A dystopia is a community or society, either real or fictional, where most of us would not like to live because it is either undesirable or frightening – the opposite of a utopia. Obviously, there is a certain amount of subjective leeway involved in the definition, as almost any society can be a utopia for some, but a dystopia for others. However, in the real world, there is pretty general agreement that, for vast numbers of people at least, the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Idi Amin’s Uganda and the current North Korea totally fail in the utopia department, and qualify to be described as dystopias.
In fiction, the creation of a dystopia is often used, for example, to warn us of where our politics or use of resources may be leading us, or simply to create a background where the heroes can triumph over the villains. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run and Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games all depict the kind of societies which, although fun for some, are the kind of places where there is serious room for improvement.
Examples of utopian ideals in fiction include Aldous Huxley’s Island, but after remembering that book my mind went blank so after a little research I realised that most books set in fictional Utopias are from antiquity, and don’t seem to be such a popular genre in modern times. To some extent this is not so surprising, as a good story needs that essential element of conflict, followed up by some kind of resolution. Perhaps in a utopia the greatest conflict might be boredom, but then it wouldn’t be utopia any more.
Finally, as regards a utopia on Earth, I think even the most beautiful places are only a utopia for some, or for some time. The palm-fringed beach-side property on the friendly Caribbean island, most people’s idea of heaven on earth, is still a worrying place; the possibilities of hurricanes, tsunamis or human aggression are always there, and many rich people in beautiful places have to live behind protective walls. However, a utopia is a fine goal and if we all pitch in and try to make our own societies a little more utopian, then surely that is a step in the right direction?
What, for you, is your most glaring example of a dystopia, and your next-best thing to utopia? I’d love to hear your feedback on this.