All posts tagged defining_dystopia

Media is perhaps the easiest way in controlling people into doing what is desired of them. Although very applicable in the real world, any dystopian novels show the severe effects of this weapon on unsuspecting citizens. It is an indirect form of control targeted at what the most elusive area: their minds. Mind control has always been an obsession for totalitarian governments: it plays with their fear and hints at the limits of their power. It is simple to monitor the everyday actions of a prisoner but can we really get into his head? Media seems to be the answer for this glitch.

A specific example of media slowly insinuating itself parasitically into people’s minds can be seen through the emails in the novel After by Francine Prose. The book takes place after a massacre of a nearby school, prompting the one the main protagonist (Tom) is attending, to implement a new authoritative figure charged with the safety of the students. The school sends out a series of emails to the parents with counsels of how to ‘help’ their children. However, the real malevolent nature of these emails starts to emerge when the school turns into a totalitarian society. Instead of standing up for their children, the adults passively watch the whole thing unfold, their minds under the influence of these mind-controlling emails. At first, the changes are subtle, but eventually they end up acting like robots, quoting and obeying the orders sent to them.

Media in this example is very effective in many ways: it strips away the sense of security the student have, alienate them from their parents, and indirectly insinuate itself into the homes of its subjects. By using the emails, the school is using the students to control the parents and but the other way around works as well. Media in dystopian societies functions to blind the citizens from the truth of their situation and filter into their everyday life. The parents become brainwashed and are thus are easier to manipulate. This gradual dehumanization is the perfect result. The citizens cannot think for themselves but can only obey and be used as tools in which to control others.

Before this course, I had minimal knowledge of dystopia and utopia. The only dystopia book I had read (at least from what I remember) was The Hunger Games. When I heard utopia, I thought of perfection; when I heard dystopia, I thought the opposite.

There is much more depth to the definition of dystopia, as there is for utopia though. In the CCUL, Fatima Vieira argues that “the study of the concept of utopia can certainly not be reduced to the history of the word coined by Thomas More […]” (1) Utopias are generally defined as paradise-like universes or societies with no flaws. Dystopias, on the other hand, are infested with flaws. For instance, in The Hunger Games, the Games are a result of the thirteen districts’ rebellion against the government. While the government believes that it is doing right, the districts and we, the audience, know that such a method is wicked, terrifying, and inhumane. The Games are only one of the many flaws in the book; some others are government corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, and a lack of individuality amongst the majority of the characters.

In addition to the flaws that distinguish dystopia from utopia, there are some recurring themes that we observe in the former that are absent in the latter. Hope and fear are the two major themes I’ve picked up on in The Hunger Games so far. Despite the oppression endured by the oppressed, they hope for something better in the future. Actually, it seems like fear directly induces hope. Whereas the flawlessness of utopias prevents such themes to arise, the imperfections in dystopia allow them to develop.

Finally, in order to etymologically define dystopia, we must take into consideration the where the word comes from. The prefix “dys” comes from the Greek origin, and it means “bad, ill, abnormal.” Dystopia itself is a neologism, as it derives from the original word, utopia. After scrutinizing the arguments presented in the CCUL, the major themes in The Hunger Games, and the etymology of utopia, I have come up with an improved definition of dystopia.

So, simply put, yes, dystopia is the opposite of utopia, but it is important to note why/how it’s the opposite.

Amazing visual representation of the relationship between dystopia and utopia.