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Archive for October 1st, 2011

By Bob Clark

In science-fiction of almost any nationality, the dystopia remains one of the most constant presences. One could say that it’s the common fear of political domination of any ilk, or the shared experiences spread across the globe that render fictions of such unjust regimes as universal axioms, but in a strict narrative sense, there’s a much easier handle for all of these big police states parading about, and keeping the citizenry under their thumb. From a genre perspective, dystopias represent something of a perfect storm for storytellers of any medium– the dystopia represents a near unanimously-agreed upon source of evil and conflict in just about any civilized society one is bound to find an audience in (for the ones that don’t, the work might be counted as a worthy subversive act); the dystopia is both outside the norm of human experience yet frequent enough in history to stand as something more grounded than sheer fantasy; the dystopia has its own specific sets of rules and regulations, the kind that make it easy to tell basic stories of good and evil, right and wrong that modern democracy and the pluralistic cultures it represents are often too ambiguous for.

As such, even in the most high-minded forms of dystopian fiction, there’s always an element of adventurism to be found– the thrill of forbidden romance, the heroism of resistance, the excitement of escapism. It’s as though one were witnessing a piece of propaganda from the other side, the revolutionary manifesto reduced to mythic pulp-fiction, because after all a dystopia in any form represents an attempt by the state to reduce public life to the same kind of spectacle and absolutism one is bound pulp. As such, when we experience dystopian fiction, we’re not just experiencing the revolutionary myth, but the counter-recolutionary legend as well– in the wrong hands, even a stern warning against the evils of power can turn into yet another Machiavellian set of blueprints. One could always do well to wonder if Orwell didn’t predict the proliferation of CCTV and satellite surveillance cameras of the modern day so much as he suggested the notion in the pages of Nineteen Eighty Four, inspiring a generation of subtle domination in the Western world in the same way that scientists and astronauts were pushed into the direction of submarines and rocketships by the works of Jules Verne. If that’s true, one might also wonder what kind of state might find inspiration in a work like Alex Shearer’s book Bootleg, which has gone on to inspire a BBC mini-series, a manga series illustrated by Aiji Yamakawa, and of course an original-net animation, released domestically as a full feature-length anime directed by Takayuki Hamana under the title Chocolate Underground.

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