The appeal of dystopia

If+utopia+is+a+paradise%2C+then+dystopia+is+a+paradise+lost.+We+read+dystopia+as+a+kind+of+manual+of+warnings%2C+but+can+these+warnings+lead+to+progressive+change%2C+or+do+they+only+mire+us+in+more+fear+and+despair%3F
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The appeal of dystopia

If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. We read dystopia as a kind of manual of warnings, but can these warnings lead to progressive change, or do they only mire us in more fear and despair?

If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. We read dystopia as a kind of manual of warnings, but can these warnings lead to progressive change, or do they only mire us in more fear and despair?

Flickr CC: kr428

If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. We read dystopia as a kind of manual of warnings, but can these warnings lead to progressive change, or do they only mire us in more fear and despair?

Flickr CC: kr428

Flickr CC: kr428

If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. We read dystopia as a kind of manual of warnings, but can these warnings lead to progressive change, or do they only mire us in more fear and despair?

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If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. We read dystopia as a kind of manual of warnings, but can these warnings lead to progressive change, or do they only mire us in more fear and despair?

In 1516, Thomas More published a fictional account of a sailor on the ship of the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, where they traveled to an island called “Utopia,” with had perfect legal, social, and political systems. Interestingly, its etymology, from Greek ou “not” + topos “place,” means “nowhere.” The word “dystopia” was coined later in the 1740s, meaning “unhappy country,” by the historian Gregory Claeys in his study “Dystopia: A Natural History.” One of the first dystopian books, the 1899 novel “When the Sleeper Awakes,” describes a hero who sleeps into the twenty-first century, only to find a world filled with propaganda and demagoguery. The notion of “sleeping through” the warning signs is a prominent theme in such tales. In the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the heroine ominously details the world’s fall into dystopia: “I was asleep before, that’s how we let it happen.”

Modern dystopia seems to be ever-connected to polarized politics. Penguin Random House reported a 9,500 percent sale increase for George Orwell’s 1984 a month after Trump’s inauguration. This newfound interest in Orwell seems to shine a light on the similarities between the book and the distorted facts of the Trump administration. “Everyone remembers ‘1984’ as containing various parodies of official distortions. That kind of unreality that is propagated as reality is what people feel reminded of, and that’s why they keep coming back,” said Prof. Stefan Collini, a professor of intellectual history at the University of Cambridge. However, in the first year of Obama’s presidency, Americans bought half a million copies of “Atlas Shrugged,” as a rejection of the liberal state.  

New societal problem gave rise to a whole host of dystopia subgenre: warnings about pollution, climate change, nuclear warfare, technology—the list goes on. But ever since “Lord of the Flies,” dystopia has been associated with the adolescence: something about the distrust in adult authority and institutions, a sentiment stemming from Vietnam and Watergate. “The hallmark of moving from childhood to adulthood is that you start to recognize that things aren’t black and white,” said Jon Ostenson, who studies young adult dystopian literature at Brigham Young University. Often, in YA dystopia, teenagers are portrayed as the only ones who can see the world for what it “really is,” which can engage the reader’s own critical thinking about the dystopia they might be living through in real life.

Dystopia can be a form of escapism, but also helps us perceive the world more clearly. It is telling that no stories of utopia reach the bestseller list—dystopia seems what many reach out to in times of pessimism and an increasingly unrecognizable world.  

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