Check out my video log of someone from “the future” risking it all to tell us about their dystopian world.
How have divisions in society transformed over time? The answer is complex and the following book is an essential research in being able to compare contemporary society to dystopian society. This book, Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of the Present, is an excellent resource in addressing the complexity of social theory today. In my research, I focused on Chapter 3, entitled Post-feminism, which defines the post-feminist theory and how it differs immensely from previous feminist thought and theories. Post-feminism is defined as the notion of women having power, but not losing their “femininity”, which stems from the idea feminists lose femininity. In literature, as in dystopias, this provides “a critique of previous assumptions of the self, the social, the political, history, the text, knowledge, and ‘the West’”(Browning, 65). I found this theory and source especially useful and interesting in investigating feminist elements in recent dystopian literature.
This chapter uses concrete examples of post-feminist theory in literature and in television. One key piece used in supporting their claim is that of the series Star Trek: Voyager, which is set in the twenty-fourth century and explores the role of a post-feminist woman as starship captain. Tough leadership and courage characterize protagonist Janeway, though she doesn’t lose her “femininity” in this role, highlighting the post-feminist depiction of this character.
This chapter is a useful tool in identifying the social context in recent years of feminism, and its portrayal in literature. In my project, I am using this to argue the content and focus of women’s roles and depiction in this post-feminism period. Novels like my independent reading book The Selection, feature strong independent female leads, who are still able to embrace their femininity and stand up for female power and fight oppression, while not losing this aspect of themselves, a key factor in the post-feminist period.
Another useful chapter in this book include Chapter 33, entitled Social inequalities: coming to terms with complexity. This section argues that social divisions such as “class, gender, ethnicity, race, age, religion, and sexual orientation [are] intertwined to produce multifaceted and intricate forms of social hierarchy”(Browning, 478). This section would be useful for anyone curious about the divisions and inequalities within a society and comparing that to their independent reading novel or other dystopian societies.
Browning, Gary K., Understanding Contemporary Society: Theories of the Present. London, Sage, 2000.
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.
Marks, Peter. “Imaging Surveillance: Utopian Visions and Surveillance Studies”. Surveillance & Society, Vol. 3 No. 2/3, pp. 222-239.
As an architecture major I am fascinated with the way buildings make people feel. In my studio class, my professor is constantly reinforcing the idea that the building is designed to fit a function. I began to wonder if there was a greater meaning behind the buildings that are present in YA dystopian novels. Upon closer investigation, I found that the buildings that housed the government or controlling figure turned out to be much more grand and comfortable than those of the oppressed people who seem to be living in some state of poverty. From there I began to wonder if there was some correlation between architecture an oppression. Does architecture prevent rebellions? Does architecture create a hierarchy? Does architecture reinforce existing orders?
My presentation is titled, “Architorture: The Implications of Dystopian Architecture”. Throughout my presentation, I will be discussing how architecture can lead to oppression or promote freedom. We’ve all been in a building that has maybe made us felt trapped or uncomfortable. In addition, we have all been in a building that we have never wanted to leave. Whether we notice it or not buildings have a significant impact on a person’s emotions. I believe the emotion that is present in architecture is used to the authors advantage throughout YA dystopian novels.
To further my argument, I will analyze the YA dystopian novels How I Live Now and The Hunger Games to describe how architecture influences the oppression inflicted on the characters throughout YA dystopian novels. When discussing How I Live Now I will be talking about how the levels of oppression change as the surrounding architecture changes. In How I Live Now the kids went through a period when the military took occupation of their home leaving them in a much more vulnerable space. A similar situation happened in an article I read called, What American Cities can learn from Small-Town Neighbors, that discusses the implications of the government interfering in a rural town. This will provide me valuable information to explain how the presence of architecture can be controlled by the government and ultimately lead to a state of oppression. When I discuss The Hunger Games, I will be talking about how architecture can show social hierarchies in society, and I will discuss how the capitol used architecture to prevent rebellions.
Overall, my paper will work to prove that architecture has major impacts throughout the course of a YA dystopian novel.
Arentson, James. “What American Cities can learn from Small-Town Neighbors.” Next City, 17 Feb. 2017, https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/what-american-cities-can-learn-from-small-town-neighbors
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 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/
For the upcoming presentation, I will be discussing the negative consequences of systemic oppression on individuals in YA dystopias. My paper is called Race, Gender, and Oppression: How Invisible Forces Affect Individual Experiences in Dystopias.
I will begin by giving a brief explanation of the term, oppression, and the argument that oppression should not be perceived as a uniform force that affects everyone in the same way. In my research, I have come up with logical and sound evidence that uniform oppression is impossible in societies that are hierarchal by nature. Throughout my presentation, I hope to topple the common misperception that everyone suffers to the same extent in dystopias.
To provide evidence for my claim, I will be analyzing several characters to demonstrate the effects of race and gender on individual experiences. I will explore how race and gender can affect a person’s standing in society and how oppression is not only a byproduct of totalitarian rule, but also a byproduct of an ingrained social hierarchy – based on race, gender, and other factors.
Specifically, for this presentation, I will draw examples from Legend, Little Brother, and The Handmaid’s Tale to examine the lives of characters who are disadvantaged by systemic oppression. In each dystopian novel, there are characters who are oppressed in different ways, depending on his or her background. For example, in Little Brother, some characters are disadvantaged by their race/ethnicity, while in The Handmaid’s Tale, female characters are subordinated and live in a society controlled by men. Legend is a foray into another type of oppression that divides characters by socioeconomic status.
After analyzing characters individually, I will then analyze characters as a group. In the second half of my presentation, I will be comparing and/or contrasting the experiences of privileged characters to those of characters who are less fortunate. I will explain why characters think and behave the way they do, and why some characters cannot afford to act as rashly as other characters. To end my presentation, I will reiterate the main points of my argument and (hopefully) leave the audience convinced.
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.
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.
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
Condie, Ally. Matched. Penguin Group, 2010.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tor, 2008.
I think it is really interesting that dystopian architecture can vary from novel to novel, but even so they all seem to inflict the same general feeling among the characters. In particular, they seem to reinforce the idea of oppression by the government.
For example, in How I live Now, my independent reading novel, when the war hasn’t quite started yet the characters live freely and without adult supervision in a picturesque home in the English countryside. Once the war picks up, the characters are forced apart and into smaller homes when the soldiers take over their home. Then they are moved into a barn, and eventually they end up seeking shelter in an old shack in the middle of the woods. As things in England got worse, and the residents of England began to feel the effects of the war, architectural comfort diminishes. When the government takes over the kids’ home they are forced into situations away from the comforts of family and the architecture simultaneously diminishes.
I believe a similar concept is true in The Hunger Games. In The Hunger Games, The Capitol contains houses and buildings of comfort and luxury. Then as the districts move further and further away from the Capitol the architecture become less aesthetically pleasing and used more to provide shelter then to provide comfort. One of the things I think is really interesting about The Hunger Games though, is that the area where architecture provides the least comfort is the area in which the Capitol is the most oppressive, the arena. The only real architecture in the area is the cornucopia, and the cornucopia only reinforces the government’s power.
Moving into my research project, I want to find out if this correlation between architecture and oppression continues throughout YA dystopian novels. I want to also look at how architecture can influence the way one acts and feels. For example, does living in poverty give one strength or break them? Does living in luxury provide a sense of entitlement and possible lead to becoming an oppressor? Overall, does the surrounding architecture in YA dystopian novels contribute to the presence of oppression?
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.