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janbb's avatar

Is there still a need for dystopian fiction - or are we living it?

Asked by janbb (62852points) 1 month ago

This question is sparked by my starting to read Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower which was written in the 70s or 80s but starts in 2024. In it, she creates a world with scarce resources where people with some means huddle behind walls until they are killed, robbed or raped by the poor who live outside. I had to put it down.

This morning, I was reading a review of Kate Winslet’s new HBO show, The Regime which is supposed to be a comic take on a fascist European regime.

Personally, these days I am reading and watching for beauty and enjoyment.

What do you think?

Putting this in Social but posts that veer too far off will be flagged.

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18 Answers

jca2's avatar

I don’t really read much fiction like that, but lately I’ve been thinking that the Republicans will be happy when the country turns into “Hunger Games” where the poor are existing in a gray, dismal existence, starving for a piece of burned bread, and the rich are in colorful enclaves with bounties of food, banquets, fabulousness.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I have long worried that the prevalence of dystopian fiction, especially in movies & TV (because they have the widest audiences, though may video games belong there, too) instills nihilism in people. In short, they may be self-fulfilling prophecies.

It would be interesting to see an academic study testing that. My suspicion is that in the USA, the current mainstream right-wing hatred of democracy, civil rights, the press, and most of their fellow Americans is a sociopathy with a root in dystopian fiction. Conservative leaders have exploited that kernel, stoking fear and distrust among right-leaning voters, keeping them stirred up, angry and eager to cheer any efforts to burn down civil society.

canidmajor's avatar

I love love love Octavia Butler, but I have been unable to bring myself to read the Parable stories, for just this reason. I heard a term once (wish I could remember where), “softpocalypse”, which I believe describes what we are going through now, globally. The slow erosion of resources, ecosystems, freedoms, civility, and basic humanity.

I can’t read dystopian fiction anymore, or military thrillers, or, in fact, anything that is violence based. The genre used to be interesting to me, when I felt that it was mostly imagination fueled and not a realistic near-future projection. I liked reading about how resourceful people would cope and build communities, how the valued members were the ones who brought skills to the table and not weapons.

I mostly read gentler things, now, or far future science fiction set around other stars. I stay informed of current happenings and that is beyond enough strife for me.

janbb's avatar

@canidmajor GA. I’m with you. I loved Kindred by her but I cannot read this one or anything similar.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay You raise an interesting idea. I don’t think the current state of affairs is due to consumption of dystopian media. Instead, I think it can be directly tied to the rise of the religious right and their entrance into politics especially beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan. These are people who have invented a god who is just as selfish and mean-spirited as they are. Since god is on their side, all others are evil and must be destroyed.

I am more optimistic about things than can be found on the news or in much of the media at large. I believe the best indicator of future elections, for instance, is past ones. Last year’s elections went very well for causes that I care about in places where it matters.

I think dystopian fiction rises from a central evolutionary need to prepare for disaster or hardship. We are made to be pessimistic in order to anticipate fighting sabretooth tigers. The natural state of human beings is worried. I choose otherwise by carefully limiting my news intake to very trusted, non-sensational sources. US media is very sensational. After all, it’s in their interest to keep us scared and tuned in to watch their advertisements and make money for them.

MrGrimm888's avatar

It’s important to see as many examples of society crumbling as possible. When you watch “The Walking Dead,” you should be taking notes.
The zombies really aren’t the problem. The problem, is what happens when there is lawlessness.

seawulf575's avatar

I believe many of the issues we have these days are because of overpopulation in the world. The more people we have, the crazier it gets. And looking at the farming issues in the world, it isn’t going to be long before there just isn’t any food to feed people. Dystopian? Sure.

Doomsday Preppers are those people that are looking for the end of society as we know it. Not really looking forward to it, but trying to get ready for it. The fact that there is a whole industry around this sort of thing should be evidence enough that many, many people believe it is coming.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Population density, is typically the problem. Most humans are crammed into the minority of the available land. Mostly by waterways.

I hate the phrase “wealth distribution,” but there are plenty of resources for even more people.

Going back to the Mayans, and Romans, there is a tipping point where only a tiny fraction of the population has all of the control because of the greed of the elite. So far. This always results in a public uprising. Or, destruction of the oppressors by the majority.

I used to sell firearms, when I also sold kayaks at a couple big named sporting goods stores.

Gun sales, are like a volatile stock market. Every time something bad happens, people buy firearms and ammunition.

After Sandy Hook, we couldn’t keep ARs of any make in stock.
People who never even held a gun, were buying AR-15 platforms, and bulk ammunition.

We used to sell lots of portable camping heaters, every time a winter storm hit.

We sold tons of flashlights, and water filtration every time a hurricane was close.

I guess what I’m saying is, this is getting worse by the day.

I personally like to have a few hundred rounds, for each firearm I own.
To some, that’s way too much.
To others, way too little.

There ARE American people, who cannot sleep without 50,000 rounds under their bed.

The overall state of most of humanity is very poor.
Desperate.
Desperation, leads to all sorts of problems.

seawulf575's avatar

^I’m with you about the amount of ammo I have. I think people that have thousands and thousands of rounds aren’t thinking clearly. Unless you are thinking of using it as barter if society crashes, you could never use that much ammo. It’s a waste. And honestly, there are better things to have as barter.

janbb's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Sorry but the topic is dystopian fiction and this is too far off it. Let’s stick to reading dystopian novels please. You can ask your own question.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m cheating a little here, but I used to watch all the dystopian movies I could get my hands on, but now I have little interest, and it is absolutely because I feel like I’m living in one.

MrGrimm888's avatar

@janbb For there to be a future, there needs to be a past.
If there is a Dystopian future, or we are currently in it, you don’t see firearms as a leading variable in how this could happen?

You start your q speaking about Dystopian futures, but you end by talking about preferring beauty, and enjoyment.

I will mention two novels.

“Alas Babylon,” and “One Second After.”
Both cover the subject. Although they are based in different times.
The status of society, in regards to “prepers, survivalists, gangs, etc ” is an integral factor in what would cause a society to break down. A lawless nation, full of firearms, seems like a recipe for dystopia.

No worries though, I’ll stop following.

LifeQuestioner's avatar

I may be the odd one out, but I still like to read dystopian fiction and watch dystopian movies. But typically the ones I watch are where much further along. Think, Soylent Green, The walking Dead, The Last of Us, etc.

Things are looking worse and worse, but we’re nowhere near those scenarios yet. But I’ve always liked survival stories, even when I was a kid. I like those stories where somehow the kid gets left by themselves and has to figure out how to survive. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a kid but those were the ones I read when I was young.

I like it because it makes me think what I would do in that situation. And that makes for interesting food for thought and often conversation if somebody else’s reading the same book or watching the same show.

seawulf575's avatar

@LifeQuestioner I have always thought this world could use a good Zombie Apocalypse.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting Q.

I was in a meeting two weeks ago and someone brought up that there is something in humans that we want to watch the train wreck and see the damage and people suffering. I have never been one of those people, although I do like sci fi and futuristic types of stories.

I think dystopian fiction will still be popular, especially among those who don’t spend 8 hours a day consuming and talking about politics or obsessing about everything that can go wrong in society or even just day to day life. Plenty of people are fairly oblivious to the state of the country and world and just are getting through each work day and playing with their kids at night.

I like when dystopian stories have strong elements of science and truth and not too disastrous, but I definitely prefer a more utopian theme, sometimes the two are combined.

My guess is young people are more attracted to the genre, but that’s just a guess.

flutherother's avatar

I like dystopian fiction because I am not living it. The thrill comes from discovering dreadful, previously unexplored worlds but keeping them at a reasonably safe distance where they can do no actual harm.

I don’t like gratuitous nastiness in real life and I don’t like it in fiction either but at least you can close a book and refuse to read further an option not always available in real life.

Forever_Free's avatar

Madonna’s new song proves it:

Some call me a digital queen
In a world where screens reign supreme
Every click, every byte, every dream
In this dystopian machine

(Chorus)
‘Cause we are living in a dystopian world
And I am a digital girl
You know that data’s all we need
In this cybernetic creed

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