My source is an article called ‘Totalitarianism and Dystopian Literature: A Review’, written by Josh Zuckerman ’18 for a journal called ‘The Princeton Tory’. It talks about how dystopias are made by so much more than just a dictatorship and about five other frequently occurring themes in dystopias that are used to keep even the simplest of civil liberties from citizens. It also addresses the fact that the governments in all dystopias need not be ‘regarded as malign entities hell-bent on the destruction of freedom and the infliction of suffering’ by the people under them. Nevertheless, these are totalitarian as they ‘prevent the exercise of free will and political dissidence’.
The five themes that the article focuses on are – Government Monopoly of Information, The Rewriting of History, Equality as the Primary Motivating Agent of Governmental Actions, The Loss of Individual Identity and The Erosion of Identity. It goes into different examples from popular YA Dystopias to show how these themes are effective in creating a ‘perpetual state of confusion’ for the people in the dystopia. It ends by addressing the concern that minimized versions of these themes have always existed and continue to do so in our own society. Reading exaggerated versions of our own truths brings home the limits that we as humankind should always be aware and mindful of.
This was the article that first brought to my mind the thought of information as an effective weapon. It is a good read to understand the importance of various strategies that dystopian governments use while also realizing how big a role deception plays in any dystopian fiction. I also realized the importance of studying and knowing history, absent of which, the author emphasizes, ‘society would experience a profound moral and cultural decadence.’ As a whole, the article addresses various moral dilemmas that our society faces today but how taking the direction that we are inclining towards now could have disastrous results.
Zuckerman, Josh. “Totalitarianism and Dystopian Literature: A Review.” The Princeton Tory, 23 Nov. 2014, theprincetontory.com/main/totalitarianism-and-dystopian-literature-a-review/. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
In today’s world, we take information for granted. Everything can be found at the click of a button and the all-knowing google almost never fails us. And growing up in this society, I’ve always looked at information as something good to have or something essential for my advancement through school or eventually through my professional career. However, reading through all these dystopias has given me a new perspective on information.
Information can be used as a weapon. To gain an advantage over others. However, unlike other weapons, knowledge can be disguised to look like a favor to the ignorant. The tactile handling of sensitive information – whether it is the withholding of facts, or disclosing them at the right time to the right person can all help to work the situation in your favor.
Thus, the topic of my presentation is – Information: The decider of fate in a dystopian world.
We’ll see how different dystopias use information differently to further their purposes.
One of my main arguments is that – Information can be used to manipulate. In my independent reading book – Incarceron, one of the two protagonists – Claudia is a ‘princess’ who’s about to be married off to an idiotic Earl and is not happy about it. Her father, the antagonist, is the Warden of Incarceron and has always told her half-truths. Claudia and her part of the world have been led to believe that Incarceron is a perfect world for prisoners and all those who are trapped inside, in fact, deserve to be that way. Thus none of them ever questions its legitimacy or whereabouts and all of them highly respect the Warden for keeping the ‘bad people’ in check. I also use examples from ‘Little Brother’ and ‘The 100’ to further my argument.
Some of my other arguments include how information is used to create fear, and yet how it can give hope. I explain these using examples from popular YA dystopian literature.
I look forward to presenting on Wednesday, letting you guys know more about these arguments and answering any questions that you might have for me!
It’s interesting how a lot of dystopias thrive on fear. It forms the basis of control for a lot of dystopian governments and is a great way of tying people down in mental chains.
The ruling entity uses fear as a strong tool to make sure no one dares step out of line. The two most important ones while also being highly prevalent are –
- Making an example of violators
Most dystopias have some kind of punishment for breaking rules, which is different from our modern day society in that the violators are not given anything even close to a fair trial and are punished at the discretion of the rulers. Moreover, unlike our society, these rules are in no way agreed upon as ‘good’ by the people or for the better of the society. How they might be presented depends for each dystopia but they tend to revolve around the rulers’ motives to keep the people in control. Moreover, these punishments are widely publicized, making sure to carry the clear message that opposition will not be tolerated.
- Manipulation of and monopoly over information
This is a sly method for the proliferation of fear but way more effective as it is indirect. Keeping information from people, or giving them false information or making it difficult for them to procure it by banning communication, all work towards the goal of spreading ignorance. When the people making the rules are the only ones providing information, they can manipulate it to always show themselves in favorable light. This also increases the people’s dependence on them and as a result, a general fear is born out of the dread of not getting information in case the rulers are opposed or revolted against.
However, fear has its pitfalls. ‘When fear ceases to scare you, it cannot stay. When a certain line is crossed, especially in YA dystopias, to the point where the protagonist has lost so much that nothing scares them anymore, they become fearless and go all out against the people who have done this to them. Thus, fear is a weapon to be exercised with caution and control. Too much of it can tip the bowl the other way!
Propaganda – ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause(1). However, for dystopias, propaganda is so much more. It is the very basis of the stability of the government. A government can only run as long as it can keep a revolution at bay. Most dystopias deal with this in one of two ways – either the installment of a fear so deep that no one dare raise a finger or the creation of a façade so convincing that most people are fooled into believing that they are happy.
The Hunger Games, very cleverly, uses both. The government uses the Games as a ‘reminder’ for the Districts, of the consequences of revolution, while implementing them in a way that has the citizens of the Capitol convinced that they’re doing a big favor to the tributes.
Let’s see how this absolutely brilliant piece of propaganda is executed.
To begin with, the careful choosing of words that tell the history of Panem at the Reaping. It sounds as if Panem acts in the best interests of ‘all’ its citizens. Yet, the veiled threat mentioning the punishment doesn’t escape the people in the districts.
“The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens.”(2)
“…as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.”(2)
Next, acting, right before the Games, as if the tributes aren’t going to be killed in the Arena and what’s more, making an extravagant show of it. Each tribute is assigned a designer to make them look flawless, first in the parade, and then during the interviews, each time convincing the Capitol audience of their ‘generosity’ while having a hearty laugh at the tributes who know better than anyone that all this is just temporary. Here, there runs also a deeper propaganda, wherein the people in the Capitol have been brought up in a way such that they can only form superficial bonds. While Ceaser makes a great show of letting the audience know the tributes, their upbringing helps them easily brush off the death of these people who they supposedly grew attached to!
And lastly, making the victors look flawless for the winner’s interview. All this gives the Games a sense of alternative reality and makes them look way less gruesome as the victors sit in front of the Capitol, as good and healthy as ever.
All in all, the Capitol does a great job of playing this game of veils and deception. However, this game is dangerous and lies on a precarious balance – as can be seen when it comes crashing down, all because of a girl’s decision to eat a few berries with a friend!
“Definition Of PROPAGANDA”. Merriam-webster.com. N. p., 2017. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.
Too much darkness can kill yet too much light can blind.
A dystopia is nothing but the embodiment of this very basic fact of life.
When we are young, we think of everything as either black or white. Lying is bad, no matter what. Breaking rules is wrong, no questions asked. Yet as we grow older, we start to recognize that life is, in fact, a huge spectrum of infinite hues of grey. Lying is acceptable if it brings happiness and not all rules are right despite what we might have learnt as kids. And this is what defines us as humans. Excess of everything is bad. A little of both good and bad gives us a reason to choose and leaves room for error. Now, while errors may not be the best always, they are the cause of progress. A ‘perfect’ society where all possibility of error has been eradicated, as demonstrated by dystopias, tends to stagnate. When you take away the license to think or act in any other way than prescribed, that’s when you set yourself up for a better(maybe), but a stagnant future nonetheless – devoid of innovation.
As a result, a lot of dystopias focus on societies where the freedom of some major choices of life have been taken away – specifically those of love and profession. These are the choices that most of us grow up anticipating and preparing for. As a result, romance as a sub-genre of dystopian fiction strengthens my definition and plays a major role in most dystopias, because here, more than anywhere else, the act of even feeling love for someone is an act of defiance.
Dystopias work best when marketed as YA literature because having a young adult as the protagonist makes the most sense. Adults, by the time they get to their age, have learned to conform – having either fooled themselves into complacency or simply accepted life with its flaws. Young adults, on the other hand, are still discovering new ideas and are supposed to be rebellious by nature. As a result, they question every norm with which they have been brought up and start thinking about why they are doing what they are. Also, for young adult readers, a lot of this makes much more sense as they themselves are going through a phase where everything seems subject to scrutiny.