Fate Inc.

By: Allison Akers

“Do you really have to babysit me?” Ben slammed the door to his fluorescent orange sports car, watching as Lark slicked back his hair in the sun visor mirror. He had hoped the location alone would get Lark off his back. A dingy place called “Sam’s Diner” in the middle of nowhere-Oregon was beneath the corporate offices and yachts Lark was used to, not to mention they’d driven two and a half hours to meet Ben’s client. Under normal circumstances, he supposed it would be enough to send Lark packing.

No such luck today.

“I wouldn’t have to, if Their Majesties could trust you,” Lark said, finally stepping out and cracking his back. A silver briefcase swung by his side. “You haven’t had a successful deal in months.”

“So? I’ve been in a funk.”

Lark narrowed his eyes. He slammed the passenger side door, wrinkled his nose at Ben’s car, and led them inside the diner. A bell jingled overhead as they walked in, alerting a waitress nearby. She scurried over to them.

“How may I…” The waitress fumbled, seeing the silver briefcase and its infinity symbol. Lark’s grip tightened on the case and jerked his head to one side. The waitress hurried off. 

At a table towards the back of the diner, Ben noticed a stout, middle-aged woman staring at them: his client. Before Ben could take his eyes away, suggest maybe she’d cancelled their appointment, Lark noticed her and elbowed Ben, who gritted his teeth. They walked to the woman’s table and slid into the booth across from the her with Lark boxing in Ben. The cushion underneath them crumpled like rotten Styrofoam. 

“Mrs. Caroline Collins?” Lark asked, cracking a smile.

“That’s me,” she said. Caroline’s eyes flitted between the two of them, like she was watching a game of ping-pong. She pulled a mug of coffee closer. Ben noticed her right hand had a grayish tint. “I didn’t know there would be two of you. Or—is he human?” She nodded at Ben.

Ben took that question with a bit of pride. He’d worked hard to make his human disguise approachable. He certainly didn’t look like a lawyer with a stick up his ass like Lark. He tried to go with an average, college-guy approach; it helped keep attention off him and protected the people around him. One look at his or Lark’s true forms would send any mortal into cardiac arrest, and while Lark would find that funny, Ben wouldn’t.

Lark put his arm around Ben, clapping his shoulder and chuckling, “No, Ben’s all Fate. Served under The Royal Three with me before Ancient Greece, if you can believe it. I decided to tag along and keep him company. I’ll let him take over from here.” 

Ben felt needle points pressing into his skin from Lark’s nails. He forced a smile and shook Caroline’s hand. “Benjamin Porter, Fate Incorporated. Bending time and space since 2002 for your wildest dreams to come true. What can I help you with today, Mrs. Collins?”

Caroline raised her coffee mug to her lips. It clattered on the table as she set it down. “My son—he was hit by a car a week ago—” Tears welled in her eyes and she wiped them on her jacket’s sleeve. Lark expertly took a packet of tissues from his pocket and offered one to her. Ben tried to ignore the way his coworker’s eyes glittered and how the corners of his mouth twitched. Caroline didn’t notice and continued, “He’s been comatose since. Is there anything you can do?”

“Well, yes,” Ben started, “But he might recover on his own.”

“Might being the key word,” Lark said. He shared a look with Ben, one that said Ben better keep his thoughts to himself and stick with the script. Fate Inc. wasn’t a charity. The Royal Three and their subjects had a job to do, an order to keep each time humans asked them to tinker with time. Fates selected favorable individuals in their good graces, who made the most persuasive appeals—so they said. “Why don’t you take a look at her threads?” Lark set the briefcase on the table and clicked open the locks. He slid it over to Ben, who suppressed a sigh and opened it.

Inside was a mirror-like surface with strands of white, glowing tendrils writhing across it. The other diner patrons noticed the radiating light of the suitcase and stared at Ben like he had a million-dollar check. It was a desperation and hunger he’d seen around the world, wherever he or other Fates went. It broke his heart. Still, he wasn’t about to let Lark know that, so he kept his face expressionless. The human-like covering for his eyes sizzled off to reveal fiery, silver stars, and matching claws pushed through the tips of his fingers. Ben delicately lifted one of the white strands from the mirror. Lark and Caroline studied it.

“Well, what do you see?” Lark asked.

Ben shook his head. He wished he was lying. “Your son won’t make it, Mrs. Collins. Not in the current timeline.”

“But you can fix it,” Caroline pressed.

“For a price.” Lark peered over his nose at Caroline’s stiff, gray hand before taking it in his own. “Hm. This is unnatural paralysis. You’ve been a client with us before?” 

Caroline nodded, although she kept her gaze fixed on the table. “To keep my marriage together.”

“Fancy that. This looks like Lux’s work. Don’t you think, Ben?”

Ben nodded. 

Lark turned over Caroline’s hand a few times. He patted it. “I’m afraid a life is going to cost more than a bad marriage, Mrs. Collins. Let’s say—to restore your son’s health with no side effects—terminal cancer for yourself?” Caroline gasped and Ben glanced at Lark. The pupils of Lark’s eyes rippled silver. “What do you think, Ben? Fair trade?”

Caroline turned her attention to Ben. She had clasped her good hand on top of her bad one, as if praying for a second opinion. If Lark wasn’t here, Ben would have given her a stubbed toe or even a free pass in exchange.

But both their necks were on the line. And Ben wasn’t about to lose his.

He nodded.

Lark continued, “I’m sorry it has to be this way, Mrs. Collins. Do we still have a deal?” Caroline, tears streaming down her face, nodded. “Get to it, Ben.”

Ben gathered the strands of time between his claws, snipping and rewiring them. Each strand offered glimpses of strangers, births, deaths—all affected by saving Caroline’s son. Ben tried not to think about it. The problems he caused others by reworking the timeline just meant more work for Fates. More lives to toy with. To destroy.   

Ben took the cancer thread, hesitating for a moment before he fused it to another. He hoped Lark wouldn’t check the threads. He did give Caroline cancer, but not until she was ninety. They’d never specified a time frame. Ben couldn’t be faulted for that.

He hoped.

When he was done, Ben retracted his claws and his eyes changed back to their human appearance. He and Lark gave some last, consoling words to Caroline and exited the diner after Lark had passed out his business card to curious patrons. Ben had already tossed the briefcase in the backseat when Lark stepped out of the diner, letting the screen door clatter behind him.

“I see why you like the little cases, Ben. Not quite as thrilling as toppling governments and rigging elections—” Lark grinned, letting Ben see the rows of his razor-like teeth. “—but certainly more personal.”

“I guess.”

“They’re so gullible.” Lark leaned over and rested his arms on the hood of Ben’s car. “It’s like slow-boiling frogs. They don’t know they’re dead until it’s too late.”

Ben clenched the car door handle, his claws scratching the paint. He flinched and retracted them quickly.

Lark locked eyes with him. “Careful.”

“Lark—” Ben started. His throat closed and he looked towards the diner, to Caroline crying inside, and then to the forest behind him. He wondered if he could run for it. Or teleport. Be anywhere except here and on this miserable planet doing this miserable job. He stepped back from the car and Lark raised himself slightly. They gazed at each other. Lark shook his head almost imperceptibly. 

No matter that wide, worried look in Lark’s eyes, he’d catch Ben if he ran. Kill him.

Ben put his head in his hand.

“If we keep this up, there won’t be so many of them in a few years,” Lark tried. He lowered his voice, “We’ll be able to take off our disguises. Live on Earth peacefully. Alone. You’ll like that, right?”

Ben didn’t reply. He smiled and hoped that was enough.

Seemingly satisfied, Lark drummed his hands twice on the car roof and smiled back. “Let’s get to the next one. At least when I’m in your car I don’t have to look at its obnoxious color.” He hopped into the passenger’s seat and Ben climbed in the driver’s side. 

They sped off.

Fantastic Utopias and Where You Cannot Find Them

By: Troi Watts

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces Harry Potter fans to a very different kind of magical world. Where the British magical community depicted in the Harry Potter series was living confidently, almost in harmony with the non-magical world, the American magical community lives in fear. They fear that if the American non-magical world discovers them, there would be war. This fear has not only separated the magical community from the rest of society but has also led to the creation of a dystopia for Credence Barebone, a young boy who possesses magical abilities. Credence lives in the non-magical world, under the thumb of his abusive adopted mother, Mary Lou. Mary Lou, an anti-magic activist, has abused Credence to the point of suppressing his magical abilities, resulting in the creation of Credence’s Obscurus.  

Image via IMDb

An Obscurus is formed when a child tries to “suppress their magic to avoid persecution” (1:04:16). Credence has suppressed his magic due to the hostile, anti-magic environment he lives in with Mary Lou. His Obscurus manifests as an “unstable, uncontrollable dark force that busts out and attacks. And then vanishes” (1:04:30). Credence is aware of his Obscurus but is unable to control or understand it, and as a result, Credence is frightened and lost. The only thing that seems to keep Credence from crumbling under the weight of this dystopia is his hope that the magical world will be a utopia. To Credence, the American magical world is a place of acceptance, where he can practice and learn to control his magical abilities in peace. Unfortunately, that utopian dream is broken when the magical community also rejects Credence because of his Obscurus. The actions of his Obscurus – the murder of innocent people, the destruction of New York City – risk exposing the magical world. This leaves Credence stuck between two dystopias, which begs the question, what happens when you have no hope of finding a utopia? Credence’s experience complicates this question further by asking, what happens when multiple utopias exist, but you have no hope of joining them because of their exclusivity?

Credence responds to his non-magical dystopia by being quiet and reserved. He lacks individuality, choosing instead to simply follow Mary Lou’s instructions. However, this allows Mr. Graves, a wizard, to take advantage of Credence by promising him a place in the magical world in exchange for help finding the Obscurus. What Credence does not know is that Mr. Graves is actually Grindelwald, a magical elitist and terrorist, who hopes to harness the Obscurus’s power as a weapon against the non-magical world. Also, Grindelwald does not realize that Credence is the Obscurus – as Obscurials typically do not live past the age of ten as their magical powers become overwhelming – instead believing that Credence’s younger sister is the Obscurus, as she has also suffered from Mary Lou’s anti-magic abuse. By promising Credence acceptance into the perceived magical utopia, Grindelwald is suggesting that this utopia is open to all, whether or not they possess magical abilities. Credence’s naivety to the fact that it is actually an exclusive utopia, needing its citizens to meet specific requirements, is part of the reason he has such a violent reaction when Grindelwald reveals that he is a Squib – someone who comes from a magical family but has no magical ability of their own. This reveals the fact that Grindelwald, then, will be unable to teach Credence magic, as he promised, implying that Credence will never be fully accepted in the magical world. Grindelwald’s proclamation also reveals that entry into the magical utopia is limited to 1) those with their own magical ability and 2) those that can control their magical ability in a way that keeps the magical world hidden from the rest of society. This revelation, paired with Grindelwald’s harsh words, “I’m done with you,” visibly crush Credence, sending him into a spiral that releases his Obscurus and seals his fate with the magical world (1:34:53). With all of the destruction and consequential attention on the magical world, the leaders of the magical world would never be willing to give Credence an opportunity to adhere to their conditions of citizenship. 

In the final scenes of the film, Credence is an outcast. He does not belong to the non-magical world nor the magical world. He is adrift with no hope of finding a utopia. He responds to this by going on a violent rampage, lashing out at Grindelwald and anyone who tries to help him. When an individual like Credence Barebone is left without the hope of a utopia, it threatens all perceived utopias. Credence’s journey to be free from dystopia is still developing in the Fantastic Beasts series, but utopian scholars can look to him as an example of the consequences of exclusive utopias.

References:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Directed by David Yates, performances by Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Colin Farrell, and Ezra Miller, Warner Brothers, 2016.

Hunting Trip

By: Jacob Garrett

My finger is twitching on the trigger as I struggle to hold my rifle steady. A rogue drop of sweat is rolling down my forehead, creeping across the bridge of my nose, trying to see how far it can get before driving me insane.  My fingers are itching to leap up and scratch it away, to fling the offensive salt water as far from my face as possible, but I can’t let the man in the black suit out of my crosshairs.  He doesn’t know I’m watching him; he doesn’t even know for sure that I live here anymore. If my name is still out there, it’s only a brief mention in a registry somewhere, maybe some old letter to my sister that they made a copy of at the post office.  I know they looked at those letters; at least twice when letters came back from her, the glue on the envelope had already been unsealed.

I can tell that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for; the path that he’s on looks almost like a deer trail rather than a road to someone’s home, and he’s still too far away to see any signs of my house.  He doesn’t look annoyed yet, but I can see stirrings of frustration underneath the frozen ocean of his eyes.  Some part of his reptilian brain is longing to wrinkle up his face in disgust and cringe at the effusion of nature.  His focus is too narrow to appreciate the utopian beauty around him. The intricacies of birdsong, the flashes of late afternoon sunlight on the exoskeletons of rambling hornets, the tips of wild grass sliding between pants and socks to tickle the skin beneath; these were all dead, white noise to those red, curled ears.  Where the wind would normally slink its invisible fingers through my hair, sliding through its waves and twirling it about my head, his refuses to move, stiff and solid with so many layers of gel that it might as well be made of bone.  The sun glints off of his hairdo like it’s made of steel spikes.

His obsidian uniform, as black as the oil percolating under his feet, almost seems to suck the light out of the air around him; any life that comes within a few feet of that fabric falls into a pit of darkness from which it can never escape.  I imagine a bullet from my rifle flying through his jacket and disappearing into whatever hell he scurried out from, coursing through a pitch-dark abyss filled with the chirpings and hisses of cockroaches and crickets, doing nothing but telling the computer inside his head where to find the man for whom he’s looking.  I keep the crosshairs of my scope trained on his temples as he strolls across the twig- and pebble-strewn soil, waiting for my hands to stop shaking.  The bead of insufferable sweat has dropped off my nose already, but my digits still aren’t calm enough to take the shot.  Even though I’ve been living out here for seven years, I’m still not used to taking a man’s life.

He freezes in place, his feet coming together with perfect synchronicity.  He looks to his left, gazing through the pines on the mountainside, looking for something that had caught his attention. If there was any time to do it, this was the best I would get.  I take a deep breath, willing my arms to stop trembling, and recenter my crosshairs, aiming just below the cusp of his shellacked helm of hair.  I pull in another gulp of air and feel the blood vessels in my ears longing to burst as I pull the trigger.  For a fraction of a second, his scanning eyes happen upon where I sit in the tree, and, as the bullet connects with his skull, I swear that those eyes, already so dead and cold, are staring directly into mine. Then his body is on the ground and they’re pointing at the sky.

I let the gun slide out of my sweat-slick hands onto the floor of my blind and collapse against the wall, gasping for air, my heart beating its fists against the cage of my chest.  My hands are shaking again as I pull them to my chest, this time with enough violence to rattle the zipper of my jacket.  I raise my legs to hold them in place, chilling perspiration already soaking through the denim of my jeans, and lower my head to envelop my eyes in darkness. I don’t know how long I sit there, trying to keep the tears from leaving my eyes, feeling as though everything inside of my abdomen was about to make an escape through my throat, but when I finally raise my head again, the light has turned to the burnt orange of sunset.  I sit still for a few moments, drinking in the cool twilight breeze, before I crouch on shaking knees, pull up the trap door in the floor of the blind, and begin to crawl down the ladder.

When I reach the ground, I realize that it’s darker than I initially thought; the sun has fallen behind the clouds, draping the trees in blankets of shadow.  I creep through the sparse bushes on the mountainside, trying to be as quiet as possible on my stiff, ungainly legs, as I look everywhere around me but at the body on the road.  A caterpillar covered in fur creeps across the leaf of a tree above him, inching its way toward a deadly overhang.  Ants scatter around the soles of my boots, fleeing before the stride of the unknowable god above.  The grasses and branches dance in the wind, scraping through the atmosphere and reaching to grab me by the coat, the hair, the boots, longing to pull me into the forest that I’ve made my home.  There’s a Gothic beauty to the trees tonight; the valley that’s normally the picture of idyllic natural bliss now looks as though it jumped from the ink of the pens of Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe.

I push through the branches and emerge on the trail, where the man in the suit still lies.  Now that I’m closer to the body, all the details that had looked so formidable before now seem so neutral, so harmless: his suit is just cheap linen spotted with blood and sprinklings of dust; the gleaming spikes of his hair are nothing but the crunchy remains of a scalp destroyed by hair products and gunfire.  I shuffle toward him, just now realizing that I left my gun back in the blind, and hope that he doesn’t reach up and seize my throat, even though I can clearly see the exit wound on his head still leaking thick, syrupy blood onto the ground.  I slide my hand out and pull back his jacket, revealing the sneering black pistol on his hip. I was right; he was coming here to kill me.  I reach inside the left pocket of his jacket and feel the smooth give of leather. When I pull it out, his wallet looks as dull and dead as his eyes in the growing darkness.  I flip it open.  Out of the dilapidated flaps spills a myriad of photos in plastic sleeves, all depicting the man with a woman of his own age and a boy that looked to be of varying ages from infancy to seven.

I feel my throat close a bit.  This is the third one with kids.

As I toss the wallet on the ground beside him, straightening up and turning away as a sob pushes out of my lungs, a burst of air caresses my skin, reminding me why I’m standing here on the road over the dead body of a murderous father. I breathe in, relishing the taste of the woods around me.  Walk twenty miles in any direction and the crisp, moist aroma filling my lungs would be replaced by noxious, gagging exhaust; the chirping of birds and buzzing of wasps would give way to churning hydraulics and clanging drills.  The government won’t protect the land anymore; I’m the only one who can protect it from those who would do anything to pull the crude underground lake below me to the surface.  As I breathe, I take into myself the spirit and the power of the natural utopia that I’m fighting to preserve.  Then, opening my eyes once more, my hands and my legs steady as car antennae, I turn around and set about cleaning up my mess.

Unviewable, Inaudible, Unspeakable Evils: An examination of sensory deprivation in dystopian films like “Bird Box”

By: Kylie Poling

See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. Thought to originate during the 17th century, this proverb has evolved to encompass several meanings, including a warning for those who remain ignorant to evil and even as a code of silence among groups. The phrase can be used in sinister, mysterious ways to elicit fear, such as in horror or thriller movies and even in real life. During World War II, the following billboard was put up near the laboratory used for the Manhattan Project: 

Image via Google Images

The U.S. government maintained a strict code of silence regarding the infamous Manhattan Project, its methodology and goals kept a national secret. In short, the Manhattan Project was something to fear. The government made it something to fear and propagandized those who knew of it using fear.

One way to cultivate fear as it relates to the proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” is to create sensory deprivation. In recent years, several thriller films have created worlds which oppress the senses of characters, eliciting a sense of anxiety among viewers. 

In 2016, Netflix debuted the film Hush, a slasher film following Emily, a writer who is deaf, as she is stalked by a murderer outside her house. At one point, viewers watch helplessly as Emily’s neighbor shows up on Emily’s doorstep, banging on the door and screaming, until she is murdered. Though the film is not set in a dystopian society, it manages to create the same sense of unease and suspense often present in dystopian works. 

Similarly, the 2018 film A Quiet Place, directed by John Krasinski, deals with the deprivation of sound. A Quiet Place is a dystopic take on sensory deprivation. Extraterrestrial beings hunt human survivors in a post-apocalyptic world assisted by their extra sensitive hearing. To survive, humans must remain silent. Audiences are intrigued by the obstacles these characters must face, as they are denied access to senses that most take for granted. How do you combat evil when you cannot hear it or speak of it? Parts of the film are completely silent, restricting viewers’ abilities to listen to background noise and character dialogue. Audiences are subjected to the exact same sensory deprivation experienced by the characters they are viewing, contributing to the suspense factor of these films and making them more effectively unsettling.

Likewise, how do you combat evil when you cannot see it? Bird Box, debuted in 2019 among the latest releases of Netflix original films, presents a dystopian future invaded by monsters. Once you look at the monsters, you are uncontrollably compelled to make yourself die in one way or another. The movie’s main character, Mallorie, portrayed by Sandra Bullock, must take two children to a safe haven of sorts, all while blindfolded when outside. 

Bird Box presents an important look at dystopian society because it offers perspective on many tropes present throughout dystopian literature and films. Some ideas present in dystopian works include riotous groups, which in Bird Box is shown as people who are somehow immune to the monsters’ compulsion but suffer from a warped sense of reality. Additionally, maintaining the in-group is emphasized and new membership into the group is repressed while all outside communication is done underground via radio signals. Those still alive lose a large portion of their identity for the sake of survival. Meanwhile, the main characters lust after a proclaimed safe haven at some undisclosed location that they have no proof of actually existing. To survive on the journey to said safe haven, people raid abandoned houses for necessities such as food and clothes. These ideas are often present as part of a dystopian society, rendering Bird Box to be the latest to fit this particular mold.

What makes Bird Box so enticing to viewers is that it alters and questions reality. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that inside of the house the characters are able to look freely, so long as all windows and cracks are covered. Peeking through the blinds, though, could prove fatal. The fascination and curiosity to look is present among several characters at the beginning of the film, resulting in them taking their own lives.

Most people rely on sight to survive. Sight is a part of human nature that is not consciously used; rather, it is just used. Even if eyes are closed, people are usually still able to use their imagination via images they have already seen. When sight is taken away, it has noticeable effects on the human psyche. 

Conversely, some may argue that sensory deprivation can have positive effects. Sensory deprivation tanks, referred to as float tanks, can have calming effects on some people. The tanks allow a person to float in buoyant water that is submerged in absolute darkness with complete silence. For others, however, data conclusively supports that even brief periods submerged in float tanks can induce hallucinations and psychotic episodes among even low-risk people.

While Bird Box only deprives characters of sight while outside, it purports that humans are inherently reliant upon their senses. When those senses are unavailable, it aggravates the paranoia and anxiety already present in dystopian worlds. 

In dystopias evil is everywhere, whether you can see it, hear it, speak of it—or not.

References:

Christina Daniel and Oliver J. Mason, “Predicting Psychotic-Like Experiences during Sensory Deprivation,” BioMed Research International, vol. 2015, Article ID 439379, 10 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/439379.

The Prison Utopia

By: Marlee Jacocks

Image via Google Images

The existence of a prison within a utopian society seems entirely contradictory, yet prisons become a source of fascination for Anarres’ children in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1974 novel The Dispossessed. The utopian society is portrayed through the eyes of Shevek, a physicist who lives onthe planet Anarres. In a flashback scene, Shevek reveals the details of “the prison scene” found in Le Guin’s ambiguous utopia. While learning about the history of their neighboring planet, Urras, Shevek and his fellow classmates hear about prisons for the first time, and they quickly become engrossed with the concept. This interest prompts Shevek and others to create their own prison and act as guards and prisoners to better understand this system that does not exist on their planet. Adding to the shocking inclusion of this prison in a utopia, is the scene’s stark similarity to Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo’s psychological experiment with young adult men was intended to simulate the prison experience from the perspective of both guardsand prisoners. The fictional scene from The Dispossessed strongly reflects the Zimbardo psychological experiment in its critique of the treatment of prisoners, specifically the violation of their basic human rights.

​On the planet Anarres in The Dispossessed, there are no physical prisons nor are there any laws to break or rights to violate. So, when the protagonist, Shevek, and his friend, Tirin, first learn about the concept of a prison in school, they are naturally curious, as most 11-12-year-old boys would be. Their situation is quite different from boys on the neighboring planet, Urras, where prisons do exist. In order for Shevek and Tirin to fully grasp this concept of a prison they must immerse themselves in the actual scenario. Thus, Shevek and Tirin, with a few of their friends, make their own homemade prison below their Learning Center by closing off a small cement alcove with a large rock. There is just one entrance to this cave, and it can only be opened from the outside of what the boys determine to be the prisoner’s cell. One boy volunteers as the first prisoner, subjecting himself to four hours of imprisonment. After these four hours, the power begins to grip Shevek and Tirin as they pressure their prisoner and challenge him to re-enter the cell for an undisclosed time period, which he agrees to do. When they decide to release their captive after a total of 30 hours, Shevek and Tirin find him “laying on the ground, curled up on his side” and when he stepped out, “the smell that came out with him was unbelievable” (Le Guin 40). The boy suffered from diarrhea and was forced to defecate in his own prison cell. This physical response to imprisonment reflects the much larger psychological ramifications of imprisonment, even in what, to most readers, might seem like a relatively short confinement. 

Image via PrisonExp.org

​While this account from Le Guin is fictional, the details ring true from the report of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. From a pool of volunteers, nine prisoners and nine guards were chosen at random. Prisoners were treated to the entire process of being arrested on mock charges. They were handcuffed by a police officer, taken to the police station, and finally brought to the makeshift jail put together in the basement of a Stanford academic building. Guards were given little to no directions or training on how to be guards, rather they were just told to keep law and order within the prison. The experiment then unfolded as the guards and prisoners fell into their roles – a little too well. Rebellions soon broke out among the prisoners as they attempted to exercise any little control and freedom they had left; however, the guards quickly turned abusive and sadistic as they tried to instill law and order. 

​What was intended to be a 2-week long study ended after six intense and tumultuous days due to the unnecessary amounts of emotional and physical trauma the prisoners underwent. Not only did the experiment volunteers take their roles too far, but the researchers did as well. They were unable to recognize the ethical and moral violations until outside researchers were brought in and began asking questions. While the Stanford Prison Experiment and its results have received widespread attention, it becomes even more illuminating when considering the context in parallel to Le Guin’s prison scene. As Tirin falls into his role, much like the guards of Zimbardo’s experiment fell into theirs, Tirin tells their prisoner before the second round of confinement, “You can’t ask why. Because if you do we can beat you, and you just have to take it, and nobody will help you. Because we can kick you in the balls and you can’t kick back. Because you are not free” (Le Guin 38). 

​The Stanford Prison Experiment made waves that rippled through the field of psychology and the results elicited a loud call for prison reform. But this call has fallen on deaf ears as incarceration rates throughout the United States have doubled since the 1971 experiment (Zimbardo). Le Guin further chastises the traditional prison system in the United States by including the prison scene in the context of a utopian world. The violation of basic human rights, the lack of control and freedom over one’s own body, and the arbitrary law and order enforced by guards seems utterly ridiculous to Shevek after he experiences the prison simulation himself. Even at his young age, Shevek recognizes how wrongly they have treated their prisoner (Le Guin 40). By including this scene in The Dispossessed, Le Guin positions the audience to distance themselves from a system that has become a foundational reality of systematic human degradation and pushes readers to further evaluate that while prisoners may not have the same rights as law abiding citizens, they should not have to sacrifice their humanity. 

References:

Le Guin, Ursula. The Dispossessed. Harper Voyager, 1974. 

Zimbardo, Phillip. Stanford Prison Experiment. School Psychology Network, 1999, https://www.prisonexp.org/. Accessed 28 January 2019.

Reflections on the DLR Experience

By: Leah Heim 

Everyone should do one or two things they do not think they can do. Me, I met my match in Ball State’s Digital Literature Review

When I first heard about the journal, I had four more wisdom teeth, thirteen more inches of hair, and a curriculum vitae smaller than my peanut of self-confidence. When Dr. Huff invited me to apply for an editing position in the DLR during my sophomore Victorian Literature class, I thought that it sounded too big for me. There are students who join internationally known journals. I was not one of them. Only after much encouragement (and a wisdom tooth removal) did I finally cave to Dr. Huff’s insistence and join, if hesitantly, the scary Digital Literature Review

Of course, the experience has been anything but scary, even when I have studied themes like Monsters, Post-Apocalypse, and Utopias and Dystopias. In all seriousness, the next three years would usher in some of the best experiences of my academic life. As a wee sophomore, I learned how to edit like an English machine and how to stand up in front of my peers to passionately defend favorite paper submissions. As a junior, I faced down a lead editor position in the journal, which was an intimidating job that inspired me to cut thirteen inches off my hair in favor of a short, edgier style. Even without my hair, the job was intimidating, but it was so worth it. I learned leadership skills through assigning work to my fellow editors, leading discussions about submissions, and presenting work at public forums like Butler University’s Undergraduate Research Conference. 

Amid all this work, though, my classmates and I always found time for fun. I think of blowing off steam before class by watching a YouTube video of tap-dancing noses from a Shostakovich opera. I think of one of my classmates slipping me a tampon to wear behind my ear like a flower while I presented my Carrie  research project at the DLR gala.

In addition to this fun, however, is the sheer personal growth I have experienced with my time in the DLR.  I think now of the inspiring warrior spirit of my classmates as we raged against the injustices of our current world. I think of how the fire in our eyes combusted into action when we stood up in front of an audience at the DLR  gala and dared to speak out about things like climate change, governmental corruption, and nuclear holocaust—things some people only stare down in their nightmares. The subjects I became passionate about in the DLR, like Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, ecofeminism, and post-apocalyptic theory, have become the staples of my literary interests. For example, I am mapping out an ecofeminist, postmodernist retelling of Anna Karenina   for my Honors Thesis, and I have recently submitted a paper on abjection to a graduate conference in Illinois.

Because of the Digital Literature Review’s important role in developing my sense of self, I am thrilled to be participating in the journal as this year’s teacher’s assistant. I have contributed to class discussions while also leading some of them, and I have helped students develop topics for their research papers. When someone struggles with the logistical aspects of running the journal, I drop a few hints here and there to get things on the right track again. Each of my TA duties, however, plays an important role in my greater intentions of continuing work with the journal: I hope to make the experience mean as much for this year’s students as it has meant for me. I want to ensure the continued success of a journal that has come to shape not only my academic life but also—in a very real way—my identity as a person. 

In the introduction for last year’s journal, I compare the DLR to a table; around this table, my classmates and I have discussed subjects that have frightened me. However, in a yearlong, intimate class like the DLR, students develop the trust and support to plumb these difficult subjects and devote themselves to academic bravery—skills which, I imagine, will only become more and more important as our lives progress. I could talk a parent’s ear off about how the DLR  offers their college kid opportunities for professional growth—conferences, research papers, teamwork, etc.—but to students I think I would say that the DLR turns nervous sophomores into seniors ready for graduation, doctoral programs, and beyond.

All it will cost them is four wisdom teeth, thirteen inches of hair, and their fear. 

Fighting for Free Will in a Perfect World

By: Filasha Finley

Image via Google

Imagine a world where there are no wars; a world where everyone lives in peace and harmony; a world where you could walk into a store, grab what you want, and walk out without paying; a world where you have universal health care and get healed in minutes without going bankrupt or into debt. The healing would take mere seconds. Imagine a world where there is no pollution and the earth is thriving, rather than slowly dying. That seems like a perfect world to live in, right? Would you want to live in this world, even if it meant losing your identity? Stephenie Meyer’s book The Host is an example of what seems like a perfect world to most, can be a nightmare for some.

The Host is set well into the future, where aliens called “souls” have invaded and taken over human bodies, making them hosts. Souls are a peaceful species; they have traveled from planet to planet, inhabiting different creatures to survive. They do not lie and, in their eyes, are genuinely good beings. They believe that their coming to Earth is a favor for the humans, since the planet was being destroyed by unnecessary war and pollution. People who end up hosting a soul have access to “luxuries” like health care, unlimited food, and peace, but they do not have the luxury of free will. They lose themselves to the souls, who will eventually wipe out the human race.

The feeling of not being able to control your body or live the way you want to make the humans resistant to the change that the souls bring. The promise of a perfect world does not outshine the desire for individual freedom that is built into every human from birth. Souls can enter a human’s body and can access their memories while the human slowly fades away, but in some cases the human stays conscious and does not leave their body. This is the case of a soul called Wanderer, who is placed in a human known as Melanie Stryder. Melanie does everything that she can to resist her, but Wanderer begins to tap into her memories, which includes Melanie’s brother, Jamie, and boyfriend, Jared. Wanderer’s mission is to key in on those memories and find other humans who are resisting the souls.

As the story progresses, Wanderer and Melanie bond, and Wanderer starts to understand why people are resisting the souls, even though they are making the planet a better living place. Since Melanie is still conscious, she resists and forces Wanderer to go find her family, and when she does they initially attack her, because they do not believe that both beings can inhibit the same body. After some time, they realize that Wanderer is telling the truth, and she becomes an ally to the humans while becoming her own individual person separate from Melanie. As in her own person Wanderer develops feelings that are separate from Melanie’s.

The Host focuses on the broad theme of good vs. evil and examines how one person’s utopia could be another person’s dystopia. It also calls us to interrogate historical patterns of colonialism in which people enter and settle “new” territories.   The people who take over feel as if they are making the conquered territory a better place, but it ends up making it a nightmare for the natives. This is clearly seen in The Host, the souls believe they are doing the humans a favor by coming to their planet and taking over. With the souls in charge, there is no war, money is not important, and everyone who has a soul inhabiting their body gets medical care. What they are creating seems like an ideal world. This may be perfect for the souls but for the humans it is a nightmare. The humans fade away when the souls are inserted in to their bodies. They have no control over their actions or words. Many humans do not want to be taken over, and if they are close to being captured, many people turn to suicide rather than be taken.

A utopia cannot be forced upon people. As in The Host there were small amounts of people resisting but, they were still resisting. Free will cannot be taken away easily. No matter how perfect situations are, there will still be people fighting for their right to free will.

Disney’s Island Dystopia

By: Stephanie Alana-Christie

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Disney’s 2016 animated film, Moana begins with the theft of the heart of the Polynesian goddess Te Fiti from the island of Motunui. The demigod Maui steals the heart of Te Fiti in order to bless the islanders with gifts. The gifts include fire from beneath the earth to keep them warm, coconut trees, lassoing the sun to give the islanders longer days and more light, and “harnessing the breeze” to give the humans wind for their fails (“Moana”). The demon of earth and fire, Te Kā, stops Maui from escaping with the heart of Te Fiti and in the process, causes Maui to drop his magical fish hook that he uses to shapeshift into the ocean. Both the fish hook and the heart are lost in the waves. It is revealed later that without her heart, the goddess Te Fiti transforms into the demon Te Kā. The island of Motunui slowly begins to fall apart without the knowledge of the islanders, until the crumbling utopia becomes too destroyed to ignore, bring about the beginning of a dystopia for all of Motunui.

This animated film touches on some key aspects of utopian and dystopian societies, specifically related to what is and is not an island paradise. It is common in utopian literature for isolationism and collectivism to create a strong environment for community, but the outlook of the individual is a key factor as well. Moana shows the close kinship between utopia and dystopia; it suggests that too much isolation and adherence to tradition can easily erode a community.

Disney brings the audience to present day Motunui where princess Moana, daughter of the village chief is chosen by the ocean. As Moana helps a baby turtle back to the ocean instead of grabbing a conch shell that had caught her eye, the ocean sweeps Moana into a caress and gives her the heart of Te Fiti. As a toddler, Moana has no idea what the heart is, only that it is tiny, green, shiny, and pretty. She feels strongly that she should keep it. Her father, the village chief, picks Moana up from the water, carrying her away from the dangers of the ocean without knowing about his daughter’s discovery.

As Moana grows up both her vision of utopia and the island begin to transform. She is not content with the activities her people find so much joy in. She sees weaving fish nets and baskets, collecting coconuts, building fires, and other daily activities as monotonous and mundane. Despite this, she continues on in her duties as a member of the island. She is expected to carry out these duties and to be loyal to her community because she is the chief’s daughter and therefore next in line to rule. Moana only leaves the island after her grandmother passes away; however, before she dies, the grandmother tells Moana to “Go. Find Maui” (“Moana”).

Unlike the other islanders, Moana longs for adventure. The island of Motunui relies on the element of isolationism in order to maintain their utopia. She insists that “there is more beyond the reef” (“Moana”). This desire to explore grows even more when Moana discovers that her people were voyagers in the past. Moana’s upbringing in her isolationist community does not have room for exploration and change, things that she so desperately desires. The isolation makes Moana’s island home a dystopia for her. Leaving is not an option. However, after the fishermen’s catch continues to dwindle, the coconut trees die from disease, it is clear that the utopian island is falling apart. Moana breaks away from the isolation she has known her whole life, leaving her home in order to save it.

Moana becomes a hero to the island and her people after venturing out on her own, returning after finding first Maui and then the heart of Te Fiti. The island only becomes a utopia for Moana after she restores it to its former glory with the restoration of the heart. She no longer feels that the island is a dystopia because she has the freedom to explore. Without isolationism, her home is a utopia.

 

References: 

“Moana.” Disney Movies, movies.disney.com/moana.

The Utopia and Dystopia of “Altered Carbon”

By: Maggie Mayer

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When people hear the words utopia and dystopia, what do they think of? Most people think that a utopia is an ideal society where everyone gets along with each other and all problems are fixed, while a dystopia is the complete destruction of society and no one has hope for the future. Some would say that they are completely different from each other. This is untrue, as there are utopias that contain more dystopian themes. A common theme found in what Tom Moylan coins as a “critical utopia” is that a utopia for one person is a dystopia for others within the same society (Claeys and Sargent 1). This theme is prevalent in multiple mediums of media and are extremely popular among modern audiences. Through this blog post, I hope to further explore this theme and why these narratives are deeply ingrained in our media.

A perfect example of this theme appearing in modern media is the 2018 Netflix Original “Altered Carbon.” The show is set in the year 2384 in Bay City, formerly San Francisco. Science has advanced to the point where a person’s memories and consciousness are kept in a “cortical stack,” a round disc, that is implanted in the vertebrae on the back of their necks. Human bodies, synthetic or organic, are called “sleeves” and the cortical stacks can be transferred from one body to another after death, as long as the stack is unharmed. The Meths have multiple clones of their sleeve and they keep their consciousness in satellites that remotely transmit it into their sleeve after they die. This means that, technically anyone can live forever, but only the rich can afford to keep multiple clones of their sleeves.

This disconnect between the Meths and the rest of the population is further shown through the obvious class system within this society. Meths have giant mansions that float in the clouds and they throw lavish parties that only other rich people can attend. They can afford to stay young, never get sick, and never have to worry about their actions having consequences. If they die in a car crash during a three-day bender, they can just switch to a new sleeve. Sounds like heaven, right? Living the good life without the fear of dying and having everything you could ever want. This lifestyle has actually made the Meths apathetic towards not only their lives, but also the lives of the lower classes. This theme is seen throughout the show, but especially in episode 2: “Fallen Angel” and episode 3: “In a Lonely Place.” In these episodes, a sex worker is choked to death multiple times by a Meth and a married couple must fight to the sleeve-death for the entertainment of the rich guests. Meths do not view the lower class as actual people, but as things to be used and they view life as just a commodity to be bought and sold. The lower class live a completely different life, as they live in extreme poverty and are forced to scrape together funds to afford any sleeve they can get. It often results in young children being put into sleeves that are seventy years old or a grown man being put into the body of a 10-year old. This system makes healthcare a luxury and is a commentary on our healthcare system in America today, as many people have to go without medication and put off getting medical help because of their inability to afford it. All of these examples directly tie into how the society in “Altered Carbon” is a utopia for Meths while it is a dystopia for those that live on the ground.

Having a better understanding of these themes and common tropes within these narratives, audiences can answer the question of “why are these narratives so popular?” Our society crumbling and giving way to organized chaos among the people is a relatable narrative because it addresses real life issues and our greatest fears by setting them in the future, often with elements from science fiction. This allows us to see how these issues, for example climate change, radicalized politics, or extreme war, might play out and how we as a society would survive and possibly reverse these extremes. This genre of entertainment provides commentary on our current society while allowing the audience to see their fears play out from a distance.

 

References: 

Claeys, Gregory, and Lyman Tower Sargent. The Utopia Reader. N.p.: New York UP, 2017. Print.

“Fallen Angel.” Altered Carbon season 1, episode 2, Netflix. 2018. Web.

“In a Lonely Place.” Altered Carbon, season 1, episode 3, Netflix. 2018. Web.

“Utopia.” Def. 1. Merriam-Webster.com. N.p., 2018. Web. 13 Nov. 2018.

“Utopia.” Def. 2. Merriam-Webster.com. N.p., 2018. Web. 13 Nov. 2018.

Giving Power to Technology

By: Kirsten Cooper

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Technology has come a long way in a short amount of time. In a Ted Talk entitled “Beware, online ‘filter bubbles,’” Eli Parser explains that search engines and other tools online filter our content and tailor future content to include information and services we frequently search for and click on. This means the more we search for something, the more we will get information catered to that search history. Parser explains that this ultimately decreases our world view by not giving us any information that would challenge or contradict our preconceived ideas. Predictive algorithms in these programs sort data including search history, locations, as well as other determiners to determine how our online experience will be filtered. The problem lies in the fact that, unlike humans, algorithms cannot make ethical decisions. The movie I, Robot explores these fears and motivates us to consider and challenge how far we are willing to let machines make decisions for us.

I, Robot, a noteworthy dystopian film, was released in 2004. The movie addresses fears and anxieties many people have about the technological future of the human race, specifically how much power people give to machines. Set in 2035, the plot centers on a police officer, Spooner. Throughout the film, his assignment is the apparent suicide of a robotics founder, and he believes one robot in particular is to blame. In the process of his investigation, Officer Spooner uncovers a conspiracy that could enslave the human race.

Throughout the film, Spooner is distrustful of robots. In a flashback scene, he is trapped underwater after an apparent car accident. In another submerged vehicle, a little girl is also in trouble. A robot comes to save them. Because the police officer has a statistically higher chance of surviving than the little girl, the robot saves him first. As a result, the girl dies. The incident causes Spooner to have a major case of survivor’s guilt, and also raises the fear many people have that technology cannot be programmed to make a human decision. Spooner was willing to sacrifice his life for the little girl, but the robot could not reason in that way. The question this part of the film provokes is how much decision-making abilities they allow machines to have.

Spooner is distrusting of robots; however, one robot with human characteristics ends up helping. The movie both allows for progressive technology, specifically robots, while warning of its power over us. While our technology may not be trying to take over the world, it can certainly take over many aspects of our lives. Our phones, television, and social media are rather addicting, and, for better or worse, something we should be aware of it happening. In dystopian literature, film, and culture, this is a real concern because it reflects the increasing anxieties of technology growing so quickly. “Beware, online ‘filter bubbles’” shows people that in many ways technology is already making decisions for us. The movie, I, Robot, asks us to do what the dystopian genre asks us to do, which is to question where we are headed and decide if it is for the best.

 

References:

Pariser, Eli. “Beware, online “filter bubbles”.” Ted, March 2011, www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles#t-524047

Proyas, Alex, director. I, Robot. 20th Century Fox, 2004.