Saturday, June 23, 2012


I've never been a big fan of dystopian movies like THX 1138 or 1984. I found Fahrenheit 451 to be fairly decent, and Gattaca was actually good, but aside from that, I can't think of any dystopian movies I've enjoyed. Books fair better, but not much. I recently finished Lord of the World, and despite other people telling me that "the end makes it all better" I found it deeply troubling.

I think the thing that turns me off the most is not being able to connect with the characters. Guy Montag, in Fahrenheit 451 appeals to me as he wakes up through the subversive books he reads. Vincent Freeman in Gattaca starts out life as an outcast, because of what he is (or is not). In most other stories the hero is "awoken" by falling in love, which is forbidden. I can't imagine a world where love is forbidden, or people who would live their lives accepting that.

As I said, books fair better and over the past few years I've read a couple of dystopian stories that I must admit I found engaging. The Giver is about a boy named Jonas who, like Montag awakens to find the utopia he lives in isn't. In his world, there is no law against love, just that happiness is more important. You can love all you want as long as you stay happy with it. People who aren't happy are controlled by drug or euthanized when the drugs don't work.

Last Summer I read The Hunger Games, and enjoyed it. There is no doubt that Katniss is living in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. I didn't read the sequels, but I found the writing style and thoughtful background material more interesting than the actual plot, which was simplistic. As Fr. Barron explains in his review of the movie, the world she lives in hearkens back to Rome and many other civilizations. Katniss isn't in a loveless world either. Her motivation is love, and she only struggles against society out of personal interest for her loved ones.

What I find more readable about these stories is that the characters are more believable and more identifiable than most dystopian characters. And the worlds they inhabit are therefore more believable. And that's kind of scary. Because all of the things that make a dystopia (eugenics, euthanasia, lack of privacy, elimination of freedom) are things that we are moving towards at an ever increasing rate, and society is embracing them heartily.

Take the story in the Chicago Sun Times about a controversy over an IVF clinic. The author and readership don't seem to realize that this is a eugenics clinic as much as anything else. Dozens of human beings will be created, allowed to develop until they can be tested, and those who have some defect (possibly caused by the IVF process) or who are the wrong sex or have other "undesirable" criteria will be killed or used for medical experiments. Of the ones implanted, unless some of them die naturally, they will be "reduced" (aka killed) leaving only the "desired" child.

This is the seventh anniversary of Terri Schiavo's murder, but one doesn't even have to look that far. Euthanasia laws abound, and there are papers like "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" by Giubilini1 and Minerva in which they argue that human rights should be based on mental capacity, and those who do not measure up have no right to live.

For lack of privacy check out "Girls Around Me", an iPhone app (which was pulled by the developer). They say they didn't do anything wrong, and I suppose legally they didn't. They use publicly available information from Facebook and Foursquare to show you details about girls who are currently nearby. Who's responsible for this privacy breach? I suppose it is all voluntary, but that doesn't make it right.

Lastly we can talk about freedom. I don't want to beat the HHS mandate story to death, but there it is. There's also a ton of stories about free speech being denied by courts when it doesn't match up with the party line.

Of course, the world isn't as bleak as all that. There are many hopeful signs in the world. But for the first time I'm seeing dystopian stories and reality converge and I don't like it.


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