Archives

All posts by Nina Ghosn

While perusing the web for valid sources for my individual research, I came across a paper by Peter Marks titled Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies. This paper focuses on the way surveillance plays a role in dystopian literature, specifically how it presents itself in utopias. He talks about the origination of surveillance in utopias, by examining Thomas Moore’s Utopia. Here, he states, “nothing is private or exclusive, … there are no hiding places outside the home, no spots for secret meetings, and … inhabitants live in full view of each other.” This description comes from Moore’s Utopia, but is reminiscent of literature that capitalizes on “surveillance societies”, as Marks calls them. In his paper, he argues for the large concern for surveillance in utopian literature. In the beginning of the article, he also talks about the power of 1984 in influencing readers’ and society’s view on the surveillance society. He also points to Stanley Cohen, who published on the importance of surveillance as a means of social control in dystopian/utopian literature. He then connects this to Darko Suvin’s idea of cognitive estrangement; he says that these utopian worlds in literature present us with alternative worlds, that catalyze new and creative thought, and in this case specifically on surveillance in our own societies.

My paper focuses on the use of Big Data in dystopias to facilitate oppression, and the most common way it is used is in surveillance. Marks’s paper was useful in addressing this issue because he creates the argument for a common “surveillance society”, in which I can use to identify them in the novels that I am examining. I can then recognize how Big Data is being used in the methods of surveillance in each novel. This then is related back to its usage in our own society, pointing out the possible abuses through the creation of an alternate society, AKA cognitive estrangement. I found the introduction and the section titled “A Case for and Against Utopias” most useful, as this is where Marks makes his general case before analyzing this trend/theme in specific TV shows and books.

This paper will be useful in other projects as well, especially those that focus on technology and oppression. During our conference presentation, I heard many themes associated with oppressive rule, whether it be through surveillance or other means of restriction. This source is worth using, since it links many ideas in the study of dystopian literature to the issue of surveillance. Because of the way Marks refers to well-known scholars in this field, his paper can point you to further readings on similar topics in Dystopian literature.

 

Works Cited:

Marks, Peter. “Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies”. Surveillance & Society,       Vol. 3 No. 2/3, pp. 222-239.

Data: the driving force for knowledge, the evidence behind scientific theory, and the basis of tracking your existence. The collection of large amounts data is not a new concept, but recently in the 2010’s, the presence of “Big Data” has far exceeded the capacity it once held in its early days. As you log onto the web, websites record your digital footprint. The likelihood that this specific data will be used and analyzed is slim, but the potential it holds for companies and institutions to reconstruct your persona through this data is unprecedented.

The four V’s of Big Data: an infographic by IBM

The fear that new technological phenomena will begin to cross the line between innovation and oppression is reflected in modern YA dystopian literature. In my paper, titled Big Data and Its facilitation of oppression: In Their Dystopia and Ours, I will discuss the way Big Data appears in YA dystopian literature, and how it’s reflective of current and prospective Big Data usage in our own society. One such fictional Dystopia that relies heavily on Big Data collection is that in Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. The Department of Homeland security strengthens its already close watch on its citizens through increased surveillance; students are tracked with library books and gait recognition, average citizens with their cars, and the entire population with surveillance cameras. All these devices collect location data, and send them to the DHS. These means would be illegal to implement in our own society (besides the surveillance cameras- those are everywhere), but there is a much easier way to know everything about anything, especially since this data is willingly given to the public. We are readily giving up information about ourselves as we shop, browse, tweet, pin, and post all over the World Wide Web.

The use of Big Data presents itself in a different, but equally unsettling way in Ally Condie’s Matched. At the age of 17, everyone is given a match, the person that will be their future spouse and life partner. A choice does not exist, given that the government possess data about a child’s genetic information, interests, and temperament and can make the “best” decision through data analytics and algorithms.  As I will point out in my presentation, something similar exists in our society, but with a little more deliberate choice: online dating profiles. The use of these sights can be harmless, even useful to those who seemed to have exhausted every other mean to find love. However, imagine this taken too far; government owned profiles on ordinary citizens, where new data is added at exponential rates until the it may seem to resemble that of a serial killer, or even a terrorist, tying back into the Big Data usage in Little Brother. The millions of terabytes of data that exists publicly and privately is more than corporate and governmental institutions know how to deal with, but as processing power and analytics continue their exponential growth in the digital revolution, we may soon find ourselves with less privacy and a new “Big Brother”.

 

infographic – https://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/

The human being is a rational entity, running off the presence of order and structure. This is reflected on every society that we construct, whether in literature or in actuality. Specifically looking at dystopias, the complex division (or lack thereof) of power is central to its ability to control and manipulate its constituents. The role that each part of the governing body plays seems to always be facilitated by some means – usually technology.

In Matched, by Allie Condie, the government has attempted to eliminate all sources of uncertainly and disorder – down to each person’s time of death. Had anyone seen anything remotely condoning of rebellion, they are instructed to take a memory erasing pill. They have anxiety medication at their disposal. They are told where to live, what to work, and who to love. This, of course, is all made possible by the progression of technology, in surveillance and in medicine. Cassia, the curious but naïve protagonist, find herself being watched more than the others when she falls in love out of script; infractions for holding hands in a “secluded” mountain, and shrinking meal portions as punishment. While the surveillance that goes on in Matched is very direct (government supervised dates!), that that happens in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is done more remotely. Every keystroke, every step, and every place visited is logged by the DHS in attempt to keep a tight chokehold on its citizens for “safety”. Gait recognition, internet spies, and classroom cameras are all made possible by the speedy progress that technology has undergone.

It’s interesting to think of alternative outcomes of these stories had the technology not been there. For one, Marcus and the X-netters could not have defeated the DHS without their hack-savvy techniques.; however, the excessive surveillance would have never been possible without it. In Matched, the disposability of these different “pills” facilitates the mental control that the Officials have on the people. This created an entirely different dynamic than the one that exists in Little Brother, since digital technology doesn’t hold as big of a role for the “people” party in Matched.

Technology and its ability to facilitate oppression and control is unquestionable; ethical fears of privacy and control are huge barriers to such progress in our current society. But for the fictional worlds that authors have created for us (perhaps in warning?), the potential that technology holds for this kind of future is frightening. The physical technology that is used in YA dystopias is not far off from what is currently feasible. My research interest lies in the realm of technology’s role in oppression in YA dystopian novels, and how these roles cross with what is currently happening today with the collection of Big Data, the internet, and public surveillance.

BIG DATA: an introduction by IBM

—————————————————-

Works cited

  1. Allen, Justin. “ Little Brother Is Watching You · Corporate America Leverages Telematics.”Forwardslash /, 21 Feb. 2015, forward-slash.in/2015/02/21/little-  brother-        watching-you/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.
  2. Big Data.” IBM Big Data – What Is Big Data – United States, 14 Nov. 2016, www.ibm.com/big-data/us/en/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017
  3. Condie, Ally. Matched. Penguin Group, 2010.
  1. Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tor, 2008.

Propaganda in The Hunger Games is a piece in the supporting foundation of the capitol’s oppression on the districts. Having complete control of all the media that is devoured by the capitol citizens, they are able to project the perfect image of the districts: sad, helpless people that would collapse the minute the capitol turned their backs. Even in the propaganda video presented at the beginning of each reaping, the plight of the districts is portrayed as self-inflicted, as they are the ones that rebelled against the capitol during the “peace”. Casting this identity on the districts allows the capitol residents to internally rationalize the conditions of the districts. With the way that they see the system, the capitol is helping the districts, not oppressing them. They are “given work” by forcing their children into the workforce at a young age, they are “protected” through the sacrifice of their children to the annual Hunger Games.

The opposite scenario, however, seems to have a much weaker affect across the districts. They are still receiving capitol propaganda, but the culture of the districts continues, and the history as not told by the victors is still passed on. The portrayal of the capitol as the beneficent government to the districts is much less effective. However, convinced of the Capitols benevolence or not, the districts are fully aware of the most important message: the capitol is to be feared, and the capitol is to be obeyed. Fear is a weak, but wide spread emotion. This is evident through the capitol’s ability to sustain this tactic for 74 years. But, fear can be habituated and overcome in order to fight the oppressors.

In marketing The Hunger Games for real world consumers, propaganda and advertising is used in a much more positive light. Of course we have a choice (more of a selection) of what we are viewing from the media, so the message that marketers want to share has to actually be appealing. Ads for The Hunger Games capitalize on our love for action and thrill, without it being real. This is exactly what The Hunger Games offers, in pixel or text. Also, the media’s ability to craft an even bigger world around the one that Collins has already created makes The Hunger Games an even bigger deal. For example, this fan created short film is an example of the widespread excitement for the release of The Hunger Games. In addition to fan created media, professional Ads and art are released aimed at marketing the movie, such as the posters below. They are simple and aesthetically pleasing, but rich enough for consumers to discuss and form opinions on, creating more anticipation and demand for The Hunger Games brand.

 

The definition of dystopia hovers around the idea that everything is bad. However, “bad” exists as a relative term, varying for each person and for every time period. With this being said, human fears tend to be fairly homogenous on average, like fearing death, starvation, oppression. When examining dystopias, I tend to find that utopias and dystopias are not mutually exclusive; they exist within each other. One of my favorite movies, Pleasantville, exemplifies this perfectly (no pun intended). In their society, basketballs go in baskets every time, everyone makes straight A’s, and couples sleep in separate beds. But the very idea of a society rid of thrills, excitement, and rebellion screams oppression – something heavily associated with dystopia. On the flip side, every dystopian society has a ruling party or oppressor, living their best life in power and watching the “others” as they live at their mercy. Trying to separate an ideal society from its counterpart is almost impossible as long as some peoples’ dreams come at the expense of others’ nightmares.

In making dystopian literature more interesting, it is often combined with other genres to add another dimension to the context and plot. Science fiction is what reminds me most of a dystopia, capitalizing on our natural fear of the future and what is unknown. These books show us a world we would rather live without, often taking a current issue and launching it 20 steps forward. This is seen in Fahrenheit 451, where Bradbury creates a world ruled by technology and void of the deep thought that comes with reading. People fall asleep with tiny ear buds adorning their ears, and spend their days in salons walled with viewing screens. Books and reading are illegal. Describing a dystopia in the scope of a science fiction novel does not change the definition of a dystopia, but instead relates it to the specific fear of technology, and its potential to make us lose our character by being able to do, think, and create for ourselves.

Beyond concentrating on a specific genre, the idea of a dystopia can be targeted to young adults; this implies zooming in on the relative “bad” for young adults. Oppression of character, lack of freedom, a predetermined future – these are all fears of the general population, but are especially amplified in the younger generation that have yet to experience their full potential in their lifetime. The Hunger Games is a modern classic for YA dystopian literature, encompassing all of these “bads” in the society of Panem. It is very much still a true dystopia by genre and definition, but becomes centralized on the fears of the young adult population.

 

photo- https://www.pinterest.com/pin/451767406345406958/ (Poachedmah.com)