Presidential elections signal many changes ahead for a country but no one really knows what those changes may lead to. This can instill many emotions amongst people. Hope and joy for the winning party and a whole range of negative emotions like fear, anger, unease in the losing party. There was confusion in 2000 when George W. Bush won the election. The race was exceptionally close and there were fears over voter fraud, miscounted and missing votes which in turn lead to a recount. Then in 2008 when Barak Obama was elected there were questions of his birth certificate and media bias. Conservatives feared a liberal in the office and likened it to the apocalypse. Now 8 years later, it’s the liberals’ turn for crying apocalypse and doom and gloom for the world.
Whatever your political beliefs there is one thing that we can all agree on: in times of uncertainty and crisis, imaginations run rampant, and the arts and entertainment flourish. Saturday Night Live gets new fodder and so do other political satire shows. Like this 2008 South Park episode or the return of Jon Stewart after President Trump won the Republican nomination.
Beyond television, a new trend has emerged: the utopian-dystopian book genre. After the 2017 inauguration, books your English teachers made you read in school have become popular again in such a way that classics are reemerging on the Amazon and New York Times bestsellers lists. George Orwell’s 1984 actually sold out on Amazon, and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen here has seen a resurgence.
Dystopian work has always had its place in literature. It is an extremely popular genre among YA audiences. The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner are recent popular series amongst teens and adults and come complete with movie adaptations. I was first introduced to the genre when I read the Giver in grade school and it has remained one of my favorite genres to this day.
So what is dystopian? You could argue it’s the antithesis of a utopian society where everything is in harmony and peaceful. Thomas More in the 16th century wrote his Utopia as a response to the renaissance humanism movement in Europe at the time. Plato’s Atlantis also depicts a well-crafted, ideal society. So while utopia is the ideal, dystopia is opposite. They usually portray politics and society negatively, and try to convey a warning that, if you’re not careful, this really could happen. Another popular aspect of dystopian fiction is the rise of unfavorable power after an apocalyptic event.
Often, books aren’t one or the other and authors mix utopian and dystopian elements in creating their societies. After all, the society or political power in question must have originated with a seemingly good idea, and it would have taken the work of many believers to implement. Only time will tell what kind of dystopian writing will emerge from today’s events.
If you can’t get your hands on a copy of 1984, here is a short list of other books in and around the genre that I personally love.
- The Giver, Lois Lowery: “In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy.”
- The Man In the High Castle, Philip K Dick: “It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. the few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war–and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.”
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: “Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.”
- Brave New World, Aldous Huxley: “Community, Identity, Stability” is the motto of Aldous Huxley’s utopian World State. Here everyone consumes daily grams of soma to fight depression, babies are born in laboratories, and the most popular form of entertainment is a “Feelie,” a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch.”
- The Bar Code Tattoo, Suzanne Weyn: Individuality vs. conformity. Identity vs. access. Freedom vs. control. The bar code tattoo: everybody’s getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity. But what if you say no? What if you don’t want to become a code?
Jennifer Crawford, MLIS
Marketing Librarian for Access Innovations, Inc.