The Hope In Dystopia
A dystopia is a speculative situation where the absolute minority of people habitually experience hope and joy. Embedded in every piece of dystopian fiction is utopian thinking – the speculative condition where the absolute majority of people habitually experience hope and joy.
Commercial dramatic fiction requires tension between two poles. It requires stakes, change, a goal to advance towards. Conflict. Dystopian fiction is almost never actually about the dystopia itself (although writing dystopia is good, crunchy stuff with lots of detail to relish in the authorship). Dystopian fiction is almost always about the utopian reach that’s suppressed by the situation.
(*There are exceptions to every rule and statement do not @ me)
The request for more hopeful, optimistic and utopian thinking in popular drama comes around every few years. Utopias run up against the structures and strictures of popular drama. It’s hard to tell a conventional drama when, um, everything is awesome.
(Unhappily for everybody, a utopia, as a perfected human condition, is a static society, and static societies are dystopias)
Dystopia is one of those parts of speculative fiction that function as early-warning systems for bad sociocultural weather, a function I’ve talked about at length elsewhere. Dystopia is also about the fight for a better world. Every well-written dystopia is, unlike most other forms of drama, already always about hope.
(*I haven’t slept properly in, I dunno, probably two years, so don’t take this as a considered proclamation cut in stone, I’m just thinking out loud to myself.)
Please enjoy this cheerful image I accidentally took on the way into London on Monday.
(originally written 16 January 2019, recovered from morning.computer, re-upped here by request)