I don’t mean to alarm you. But I do mean to tell you as gently as possible that the dystopia of the sci-fi future exists, right here and right now. Maybe you didn’t realize it because it’s not what we pictured; the world isn’t a post-nuclear wasteland (yet), an android didn’t steal my desk job (yet), and I haven’t had a computer chip permanently implanted in my brain (though I concede that my iPhone is a close second). Maybe our current dystopia slipped under the radar because sadly, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
For some reason when most of us think of dystopian worlds we think of another planet, another place, another time in the future where basic human actions, thoughts, and feelings are mechanized, profitized, monitored, and controlled by some kind of central and far-reaching system or dictator whose only real goal is power for power’s sake. They usually go by a creepy ambiguous name like Big Brother, “Father”, the Norsefire Party, the Alliance, the Harper Government, etc. (obviously that last one is me being cheeky).
What a lot of us tend to forget is that the the creators of well-known dystopian visions weren’t just pulling these terrifying ideas out of thin air. The writing was on the wall then (just look at the dystopian surveillance, censorship, and human rights atrocities taking place under Hitler and Stalin in the same decade that George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four) and the writing is on the wall now.
Don’t believe me? Read the news. I’ve compiled just a few contemporary examples of common “dystopian” tropes so you can see what I mean:
- Surveillance (i.e. “Big Brother is watching”, as seen in Nineteen Eighty Four) – Remember CCTV in Britain? Remember the 2006 statistic that there is one camera in Britain for every 14 citizens? Remember how creepy that sounded, that citizens were (and still are) being watched at every moment, ostensibly for their own safety? Or how about PRISM, in the United States? Or the (thankfully) scrapped Bill C-30 in Canada?
- Censorship/revision of fact – Here’s a close to home example for you: Harper’s muzzling of Canadian scientists (the list provided by the Georgia Straight at the above link is really quite extensive). There is, of course, also the Harper Government’s 2010 decision to scrap the mandatory long form census (pretty much invalidating the data the government should be using to shape policy). In fact, you’d probably be justified in suggesting that the Conservatives are actually trying to rewrite history too.
- Systematic execution of citizens by the government – How about US drone strikes, which have killed foreign terrorist suspects overseas, plus four US citizens, all without trial? Mechanized, systematic, faceless and indifferent, yep, sounds dystopian to me.
- Division of citizens into “Us” and “Them” – The last time I checked, I wasn’t a “radical” person, but according to my government, since I oppose the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, have signed petitions saying so, and have donated to organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation, I may just be a “radical” trying to “hijack our regulatory system”. Obviously you can’t take my radical word for it. But then again, maybe you can’t be trusted either. According to Safety Minister Vic Toews, if you were concerned last spring about the idea of your internet provider handing information to police without a warrant, remember, “you can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” (emphasis added). Bill C-30 was killed but the divisive attitude remains alive and well.
- Moral purity as dictated by law – Thankfully, Canadian human rights policy in the last few decades has tended towards righting wrongs and extending full rights of inclusion and citizenship to people and groups previously denied them. But all over the world people are being fined, imprisoned, tortured, or killed for such “crimes” as being gay, committing blasphemy, having sex out of wedlock (including being raped), etc. Want examples? Unfortunately, there are lots. You can’t have a social media account without tripping over them.
I suppose my point is that “dystopia” is not necessarily a fictional convention. Given the amount of money and power that governments and corporations have and how easy it is to stamp out or misdirect dissent and political awareness, rest assured that if some movie or book or graphic novel has imagined it, it is possible. Maybe not as dramatic as it is in the cinema, maybe not so obvious (at least not at first). But if we aren’t living in a dystopian society yet we’ve definitely got all the ingredients cooking for a dystopian future (likely spurred by environmental catastrophe). Pretty bleak, huh?
I truly didn’t mean to alarm you, I just wanted to write about dystopia. But isn’t it nice to know where you stand?
[On the bright side, if dystopian pop culture is to be believed, there will almost always be people to fight the good fight. They just might not have a space ship or amazing martial arts skills. And that’s okay.]