Dystopia…That’s a Dinosaur Right?

  • Utopian fiction is optimistic, presenting a bright and hopeful view of the future  and encouraging us to pursue that which we do well.
  • Dystopian fiction is pessimistic, presenting a dark and dangerous view of the future and warning us to avoid the darkness to which we are prone.

Well, I tried my best to avoid this but unfortunately I just couldn’t cram it all into a paragraph for another post.  In speaking of social commentary, especially socio-political commentary, one must discuss Utopian and Dystopian fiction, so I thought I’d give a brief explanation of these terms first.

This is my idea of utopia

I’m hoping that most of you are familiar with them already (in which case prepare for a review), for those who are not, well lets get right into it.  Utopian and dystopian fiction are two opposing viewpoints in political commentary.  They are, often, some of the most blatant forms of social commentary which one will find in fiction, sometimes going so far as to turn the entire novel/movie into one giant ad campaign for a particular viewpoint.

That being said, good works of either variety can be both enjoyable and enlightening.  The terminology originates with Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516 (which I have not read…nor plan too any time soon).  Utopian fiction attempts to present a picture of what the perfect world would look like, normally applying the author’s own political viewpoint (pacifism, naturalism, skepticism, etc.) to the society.  The value of Utopian fiction is that, when done well, it can point out things that we, as a people, do well but could do better.  Another value, though lesser, is that it paints a very positive picture of the future, though often in comparison with a very negative picture at the same time.

Dystopian fiction (sometimes called anti-utopian fiction), on the other hand, normally paints a very negative picture of the future.  Dystopian fiction often pictures a future where some technology, political ideology, or social construct, has run out of control.  Many examples of dystopian fiction include an argument that any attempt at creating a utopia will result in tyranny.  In fact this was a major portion of the social commentary in both the books 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as well as the movie Equilibrium written by Kurt Wimmer.  All of these portray a nightmare world created by man’s quest for utopia, though created through different means.

A dystopian battle against the hobbit hordes

Lastly there are a few novels which hold onto aspects of both utopian and dystopian fiction while actually being neither.  The example I will use is Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Starship Troopers has been accused of being utopian fiction, because it presents a desirable, but likely impossible future.  Some (myself included), however,  argue that it has more in common with dystopian fiction, because the majority of the commentary in the book is focused on what the society of Heinlein’s day did wrong.  Also because it lacks two of the typical features of utopian fiction, 1) a peaceful society, and 2) the introduction of the main character to the utopian society from a non-utopian society. (I will be discussing this more in my next post)

It would not be incorrect to label utopian fiction as optimistic political commentary while dystopian fiction is pessimistic political commentary.  Certainly utopian fiction sees the future as bright and hopeful, the problems of the present done away with by at least some group or culture (though almost never by humanity as a whole).  Meanwhile dystopian fiction views the future as dark and dangerous, social problems run out of control and governments respond to them harshly.

In Animal Farm by George Orwell the author portrays a near utopian culture of animals (I say near utopian because it is not perfect but is quite happy) as it slowly becomes more and more dystopian, in the end of the novel the animals, at the height of their greed, paranoia, and jealousy turn into humans.

Another version of utopia

The difference between the two types of fiction is interesting in that both are, essentially, trying to do the same thing.  Authors of both utopian and dystopian fiction want the world to be a better place, utopian fiction encourages us to pursue what the author sees as the good in man while dystopian fiction warns us against pursuing what the author sees as man’s evil.

Furthermore neither is entirely realistic (though personally I think dystopian fiction tends more toward the real than utopian…but that’s because I’m a pessimist*), utopian fiction often ignores the evil nature of man and presents societies which, while beautiful, could never happen.  Dystopian fiction, likewise, tends to ignore man’s ability to mitigate his own nature and check his progress towards utter destruction.

Homeschool Ideas: Read Animal Farm or 1984 by George Orwell along with Haze by L.E. Modesitt together with your children and discuss the difference between utopian and dystopian fiction.  Talk about the ideas for advancement through skepticism presented in Haze and the dangers warned of in Orwell’s work. Also talk about the likelihood of the various cultures presented in each book coming about.

*Really, we do like to be called realists, no one likes being labeled a pessimist.

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About noothergods

I hate writing these things. Ok, a little bit about me. I split my time between this world and other worlds so I'm only here about 25% to 50% of the time. Other times my body might be here (or you never know it might not) but I am off somewhere else having strange and usually pretty horrible adventures. I consider myself a scholar of Christian Theology and of Religion in general, I love learning about other people's belief systems. I think that Shinto is fascinating and I'm obsessed with the theology of sin...and with monkeys...I don't know why I'm obsessed with monkeys but I blame Gus...if you know him you'll understand that, if you don't then...well...I blame Gus. Anyway, I'm the one of the blog that needs to be censored the most so if there's anything posted that you find offensive it was probably me. I think that my brain doesn't really work the way it's supposed to but that's an issue for a whole other time. I have two degrees, a B.S. in Religion and an M.Div. in leadership. I enjoy a great many things some of which include writing (gee, what a surprise), martial arts, anything media that has a good story to tell, cooking, discussing/reading/occasionally writing about Christian theology, General theology, religious belief systems, philosophy, etc. I also enjoy reading medieval and previous magical texts and studying the history, practice, and beliefs about magic from around the world. I don't practice magic and if you want to know my personal beliefs on the subject you can email me, however the intersection of magic and religion is a very interesting topic.

Posted on November 18, 2010, in Books, Educational Resources, Political, Social Commentary, Tobias Mastgrave and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m pretty sure I took that third picture you have there… or did Kami? Well, I know I was there.

  2. I think it was Kami, at least I remember her taking a bunch of pictures that night.

  3. Astounding article bro. This kind of is just a exceedingly nicely structured posting, just the tips I was hunting for. Thanks

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