Our future is pretty bleak. At least, that’s the impression you get watching most popular movies and TV shows these days, or reading most best-selling books, or watching the nightly news, for that matter. With Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror, and too many darkly futuristic Y.A. novels-turned-film-franchises to count, stories about oppressive, dystopian futures are dominating our recreation time. A new article on Literary Hub argues that this may not be a good thing, not just because it’s depressing for us as consumers, but because dystopian fiction has been commodified to the point that it’s no longer as biting, effective, or revolutionary as it was once meant to be.
“In a nation full of political hobbyists, championing dystopian art has become a go-to for those who want to take a political stand without actually doing anything,” writes the article’s author Brady Gerber. He then details the evolution of dystopian fiction from a specific form of political satire to an easily digestible and highly commercialized form of entertainment. The commentary once present in books like 1984 or Gulliver’s Travels has been replaced by entertaining and visually stimulating films like Snowpiercer and Children Of Men. These movies may look great, the argument goes, but they’re not saying much beyond, “We’re all fucked.”
For companies like Hulu and Netflix, taunting audiences with horrific visions of potential futures isn’t about changing anyone’s mind. It’s about getting you to watch a TV show. People don’t generally think of Black Mirror as a warning of where we might be headed as a society but rather as a forgone conclusion that that’s where we’ll end up.
Being a fan of dystopian literature—and literature in general—Gerber doesn’t recommend that we abandon the genre completely. Instead, he suggests balancing our indulgences with some real-world action, if only to help stave off a potential dystopian reality. “[Dystopias] often suggest that it’s up to one protagonist who must defy impossible odds and defeat the bad guys… In real life, progress is the work of many mindful, imperfect people who want to improve their own life and lives of others.”
You can read Literary Hub’s whole article here.