Summary: America’s “can do” optimists have been replaced by a people who love visions of dystopias, and is governed by fears. Look at our hit films, mirrors of our true selves, to see this change. It explains why the reform of America has stalled, and what to watch to see when its time has come.
Excerpt from “The Regrettable Decline of Space Utopias“
by Brianna Rennix in Current Affairs, 11 June 2017.
Rennix is a far-left writer, Harvard Law Class of 2018, and Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record.
“Sadly, utopias are presently out of vogue, as the tedious proliferation of dystopian fiction and disaster films seems to indicate. No genre is safe. “Game of Thrones” is the dystopian reboot of The Lord of the Rings; “House of Cards” is the dystopian reboot of “The West Wing“; “Black Mirror” is the dystopian reboot of “The Twilight Zone“. The slate of previews at every movie theatre has become an indistinguishably sepia-toned effluence of zombies, terrorists, and burnt-out post-apocalyptic hellscapes. Even supposedly light-hearted superhero movies now devote at least 3.5 hours of their running time to the lavishly-rendered destruction of major metropolises.
“There is clearly some deep-seated appeal to these kinds of films …. But my general feeling is that our fondness for dystopian narratives is a pretty nasty indulgence, especially for those of us who live mostly comfortable lives, far-removed from the visceral realities of human suffering. Watching scenes of destruction from the plush chair of a movie theater, or perhaps on our small laptop screen while curled up in bed, heightens our own immediate sense of safety. It numbs us to the grinding, intermittent, inescapable reality of violence in neglected parts of our world, which unmakes whole generations of human beings with terror and dread.
“Immersing ourselves in narratives where 99% of the characters are totally selfish also engrains a kind of fashionable faux-cynicism that feels worldly, but is in fact simply lazy. I say faux-cynicism because I don’t believe that most people who profess to be pessimists truly believe that humanity is doomed, at least not in their lifetimes, or in their particular geographic purviews: if they did, then watching a film that features the drawn-out annihilation of a familiar American landscape would probably make them crap their pants.
“But telling yourself that everything is awful, and nothing can be fixed, is a marvelously expedient way to absolve yourself of personal responsibility. There is, happily, nothing about an apocalyptic worldview that obligates you to give up any of the comforts and conveniences that have accrued to you as a consequence of global injustice; and you get to feel superior to all those tender fools who still believe that a kinder world is possible! It’s a very satisfying form of moral escapism. No wonder our corporate tastemakers have been churning this stuff out.
“And there’s no doubt that it’s often hard to make utopias seem dramatically sophisticated. Star Trek is renowned, even by those who love it, for being campy as hell. Moral tales in general are too often sugary and insubstantial. They’re suitable for kids, or maybe emotionally-stunted adults, but they’re not something to be taken seriously.
“We have come to view utopian narratives as inherently hokey, and preachy. But dystopias are, of course, their own form of preaching; they are preaching another hypothesis about humanity, which, due to moody lighting and oblique dialogue, has an entirely undeserved appearance of profundity, and the illusory farsightedness of a self-fulfilling prophecy. …”
——————– Read the full article! ——————–
This is a brilliant analysis of something I have written much about, as in We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America. Especially important is her description of how dystopias have replaced utopias in our fiction — doubly so in young adult fiction (e.g., The Hunger Games series, Maze Runner series, and the Divergent series). How does this affect our teens’ vision of their future? It cannot be good.
The Boomers’ love of dystopian fiction makes more sense. Our parents were not the “greatest generation”, but their accomplishments were awesome. From them we inherited high cards, which we have squandered. We leave America mired in foreign wars and slow economic growth, politically polarized, with massive government surveillance plus increasingly stringent codes controlling speech and behavior at schools and workplaces. Racial divisions are growing again. Inequality has risen back to peak levels of the Gilded Age.
We leave the Millennials a legacy of failure. We have made dystopia a possible future for America. That’s why we love The Force Awakens.
The first and last Star Trek series reveal our changed taste in futures
In the opening and closing sections of her article (not shown here), she discusses Star Trek as showing a utopian future — inadvertently showing one aspect of our problem. She gives recommendations, the first being “Make utopias popular again.”
“But we’ve seen a thousand narrative iterations of societal collapse: why not write some narratives about societal construction? What would a better world look like, at different stages of its realization — at its inception? Weathering early internal crises? When facing an existential threat? We should put more imagination into thinking about what this could look like, and how to generate emotional investment in the outcome.”
Rennix seems unaware that the original “Star Trek” (TOS) and the last, “Star Trek: Enterprise“, did exactly that. TOS describes the Federation, personalized by Captain Kirk, struggling to put its idealism into practice. Enterprise shows the birth of the Federation.
The three Trek series between these two were of all long duration, and mostly Leftist sermons. As a result Star Trek’s current audience is mostly on the Left (most people growing up in the last two decades have not even seen TOS). People on the Left hate both the first and last series, often passionately. They mock TOS. Perhaps attempting to mollify them, the Studio butchered the dialog when remastering it. They spurned “Enterprise.”
So we return to the original question. Why has American fallen in love with dystopias? Perhaps for the same reason that our leaders attempt to influence us largely through fear (as we see in the campaign to scare up support for policies to fight climate change).
Why do we no longer like stories about the long difficult process of building a better society? Perhaps because that requires work and responsibility for the nation, for the West, for civilization — two words we hate above all things. When that changes — and we enjoy stories about building utopia — perhaps the reform of America will become possible.
For More Information
- Today’s conservative doomster warning (ludicrous but fun) — Paul Craig Roberts sees the End.
- Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.
- Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past.
- Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right.
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.
- A new survey reveals American’s top fears, showing our true selves.
- We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.