lied to about all these things, she lets slip to one of the Council members that her mentor, Annabella, had been telling her the truth. Then, as expected in a dystopian society, Annabella “coincidentally” ends up being taken to the Field of the Living because she had passed away. The Council did not want Kira to learn too much, because it could cause their society to unravel.

Overall, I’m curious about examining the flow of information in today’s society. Is our society as transparent as we would like? I want to explore the obvious examples like how open the government is to the public, but I also want to look at less prominent organizations as well. Lack of transparency has been a huge issue in this election cycle, and it was a large factor in the crash of the housing bubble around 2008. How accurately does our government portray events? How accurately does the media portray events? Who is in control of all these things and who benefits from them one way or the other? With some people claiming that this election is the end of society as we know it, how far are we really from our society being considered a dystopian?

In The Hunger Games, the games are a major factor in keeping the districts in check. To justify them each year, the mayor of District 12 describes the history of Panem and the uprising, or, in the case of the movie, they play a video dubbed by President Snow. In this video, the Capitol uses very specific wording and imagery to craft their narrative to the people.

The first message the Capitol wants to convey is pretty simple: the uprising was bad. The video starts off with Snow saying “War, terrible war. Widows, orphans, a motherless child” while showing images of an atomic bomb going off and of a mother crying. Snow is merely listing these terrible things, but by doing so he is setting the mood for his next words: “The uprising…”. This is done intentionally to reinforce in the minds of the people that the uprising was a bad thing, and to discourage them from trying to rise up again. Later he continues to reinforce this idea by describing the uprising as treason, and the people as traitors. He never mentions the reasons that the uprising happened, just that it was bad and the people were traitors. This way the people are left in the dark on the purpose of the uprising and have no reason to sympathize with them.

The second things the Capitol does in the video is justify the Hunger Games to the people. Snow begins his description of the games by saying that “freedom has a cost.” In this sense, he is implying that the ending of the uprising was a positive thing, because it resulted in freedom, and that the games are justified as a trade off for this positive thing. He then goes on to say that the games are actually about “honor, courage, and sacrifice” and not just a bloodbath intended to remind the districts that they have no power. The most powerful line in my opinion is when Snow says the games are necessary to “safeguard our future”. Again, he is stressing the importance of the games and how they are necessary for their society to remain at peace.

The most important aspect of any propaganda is how successful it is in convincing its audience. In the case of this video, the people of District 12 are certainly not convinced. They see their children go off to the games each year to die and feel like they are powerless against the Capitol. The games don’t seem justified to them, just cruel. Therefore I don’t believe this video was good propaganda because it was not successful in its purpose.

While Merriam-Webster’s definition of a dystopian society is pretty broad, I think there are some key additional components of a society that make it truly dystopian. Merriam-Webster mentions that people tend to live fearful lives in a dystopian society, but they don’t really define the source of this fear. One of the biggest things that defines dystopia for me is the common theme of an oppressive government that causes the people to live in fear. In books like Animal Farm or even Hunger Games, there is a central, oppressive government that keeps a tight grip over their people. The first way they accomplish this is with a strong military to keep the people in check. In the Hunger Games, the Capitol uses an army called “Peacekeepers”, and Napoleon uses a pack of fierce dogs in Animal Farm.

As Snow describes in the Hunger Games movie, hope and fear are extremely powerful emotions which must be controlled precisely. By having an all powerful military, the people have no hope in successfully causing an uprising.

Another major component of dystopian societies that isn’t covered by the definition is their use of propaganda to influence the people. Luckily, many of us are told not to trust everything we read, but in dystopian societies everything said by the government becomes fact. The Treaty of Treason in the Hunger Games is a great example of this. The government tells this epic tale of the struggles that existed before the government existed, then explains how the current situation is all the fault of a previous failed uprising. This is also true in Animal Farm, where the established commandments of their society continue to be changed slightly as the pigs decide that they should be able to behave more and more like the humans that formerly oppressed them. Unfortunately for both of these societies, the people are forced to accept the propaganda as fact, or else face the wrath of the government.