The Romance of Filth and Oppression
Why oh why oh why do we like stories about characters that are unwashed, half-starved, and oppressed financially, socially, culturally and sexually? Why do we enjoy that? It sounds terrible right? No one wants their main character to have to deal with lice and rotting food and constant pain. Ugh.
And yet. And yet. And yet. Dystopian fiction is EVERYWHERE in all shapes, sizes and colors, for all types of dispositions.
There’s a Dirty, Miserable Dystopia for Everyone.
- The-worlds-gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket, all financial sectors in all major countries have collapsed leaving scary barter systems and massive movements of organized crime and corruption as in Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony.
- Your horror dystopians with zombie apocalypses (The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan) vampire apocalypses (The Passage by Justin Cronin).
- Speculative resource loss (Empty by Suzanne Weyn, Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, etc etc)
- You’ve got your 1984 type dystopias like, well ugh, 1984, but also CANDOR by Pam Bachorz, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, etc etc.
- There are plenty of fatal stories about all the men dying out or all the women dying out or some variation there of (The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Nomansland by Lesley Hauge, Epitaph Road by David Patneaude)
- There are dirty Mad Max style dystopias and super regulated Bladerunner style dystopias.
There’s Something Romantic About Survival
The one thing they all have in common is one character glances up from the dark tunnel of their miserable life and dreams of something more. Maybe they are forced into this dream, maybe it is one of necessity or one of hope, but they all have it. The character is resourceful and resilient and defies the status quo in order to find the light.
We like following these characters because we all like to think we could be them if it came to it.
There’s something romantic about survival.
The Future as It Could Be
Lots of people love historical fiction because it is something we’ll never be able to experience (Unless historical = within our lifetime and that’s really more contemporary or out-dated contemporary)
But the future holds all the possibilities of the world. All that is possible is probable and all that is probably is easily romanticized.
Dystopia is never about what was, it is always about what could be, and so no matter how improbable the zombie/vampire/robot apocalypse might seem, because it HASN’T happened yet there’s always a chance that it COULD happen. And there’s something very satisfying to our ego when we daydream about not just surviving but kicking zombie/vampire/robot ass in the coming war. How will our trusty iPads serve us in the coming dystopia? What crazy Fifth Element fashions will we be wearing? How will we be thrown together with our passionate romantic lead? Will they live? Will I live? Will we go down in a blaze of glory together?
Games to Play with Your Friends
Ok, here’s another little exercise. Think back to the hype that surrounded the first episode of LOST. Everyone and their mother wanted to see the show about a group of people stranded on a deserted island. Why? Well, everyone raise their hand if they remember watching that first episode and imagining all the things YOU would do to survive such an ordeal. How many of you thought Sawyer had the right idea about hording? Or were you with the group that wanted to build a bigger bonfire in an effort to be spotted by a plane or ship? Were you thinking you’d run around helping people or were you the one thinking you’d organize everyone, find shelter, food, and water?
The way you watched the first episode of LOST is the reason we like to read about dystopias. We want to imagine what we’d do if we were put in such a terrible situation (without actually being put in it) and then how we’d survive.
There’s something romantic about survival.
Here’s another exercise: If you were stranded on a deserted island, and you could only have three items, what items would you take with you?
Hard question, right? Most people would think of the easy things: Food, Water, Weapon. Or they’d think nostalgic things: Notebook, Favorite Book, Picture of their kids. Someone very resourceful would say: Backpack, Bowie knife, and an extra pair of underwear. Most people could play this game with friends for hours. It’s fun to imagine and whittle your list down.
Would you survive the coming dark times? It’s a very important meme floating around Facebook these days. I know I wouldn’t. Mentally and creatively sure, but physically I need to lose some weight and join a gym first if I’m running (from zombies, crazy neighbors, radioactive clouds WHATEVER). If I don’t have to run from anything I’ll probably be ok.
Would you join the resistance movement or just plod along in the hopes it might get better? Would you do whatever was necessary to survive? Man, I could play this game for HOURS.
I think I’m more of a resistance joiner myself, but who knows? I don’t think I’d be very good at starving, or drinking ditch water, or lying to robots, or living without soap, or shooting my thieving neighbors when they sneak into my secret backyard vegetable garden.
I think I’m just better at reading and writing an imaginary world of Very Bad Things.