Like many of you, I’m shocked and horrified by what I saw last week on television. Don’t worry, this isn’t yet-another political treatise – I’m politically neutral. Taking a page from Jon Stewart, I don’t want to present another ‘overwrought speech.’ My job is to make you forget reality for a little while, and that’s what I will continue to do. But considering my storytelling responsibility, last week’s events reiterate what I’ve been saying for a few years now: Stop with the Dystopian Fiction.
Now you can read what I said for yourself, but for the sake of simplicity let’s cover some important reasons why we need to hit the Universal Pause button on Dystopian Fiction:
Dystopia Will Not Be Fun
Let’s be clear: I don’t hang complete or even direct responsibility for last week’s events on dystopian scifi. I love trashy old dystopian movies (Looking at you, Logan’s Run) like anyone else. What I noticed several years ago was a shift in how dystopian SF was being viewed. It stopped being about a future we wanted to avoid, and started treating the end of the world like a sexy Tough Mudder competition.
After watching the news last week, it occurred to me that many of those storming the Capitol were trapped in a roleplay with lethal stakes. They saw themselves as the heroes, here to liberate the oppressed. ‘Starting the revolution’ was exciting: you get to dress up in costumes, shout slogans and take selfies!
In a way, the events last week reminded me how Hitler was inspired by the insanity of Karl May novels. May was a nutcase, but he made a lot of money in the late 1800s by writing ‘Aryanized’ cowboy novels for German readers. Captivated by how May could whitewash the genocidal horrors of the American West, Hitler adopted those concepts and integrated them into his war plans. I’m not kidding, either. He sent 300K copies of May novels to officers near the Eastern front to inspire them, too. I’m sure you know the rest of the story.
Real dystopia isn’t that fun. That’s why dystopian and post-apoc SF can be called ‘escapist fantasy.’ Not because the end of the world is itself a fantasy but because another fantasy is involved. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. For now, let’s consider what dystopia feels like:
- If you’re poor, people see you as a problem to be removed
- If you get sick or hurt, no one will help you
- Money is valuable, people aren’t
- You’re one of the billions on the bottom the rich guys don’t care about
At this point, viewing dystopia as a fun, entertaining experience says more about you than anything else. The only way you can be entertained by it is by having zero empathy for others’ suffering. But, say that’s not enough for you. Let’s raise the stakes a little …