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The human condition has come a long way, and even today we thrive on the concept of going further. Within the world of dystopian fiction, the definition of “human” is often the point of contrast. In a society, there are multiple pillars that support the foundation of progress, and improvements placed on infrastructure, transportation, and communication have made our surroundings ever-changing. Swarmed with so much external innovation, the aim eventually turns to the refinement of human nature. Altering the human form is current and optimistic, however in many dystopian texts these modifications lead to a disastrous world that is no longer human, but “post human”.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

The novel Feed by MT Anderson takes place in future America. The world has gotten a little bit bigger, even adding a few planets to our diplomatic roster. Much innovation has occurred, yet so has much destruction. The latter is not discussed much, but we are given a clear picture of humanity, and it’s not what one would expect. The human population have acquired brain implants that allow them to access “The Feed” which connects the user to everything they could possible want or need. This becomes an artificial addition to the human body; however, technology is not the only alteration present. Due to the radiation exposure presented on Earth, adults striving to be parents must resort to genetic engineering. The book does not confirm how long radiation contact has been an issue, but Feed presents a new human race that can no longer produce children on their own. This alteration of genes also births the institution of cloning which appears specifically in the form of Abraham Lincoln by the main character’s best friend, Link. Even the main character, Titus, was modeled after his parent’s favorite male film star. Partnered with human infertility are the outward signs of Earth’s dire conditions. The hazardous effects of the environment appear in the form of throbbing lesions on the body. This is normal. In fact, lesions become so prevalent among the human population that they are even made into a fashion statement, with girls getting fake lesions or wishing for more. Humanity is almost unrecognizable. (Anderson, Feed)

When tackling the concept of dystopian post humanism, it’s easy to conjure up just the technological and scientific alterations of man, however it extends beyond that. Dystopias illustrates humanity that is very different than what we see it as now, and it often aids in the many sufferable conditions of the dystopian world. It seems that there is a limit placed on the human condition, and the distance of human exploration. While not all dystopian societies have the physical exaggerations like Feed, the majority presents humanity in new distorted shades. I’m interested in investigating the post human specimen, and how dystopias establish new constructs of the human race.

 

Work Cited:

Anderson, Matthew. Feed. Candlewick Press, 2002.

While dystopian literature is a criticism of society, sociology is the study of society. Specifically, sociology is the study of individual experiences in relation to broader issues in society. It can be used as a tool to help us understand why dystopias are inherently problematic.

I am interested in examining dystopian fiction through a sociological perspective. I would like to explore how characters in dystopias have been molded by society, and how their actions and thoughts are driven by their experiences in predetermined (and often inflexible) social structures. I am also interested in analyzing the interactions between characters, and how those interactions might reflect norms and values of that particular society.

In my independent reading book, Legend, for example, there are divisions between the wealthy and poor, very few opportunities for economic mobility, and conflicting interests between different groups of people. The two protagonists (June and Day) are closely matched in intelligence and physical ability. However, both are positioned very differently in a society that is hierarchal and stratified. While June was sent to a prestigious college and trained under the best minds, Day was separated from his family and sent to a labor camp. In the Republic, the dystopian society in Legend, a person’s whole life is determined not by merit, but by a biased system that favors those who were born a certain way. I am interested in researching how such a system would affect characters differently, and the importance of these effects in shaping the trajectories of their lives and their views of the world.

The Ruby Sector (wealthy) vs. The Lake Sector (poverty-stricken)  in Legend

Another potential area of interest is the discussion of diversity. Mainly, I am interested in exploring the roles of race, ethnicity, and gender in dystopias and how they might influence decision making. In Little Brother, the author did a good job of illustrating internal and external conflicts in relation to identity. In one chapter, the protagonist, Marcus, was upset and bewildered that his good friend, Jolu, decided to stop participating in the rebellious Xnet movement. Jolu then explained his decision as one not of cowardice, but of self-protection, one that results from being a minority. Ultimately, Marcus understood “what Jolu was saying. Whatever risk [he] ran, Jolu ran more. Whatever penalty [he’d] pay, Jolu would pay more” (Doctorow 160). I thought this was an important moment in the book that explains why certain characters behave the way they do. It also sheds light on engrained issues in society – the consequences of which are magnified and are especially prevalent in dystopias. Hopefully, after weeks of research, I can formulate a better answer to the question: What social issues are brought to the forefront through dystopian literature, and how are individual lives ultimately connected to these issues?

Works Cited

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tor Books, 2008.

Lu, Marie. Legend. Penguin Books, 2011.

After having read several dystopian novels, I noticed that in most of them there is a prominent presence of advanced technology. The types of technology and its usage varied slightly from novel to novel, but they mostly seemed to be technology that is similar to what exists now or could be feasible in the near future. ­Technology is very powerful. It can be used to improve people’s lives and provide safety for a society. Some examples include elevators, cars, medicine, and security cameras. However, if taken too far, which is the case in dystopian novels, it is usually used for surveillance, control, and oppression.

When writing literature, authors often reflect their personal situation or society into their writing. They can criticize or explain any number of topics, including but not limited to government, society, race, technology, and human behavior. In dystopian literature, writers often focus on future societies, explaining the destruction of the current society and government. Are the authors criticizing our scientific improvements and technological advancements? How are dystopian novels portraying the future of our society? Can scientific development be taken too far? These are questions that I am asking myself and I would like to research more about.

In my independent reading book, Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, love has been declared a dangerous disease by the government. A cure has been perfected and everyone has had the procedure by the time they turn eighteen. This medical advancement along with restrictions on the intranet, and the type of music and books allowed allows the government complete control over its citizens.

Other types of everyday technology such, as cameras, toll passes, computer bugs, that exist already, were said to be used in Little Brother to track peoples’ every move, in order to track down the terrorists, but instead it seemed like the whole society was just constantly being monitored. The use of cameras for surveillance was also the case in The Hunger Games. While in the arena, each tribute was being monitored through every move they made.

Works Cited

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2008.

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. Harper, 2011.

When beginning this exploration into possible research topics, I looked at recurring themes and ideas in YA dystopian fiction. Rebellion, privacy, individuality, fear/torture, and power are all themes commonly observed in YA dystopias. Another aspect shared by many of the most popular YA dystopian novels/movies is a strong female protagonist. That got me thinking about what roles female characters fulfill in genres outside of YA. The first piece of research I did was of the highest grossing films of 2016 (because I knew it would provide a good general idea of the most popular stories being shared in the world today, and also because I knew the odds were high that I had seen them and could therefore judge the roles of their female characters). The only ones that had strong female characters (the definition of a “strong female character” is coming soon – sit tight) were Rogue One:A Star Wars Story and Zootopia (the former coming in 10th, the latter coming in 3rd: Source). Zooptopia is most certainly aimed at a young audience, and Rogue One, while aimed at a more overarching audience, is also marketed to people that fall into the “Young Adult” category as well. This made me think – how does the intended audience of a work affect the extent to which strong female characters are showcased?

I think the definition of a strong female character goes beyond “any girl appearing in a movie that passes the Bechdel Test”. To me, they need to have their own goals and achieve those goals on their own accord.

(Source)

Examining films marketed to children, I started with Disney, because of the $11.1 billion made by the film industry in 2016, $7 billion of it was made by Disney alone. The defining characteristic of Disney is the Disney Princess. It seems to me that if the defining characteristic of the most important film studio in children’s media is strong female characters, I may have a lead to go on towards answering my question.

This question also seems fitting because it allows me to look at the genre of dystopian YA through its most relatable aspect – its characters. These characters will be comparable to characters outside of dystopian works as well, which will drastically open up my choices of literature to look at, as well as make the dystopian works even more distinct.

Literature is simply a portrayal of ideas, thoughts, and emotions that are often reflective of the writer’s personal situation and the society in which the writer is in. Dystopian novels especially serve as this reflection of the modern world, in criticizing government, society, and human interest. Personally, I find this theme of incorporating societal concern and technological fear into dystopian literature incredibly interesting. Dystopian writers often focus their novels on predictions of future societies, explaining the possible destruction of current government and societal institutions, while criticizing the ethics in scientific advancements and technological development. Should innovation be criticized? Can scientific improvements be taken too far? Specifically, how do dystopian novels portray a prediction evolution of scientific research, and are these predictions practical, feasible, or realistic? This is the research question I intend to pursue, narrowing my search with a focus on nanotechnology in the human brain, incorporating technology and neuroscience.

The independent reading book that I will be incorporating into my research is Feed, by MT Anderson. I find the societal and government institutions in this book very interesting, as it ties in monopolistic corporations and societal consumerism with neuroscience technology. The book shows how intelligence becomes storable and how materialism becomes the focus of everyone’s lives. The book’s dystopia also raises the question of practicality: can the brain chips, or Feed, in this book become something of reality? I will be expanding on this thought, researching the neurobiology of the feasibility of implanting brain chips, as well as the ethical problems that could arise. I will also tie in societal concerns and economic problems that could accompany this scientific change, as well as shifts in government and public institutions. In addition, is scientific advancement heading towards this direction? Will human nature ever let technology get to the point of total control over daily life? These are the questions I would like to explore in my research. The topics and questions that I am not able to answer now include specifics of brain chip technology, damage done to the brain during implantation, and the plasticity of the brain around the chip itself.

 

Works Cited

Brown, Kristen V. “DARPA Is Testing Implanting Chips in Soldiers’ Brains.” Fusion, 28 Sept. 2015, fusion.net/story/204316/darpa-is-implanting-chips-in-soldiers-brains/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

Anderson, MT. “Feed.” MT Anderson RSS, mt-anderson.com/blog/his-books/books-for-teens-and-adults/feed-2/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2017.

 

Being an aspiring chemical engineer at GT, I would say science is a huge part of my life. I love dystopian novels and I’m devoted to science, so I think the connection between science and dystopian life is extremely compelling. As today’s society becomes more technologically advanced, I am intrigued to know at what point is a society beginning to strive for genetic enhancement rather than focusing on improvements to quality of life. This is easily seen in my independent reading book, Partials by Dan Wells. Wells describes a society where genetically engineered “war machines” turned against the human race and took out the majority of the population, leaving few survivors. These enhanced creatures, called Partials, were created in order to help the humans win a war against other humans. I am enticed by the thought of whether creating these Partials was morally justified, or just an immoral attempt at perfection. The area between morally right and wrong is grey and shifts with the current social structure, but I am fascinated in what defines right versus wrong. Image result for partials dan wells

It’s very interesting to me that so many dystopian novels incorporate scientific mishaps in their novels/movies/TV series. I believe it’s such a common theme because it reflects the scientific advancements in our society today. In today’s world, we are capable of alternating DNA sequences and performing genetic modifications. Scientific professionals are discussing the manipulation of DNA in order to correct genes that may cause diseases. Others, however, are wanting to push the limits of science and splice genes in order to make sure that future offspring will have certain physical traits, possibly even higher levels of physical and intellectual performance.Image result for genetic modification

While all of this science seems inspiring and inventive, what stops us from creating creatures like the Partials and having a disaster ridden world on our hands? What crosses the line between helping society and genetic perfection? What is morally wrong in the spiritual, religious sense? Is it acceptable to proceed with these modifications if you don’t have spiritually restrictive beliefs? Where does the line lie between science and playing God? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I would love to discover different opinions on the topic after some research.

 

Works Cited

“Goodreads.” Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/book/show/12476820-partials. Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

“Science Clarified.” Science Clarified, www.scienceclarified.com/Ga-He/Genetic-Engineering.html.                      Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.

Wells, Dan. Partials. New York, Balzer Bray, 2012.

Today we discussed annotated bibliographies. We started the class by working through a PowerPoint (available on TSquare) that laid out the basic elements in a standard evaluative annotated bibliography. Annotated bibliographies are a standard genre within research oriented fields, so it is important to know the basic shape and requirements (though it is likely that each professor, lab PI, or boss you work for will have slightly different preferences for how to set one up). For our purposes, consult the class PPT and the Purdue OWL for questions on format and analytical content.

We also spent a little more time talking through the particulars of MLA 8, especially the new structure of the citations and the use of “containers” to describe different types of work. We will be using MLA 8 throughout the semester, so keep your handbook handy!

Then, in small groups, you completed an activity designed to get you started on your annotated bibliography. This activity asked you to write and peer review citations for the two sources you brought today, as well as describe the sources to your partner. The notes from this activity can help you to form the base of your first two annotations (and should also be tucked away in your folder for possible final portfolio fodder at the end of the semester.)

We largely ran out of time to discuss the middle section of Little Brother, so we will look at that along with the last section on Wednesday. Plan to discuss the role of a free and uncensored education in preventing dystopia, the role of protest in voicing dissent, and the depiction of media in the story from this section, along with your discussion questions.

HOMEWORK:

  1. Finish reading Little Brother through the Afterword
  2. Read Ames, Melissa. “Engaging “Apolitical” Adolescents: Analyzing the Popularity and Educational Potential of Dystopian Literature Post-9/11.”  The High School Journal, Volume 97, Number 1, Fall 2013, pp. 3-20 (Article). Published by The University of North Carolina Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/hsj.2013.0023
  3. Continue to research for independent project – aim to have 4 sources + independent reading book by Friday