Imagine it—it's the end of the world as you know it, but life goes on. The planet Earth is on the ropes—damaged by the acts or mismanagement of man, natural disasters, war, or some unforeseen calamity. However, mankind lives on, eking out a living, oftentimes, by perverting what it means to be human. This is a dystopia.
A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia or perfect society. The word "utopia" comes from a Greek work that means "no place." The term was coined in a novel by Sir Thomas More in 1516. Dystopias generally seem like nice places when you are first introduced to them. Life spans are long, crime is low, citizens all have jobs and plenty to eat ... but you soon learn that things are not what they seem. There is a dark underbelly to this world you are viewing.
Dystopias are generally related to each other via six themes or symptoms:
Social: The value of human life has gone down and this is easily seen by the way dystopian characters treat each other and interact. Entertainment is particularly violent or sadistic. Relationships between the sexes are off. Family values might mean turning your sister in for a reward. Society is starkly divided among the rich and the poor. Drug use might be rampant. Personal liberty and rights are limited in some way.
Economics: Some resources (food, water, space) are scarce, others are abundant (people and workers). People make a living by scavenging, or doing whatever they can to get by. They might trade their bodies or minds for what they need to survive.
Politics: Someone is in charge, and it's generally not the people. Who runs the show? How do they run it? What is their goal in taking charge? How did they come to power?
The Back Story: Something happened to create a dystopia. Maybe global warming killed off all the trees and sea life. Maybe terrorists attacked and the government responded by taking away freedom in the interest of security. Maybe there was a war. Maybe technology advanced to the point where people no longer needed to strive and dream.
The Hero (Protagonist): He or she may not be the typical square-jawed action star, but this is the person who represents us. Maybe he is an outsider who recognizes the dystopia for the hell that it is. Maybe he is an insider who suddenly realizes that there is a better way. Either way, he or she wants one of two things—escape or the chance to change things for the better.
The Climax: Sometimes the story ends ugly, our hero dies. Sometimes he succeeds and the dystopia falls. Sometimes he or she just gets away. Sometimes he gives up.
Dystopian sci-fi often appears in music.
Part of the "Politics" theme, this is how the guys in charge stay in charge.
Use this handy guide to keep track of the dystopian themes you see in the stories and films used in the course.
"Caught in the Organ Draft"
A peek at a world resulting from voter apathy, ageism and advances in medical science.
Author Kurt Vonnegut chimes in with his view of a world gone bad.
Crap! You are a winner!
You Are a Target!
Even as we speak, a nuclear missile is pointed at your head!
In Case of a Nuke
In case the worst happens ...