Jamie Thinks: You Want to Live Where? Utopia vs Dystopia.


The world is not a perfect place; there’s war, disease, famine and all kinds of flaws that make life not so fun.

But what if you could live in a world where everything was perfect? What would you do to live in a city where everything went the way you wanted? What would you give up?

The Utopia verses Dystopia debate has been a subject of literary speculation for many generations – The philosopher Plato wrote the first proposal for a Utopia around 300BC – and it is still a hot topic today.

The problem with the idea of a Utopia is that it is one group’s idea of a perfect society, not everyone’s. What works for one person may not work for everyone. This is when we need to add Dys (ill, bad – Greek) to our Topia (landscape, place – Greek again) to create a Dystopia, a not very nice place to be.

But how do we decide what is a Utopia or a Dystopia? Some are easy to recognise, like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; a civilization under ruthless control by the ruling power. This is perhaps the most dramatic representation of a Dystopia: media and language control, propaganda, kidnappings and torture.

Many people in the media over the last couple of generations have used this novel to protest decisions made by their government, most without really understanding that most Western governments are nowhere near as bad as the novel illustrates and will probably never even get close.

Sometimes, though, it’s harder to discern whether where you live is a Utopia or not. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is, in its way, a wonderful place to live – although most people see it as a Dystopia: You’re born into a job that seems perfect for you (actually, you are genetically designed to do the job); you get prescription medication that makes you happy; and all your wants are immediately satisfied. What could be wrong with that?

Simple: you have no control. None at all. You are created to fulfil a role – from a mentally disabled menial worker to a genius ruler; and instead of thinking for yourself, you are given every kind of entertainment (e.g. movies, food, sex, drugs) to stop you from questioning what the government may be doing.

But would you give up thought like in Brave New World? Would you give up the ability to feel emotion in exchange for peace like they do in the film Equilibrium? Do you fear that your government will make you “disappear”? Then you’re in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Does being born the natural way make you less of a person? You’re in the film Gattaca.

Some genres of fiction focus on the concept of the Utopia/Dystopia better than others. CyberPunk is a good example of this as the tools that government uses to control are often advanced technology. Fantasy often has elements of the UvD debate, usually with the use of magic or iron-fisted kings.

A perfect world may not exist; it may never. But would you really want to live in someone else’s idea of a Utopia?

Other examples of either a Utopia or a Dystopia are: The film & animated series of Aeon Flux, the video game Bioshock, and the graphic novel & film V for Vendetta.

CLIP: Aeon Flux – Pilot


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