Dr. Deborah Mix, Professor of English at Ball State University, obtained her BA at Oglethorpe University, and her MA and PhD at Purdue University. Dr. Mix’s area of expertise relates to experimental writing, especially poetry. Her current published works include literature by Gertrude Stein, Toni Morrison, and many others, ranging in topics from educational pedagogy to 20th-century women’s poetry. She will rejoin the Digital Literature Review for its next issue. Dr. Mix was one of the founders of the DLR, its first ever issue focusing on cultural hauntings. Next year, the DLR will revisit cultural hauntings with Dr. Mix once again at the helm. Recently, Kylie Poling, member of the editorial team for the DLR, conducted an email interview with Dr. Mix to discuss her plans for next year’s journal.
Kylie Poling (KP): Please describe your academic background and/or anything you think is important for readers of the DLR to know about you.
Dr. Deborah Mix (DM): Along with Adam Beach, I founded the DLR back in 2013. Also, despite the course’s focus on ghosts, I’m generally too chicken to watch scary movies or TV shows. So I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House, but I haven’t been brave enough to watch the Netflix series. Sad but true!
KP: Why did you decide to rejoin the DLR this year?
DM: I’m excited to be back with the DLR and to see all the ways the journal has grown since that first year. The technological landscape is so different now than it was 6 years ago, and I know I have a ton to learn. I’ve also continued to think about the ways we, as a culture, are haunted. I’m particularly interested in conversations about ways of understanding absences and erasures.
KP: The theme next year will be similar to the first year the DLR was published. What excites you most about revisiting this topic?
DM: When we chose the ghost theme for the first issue, there were dozens of texts we wanted to teach but didn’t have the time to cover. I’m excited that I’ll get to go back to that list again for this new issue. There will be one repeat on the reading list–Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is incredibly powerful and important–but everything else will be new for 2019-2020.
KP: What are the leading theories you plan to address in the course?
DM: We’ll be drawing on some psychoanalytic theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and feminist theory. What haunts us? Why are we haunted? What can hauntings tell us?
KP: How do you plan to make DLR different this year than previous years?
DM: I’m hoping to experiment with some digital humanities approaches–mapping, text mining, and more.
KP: Every year the professor teaching this course changes. What is your teaching philosophy and how do you think that will impact the course?
DM: I teach from a feminist perspective, foregrounding students as makers of knowledge. I want to balance my own agenda for the class (and clarity about assignments and expectations) with real autonomy for students to define our areas of inquiry, their individual projects, and the trajectory for this issue of the DLR.
KP: What are you looking forward to most in the class?
DM: I’m excited for the chance to spend an extended period of time on the subject of ghosts and cultural haunting and to learn from the students on the DLR staff. (I learned a ton the last time around.)
Check out more about cultural hauntings in the 2019-2020 edition of the Digital Literature Review, coming in Spring 2020!
“Deborah Mix.” Ball State University, www.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/english/connect-with-us/faculty-staff/faculty/mixdeborah.
Mix, Deborah, PhD. Personal interview. 22 March 2019.
Food is an integral part of daily life. It has the power to comfort, to connect others, and celebrate a shared heritage. Even more simply, food is a necessity to live: so it is understandable that food has become a constant image and metaphor within dystopian and utopian genres. There are many interpretations of what delicacies would be available in a perfect society and what scraps or modified food could be scrounged up within a dystopia. Food might come in the form of a decadent meal that never runs out, as in The Land of Cockaygne, or a more utilitarian meal of yeast culture vats in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel series. These descriptions seem like they have contrasting meanings, but these meals are more similar than they appear, and they play a large role in bolstering the overarching theme of a story.
Utopias are often thought of as an ideal world where one can acquire anything they desire, and food is no exception. The medieval poem The Land of Cockaygne depicts “rivers great and fine / Of oil and milk, honey and wine” and a house made of pies, flour-cakes, and puddings that kings and princes would dine on (Claeys and Sargent 88-89). The entire poem sets up this decadent world where it is impossible to want for anything and the meals are all of 5-star quality. The ideal life, right? This is not always the case, as the gluttonous portrayal of food within the poem is used to show the corruption within the church and acts as a commentary on negative parts of human nature. Monks are seen getting drunk and going against their vows of chastity. Even in such holy places, corruption and the worst parts of human nature can be brought out. This is seen again within utopias such as Julian Barnes’ novel The History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters, which looks at a man who dies and goes to heaven, where he can do whatever he wants and especially eat whatever he wants. The first morning in heaven he eats “pink grapefruit, three slices of grilled streaky bacon, two fried eggs with the yolk looking milky because the fat had been properly spooned over it in the cooking, and the outer edges of the white trailing off into filigree gold braid” (Barnes 310). He orders breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner, until eventually he grows tired of what he has been eating for the past millennia. Barnes presents this as a commentary on how humans crave change and, even in the ultimate utopia of heaven, would never fully be satisfied.
These ornate descriptions of food and critiques of our society do not stop with utopias. What a character eats can often reveal some information about that person, as well as their setting. George Orwell portrays food as a way to clue the reader in to how drab the society within 1984 is and reveals how Winston Smith, the protagonist, is a simple man. They eatboiled cabbage, “regulation lunch-a meal pannikin of pinkish-grey stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of Victory coffee and one tablet of saccharine” (Orwell 64). This is a stark contrast to the contraband food that Winston Smith receives from Julia such as real sugar, bread, jam, milk and coffee. All simple, homey foods, but they act as signifiers of the past and taste like manna from heaven when a person cannot legally have them. There is also the SecretBurger from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood. Much like soylent green being secretly made of people in the fantasy/mystery film Soylent Green(1973), the SecretBurger is made of unknown meat that is mashed together. The novel explores what it is like for the government and large companies to expect members of society to take their word on what they are consuming and trust their business practices.
A large part of many food representations in literature relates to the notion that controlling food can be a way to control the masses. Keeping people in a compliant state through the use of spiked food makes it so that they will not act out against the dominating class. This is accomplished through the upper-class hoarding all of the higher quality goods and forcing the lower class to eat unidentifiable slop. In both dystopias and utopias, rationing food and forcing the different levels in a caste system to eat differently work to control the people within the fictional worlds. Such control is effective because food is necessary for survival. This control is evident in The Handmaid’s Tale when every single thing the handmaids eat is controlled and, once again, food acts as a signifier of control. Gilead had taken over; “Every piece of fruit had a thought process behind it — when she gets oranges, the implication is, ‘Okay, they conquered Florida.’ If they had artichokes, it meant they conquered California. The evolution of Gilead was always in mind” (Drabble 1). Control and class stratification are common themes throughout many dystopian and utopian narratives, and food choices and descriptions reflect not only the state of the society, but the characters themselves. Through the descriptions of meals, the reader can better empathize with characters, understand what they are going through, and fully understand how oppressive these societies can be.
Anonymous. “The Cockaigne.” The Utopia Reader, edited by Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent. New York: New York UP, 2017. 87-92. Print.
Barnes, Julian. “Chapter 10 The Dream.” A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters:. London: Vintage, 2016. 310-20. Print.
Drabble, Margaret. “Margaret Drabble: Utopian Meals.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 20 Dec. 2003. Web.
Lazar, Mona. “Food in Two Dystopian Worlds. A Comparison: Orwell’s 1984 & Huxley’s Brave New World.” DAZIBAO – Par 1060 En Voor 1060 !N.p., 09 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2019.
Orwell, George. “1984.” George Orwell – 1984 – Part 1, Chapter 5. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2019.
Have you ever wondered how The Hunger Games became so successful? The Public Relations Director has your answers!
The first annual Hunger Games will be implemented in Panem in a couple months and I am one of the reasons that the Hunger Games will be so successful. My name is Fila’Sha and I am the Public Relations Director for the newly invented Hunger Games. I am going to give you all the inside scoop on what it takes to make a nationwide event. Now, some of you may be thinking how dare you help make these barbaric games successful? Let’s start off with the rationale behind The Hunger Games. The Capitol started the games to quell the rebellions in the districts and to bring everyone together in the spirit of national pride. The games, with their lottery system selection of tributes (contestants) and the competition to outwit other districts to win the games and bring glory to a district, are necessary in order to keep the peace among the districts. There is lot to get done in terms of coordinating and planning that comes with executing the perfect Hunger Games.
In order to make the Games successful we have a target for every district and the citizens in The Capitol.
With a budget of $2,000,000, we plan to target this audience through innovative social media campaigns, interactive announcements, and community engagement. The Capitol will love these games because they are a form of entertainment that will also promote the greater good of maintaining order among the districts.
Our current social campaigns focus on showcasing the residents of The Capitol the different locations where the Games will be held. For example, there are rainforests, as well as other tropical and desert simulations. We will play up the exoticness of these locations and the way they will disorient the district tributes, thereby adding to the stakes and excitement of the Games. We will also use social media to promote our event that is mentioned below. T.V. and radio campaigns are at the core of our publicity game plan; these campaigns will reflect the goals of The Capitol.
Because of the large geographic target, T.V. ads will be the best way to reach our audience. We will send out mailers as well to make sure people have a physical copy of our plan and what we want to implement. The mailer will include information on what The Hunger Games are and the rules of the Games.
The Capitol needs to support the ideas of The Hunger Games before we can implement them to the districts. We will be persuading the residents of The Capitol that supporting the games is in their best interests.
Statement of Purpose:
To implement the Games and ensure there is a victor.
Target Audience: The Capitol
The Plan: Convince citizens of The Capitol that the Games are necessary and entertaining.
Goal: To advertise the new way to keep peace called, “The Hunger Games”.
Objective One: To promote viewership for The Games.
Strategy One: Launch a “Hunger Games” commercial campaign.
Tactic One: Target Capitol households with ads.
Description: 30 second advertisements
Deadline: Rolling (10 commercials a day)
Evaluation: Monitor profile insights/analytics.
Strategy Two: Increase targeting with print ads.
Tactic One: Send mailers to The Capitol residents.
Description: Distribute mailers through Panem’s post office.
Evaluation: Include unique URL to measure response.
Tactic Two: Run radio spots during prime time.
Description: Air on local radio stations, focusing on those targeting young teens.
Evaluation: Measure an influx of website visits from targeted area at time of airing.
Air commercials during daytime television shows
Feb. 15, 2145
Send mailers to The Villages
March 15, 2145
Run radio spots during prime time
May 15, 2145
Mailers to the CapitolCreatives to make mailers Postage
Air commercials during daytime televisionProductionDistribution
Radio spots during prime timeProductionDistribution
Support from residents
Peace in Panem
No more wars
We will direct a wide variety of advertisements at the Capitol in a four-month span. This will get the residents excited for the first ever Hunger Games to take place in Panem. Through the T.V. advertisements, radio segments, and mailers we should be able to gain the audiences’ interest in the games, and particularly in the competition it promotes among the districts. The tagline for the campaign plays on the element of change in the Game’s tribute lottery system, proclaiming, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” This line will be central to both the T.V. and mailer ads. I hope this campaign gives you an idea of how the games will be promoted and what it takes to implement a successful campaign.
In “The Rain,” a Danish post-apocalyptic series, a group of survivors fight to keep their humanity and search for hope in their newfound dystopia. Two siblings, Simone and Rasmus Andersen, are forced to take shelter in a bunker with their parents when a deadly virus sweeps through Scandinavia by rainfall. The siblings’ father is a scientist who works for the corporation Apollon, who created the well-equipped bunkers. He leaves his wife and children in search of answers. After a short while, Simone hears someone trying to get into the bunker. Thinking it is her father, she opens it, revealing a stranger who has been exposed to the virus. Knowing her family will be infected if he touches them, their mother quickly tackles the stranger and she too gets exposed to the rain and dies. While the idea that nature can turn against humans is hair-raising, the fall of morals within mankind becomes more sinister in this series. However, ultimately, “The Rain” shows that those living in a dystopia continually rely on hope to help them cope with their dystopian conditions.
With both parents gone and no knowledge of what is going on outside of the shelter, the siblings only have each other for support. Isolation still seeps into their lives, being left alone for six years after their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance. As they prepare for their journey above ground, a group of five survivors come in search for food and shelter. After being forced out of the shelter by covered vents that cut off their oxygen supply and held at gunpoint, the siblings quickly realize that their once normal world has been replaced with one where the strong and clever make it out alive. Survivors struggle to hold onto their humanity, doing whatever it takes to survive. In this new survival-of-the-fittest environment, Simone is tasked with keeping her brother and herself alive. In order to assure their safety, she convinces the strangers that she knows where all of the other Apollon bunkers are, which will keep them alive. The other group hesitantly invites them to travel with them to another bunker where Simone discovers her father’s possible whereabouts.
During their journey through Copenhagen, Lea, one of their new group members, believes that Simone is a symbol of hope and calls her “their guiding star” (“Avoid the City”) in the third episode, proving that even though their world is in shambles, there are still glimpses of light to be found in darkness. The loss of hope, as well as the potential for it, brings people together. While the group only has each other and feels like they are not able to trust anyone else, the idea of finding a better life reminds them why they continue to survive.
The development of friendships and love interests in the face of isolation leaves the characters feeling more whole again. Simone and Rasmus have found a new family among the other survivors, showing that blood is not the only thing that makes people family. Even with the destruction of the world, their livelihood has become a little easier, more bearable, and worthwhile. The desire to survive and rebuild their world motivates them not only to find answers about the destruction of Scandinavia, but also to heal themselves. The demons of each character’s past are brought up throughout the series, showing how the dystopia has affected them in different ways. They use each other to not only help them move forward from external destruction, but internal as well.
Prodigious corporations, like Apollon, want extreme power. While they are living a utopian life with the hopes of inevitable fame and fortune, those outside of this corporation are living in a hellish dystopia. They live their lives in fear, kept in the dark by their enemies. Watchers will see that Apollon’s need to be a hero is not justly obtained. Simone’s group become the heroes when they take action after believing Apollon may be the cause of the genocide. Even though the survivors do not have answers as to what they should do next, they continue to focus on living to the best of their abilities. They refocus their new goals, finding hope in other things that will keep them determined to continue living. Sometimes the only thing victims of a dystopian world can do while they wait out the vile treatment is to survive and continue dreaming of a better future. There is strength in numbers and sometimes that’s enough.
Christian Potalivo, Esben Toft Jacobsen, and Jannik Tai Mosholt, creators. The Rain. Miso Film, Netflix, 2018.
“Avoid the City.” The Rain, season 1, episode 3, May 4th 2018, Netflix.
“Keep Your Friends Close.” The Rain, season 1, episode 6, May 4th 2018, Netflix.
When seeking out a modern utopian work, Tomorrowland stands out because it depicts a substantial first step to solving some of the world’s problems. Tomorrowland is a movie based loosely off of the Disneyland theme park which explores the possibilities of the future that bears the same name as the film. In the movie, Tomorrowland is a futuristic other dimension created by scientists of Earth who then inhabit the place to peacefully pursue knowledge. Scientists of Tomorrowland have a device that can see into the future on Earth. They see that Earth will end soon. Casey, the teenage protagonist who will not lose hope, Frank, an older and less optimistic ex-tomorrowland-er, and Athena, the sophisticated AI who catalyzed this chain of events, work together to prevent the end of the world. For the intended audience of children, the film’s message inspires hope. When analyzed, the film provides an important guide for shaping children’s worldviews. While a message of “never giving up” may seem commonplace in children’s films, this movie separates itself. Tomorrowland offers, in the context of a utopian world, the solution of positive thinking as a means to help save the world.
The movie works to suggest that the beginning of a solution to the world’s problems is to believe that the problems can be solved. When children are inspired not to lose hope over issues such as climate change, they may grow up to become scientists, inventors, and discoverers. Casey is optimistic and her dreaming, in and of itself, is the key to saving the world. In the film, themes of hope, positive attitudes, and perseverance are weaved throughout. These themes are important because they help children gain an outlook through which to view the world around them. The main character challenges the pessimistic older character Frank. When he asks if she would want to know the future and the exact moment she would die, Casey responds that she would want to know, but that she would not believe him. When he says it would be absolutely certain, she states “don’t we like make our own destiny and stuff?” (Tomorrowland, 1:05:07). When she says this, the probability of the Earth being destroyed flickers from a 100% chance to a 99% chance.
When children grow up seeing the world as a place where problems can be fixed, they will invent and create solutions that people with more pessimistic world views could have never dreamed of. While suggesting that a positive attitude can solve all the world’s problems may seem a bit overstated, Samantha Rae says in her TedxUofM talk, “A positive attitude can be an essential stepping stone in developing the ambition needed to tackle some of these seemingly impossible issues” (Rae). When children are brought up with the ideal that nothing is impossible, then consequently more things become possible to them in life because of their outlook.
Utopias are designed so that people can dream of what a better world would look like and how attaining such a world could be accomplished. The utopian ideal most expressed here is the power of positive thinking. In the talk, Rae states, “When everyone seems to be giving up and a situation seems so hopeless a positive attitude can be a driving force for change, but that change is only possible with the belief that things can and will get better” (Rae). With this understanding, adult viewers can better understand the impact the movie could have on the perception children have of the world. Tomorrowlandsuggests utopia is possible by giving the children who watch the film the sense that they, too, can become world changers.
Tomorrowland. Directed by Phillip Bird, Walt Disney Pictures, 22 May 2015.
Rae, Samantha. “Positivity: The Power of Choice| TEDxUofM.” YouTube, Tedx Talks, 6 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4nbt6afV3o.
The charcoal morning spilled through the palm-sized window of my room. I jolted against the checkered metal as a searing weight collapsed on my chest. I clawed at the walls, convulsing as barbs of pain jabbed me with every breath.
A foot away from me, the light of the monitor flooded me with my daily quota: 20,000 words.
This could not be happening. I had to produce.
My shipment was a day late. How was I supposed to go a day without Aetura? We were just like pre-digital humans without it.
I knew I should never complain. I was lucky to get this job. Out of 40,000 applicants, they chose me because I had produced the most articles in my age bracket. With 30 billion people in the world, I could not take my competition lightly.
My marketing team was part of a global initiative to advertise a drug, Algirev, which had been on the market for a few months, but had not gained much traction. My stomach lurched to think about how we would all be out in the streets if this campaign failed. I had a modest 6×8 ft. space; the protein workers outside only had the wind shafts to shelter them. Who knew what strains of disease drifted along the streets, imbuing the lungs of those wraith-like souls?
I should have taken more pride in my work; my team spearheaded the hope narrative. The annual production rates from the economics bureau had revealed steady failure rates. As of this month, up to 30% of corporate employees were going into pre-termination processes before their 40s, and they terminated on average at 43. Our drug was designed to complement the annual vaccinations to slow the effects of termination so that workers would be able to produce up into their 60s. Lifespans had peaked around 80 about 3 centuries ago, but back then humans also wallowed around for up to 3 decades doing nothing with themselves. I think they called it “retirement” in my history courses. We were supposed to evolve out of that.
I tapped the emerald digits in the outlet of the left-hand wall. Overhead, the chute opened, and my daily protein bag landed in my lap. I attached the IV from the bag to my left arm. I then plugged the other cord that came with the bag into the wall. Usually a little breakfast in the morning would cure the initial fatigue. I had really been slacking by laying still for 2 hours each night while my senior coworkers only used about 1 hour of remission. They said I would get used to it, but I suspected that their doses of Aetura were higher too.
I waited for a few minutes until the bag was sucked dry and removed the IV, waiting on the coals in my chest to cool. But they burned on as if wanting to melt the chambers of my heart.
I opened my palm and traced along its tributaries, tapping on an individual crease. The touchpoint sprung forth a circular screen that let me see Tela’s workspace. As she stared intently at her monitor, her thoughts drummed across the screen in a stream of paragraphs. I drew my fingers together to close the window before she could see me. I tapped another crease to see what Heron was doing. He was a bit of a traditionalist, typing on his holographic keyboard rather than just thinking out the copy. Within a few hours, they would be checking in on me, and seeing my blank monitor, they would of course report me to the project board. There were plenty in the smog streets who would sever a limb for what I had; there was no time for an unproductive employee.
Through the glass, I peeked at the luminous cubes of white fire festooning the cityscape. It rattled me to think that these metal compartments teeming with life occupied what used to be droves of field. Everyone was nestled in their cubicles, eyes intent on their monitors as they worked harder and longer than me. I did not deserve this space; I deserved the concrete and protein factories of the outside. But I was too selfish to give my place up.
My hazy memory trailed back to the old employee Shera, who was fired by the board of directors a few weeks ago for her lack of productivity. She looked just like one of the pre-digital humans as we synced in to witness her explanation. Her sclera were swathed in pink as strands of blood vessels crawled toward her pupils. The wrinkles that had gathered beneath her eyes looked like fissures of parched earth. A sheen of liquid tinged those dull, bottomless obsidian orbs. Flushes of crimson bloomed in her cheeks and spread to her chest as she looked down. Even her amber mane had brittled to an ochre mass.
I remembered that nauseating suspense as she explained her inability to produce. I knew that I should have soured my expression like the board of directors, but all I could muster was a blank stare. After all, she was a drain to us. I remembered in my history classes that the pre-digital era reported high rates of anxiety and fatigue as society transitioned to the technological landscape, but those symptoms were like Typhoid at this point: old diseases. We had been administered shots at birth and had plenty of Aetura to combat those ills.
I suspected beneath the slate demeanors that there was a strand of sympathy coursing through everyone, considering that Shera’s degeneration was inherently natural. It was just disappointing that the process set in so quickly, as it indicated her lack of self-management. It unnerved me to think that she was only ten years older than me and had already completed her production cycle. The board of directors, who were in their forties, still lived with fire in their eyes.
Yet here I was at 25 reeling as the termination process melded with my bones. I thought of the macabre description derived from my health management course. Apparently during the pre-termination process, the neural circuits would slow, the chest would tighten, the vision would blur, and the body would be confined to its bunker. I was just like those humans a few centuries ago whose weak bodies would tire after less than 24 hours if they did not have several hours of remission. I think they called it “sleep” back in the 2000s, the pre-digital age. A cascade of liquid foiled over my vision as the back of my eyelids pulsed, surging and withdrawing like the ocean waves of our flooded coastal regions.
Shame welled up from my stomach to my lungs as I thought about my blank monitor at the end of the day, and the board of directors ordering my eviction. Five years of meeting the quota every day and I was going to terminate before my thirties in the smog streets because my insurance was late. What a way to go.
I looked through the window again and discerned the charcoal-bathed masses plodding either to the protein factories or desalination plants. A mass of shadows paused by my room; he must have been 6 ft tall. He was lean, but I could vaguely discern the muscles beneath his uniform. He was a body meant for breaking. I wondered what it was like for him to not take Aetura. I never would have made the quotas without it.
He stopped to look at the subdivisions, perhaps in envy, perhaps in curiosity. His cinnamon eyes locked with mine through the glass, my world’s lens. I expected his expression to silently sneer, it must be nice in there. I probed his countenance, excavating nothing but resignation from his stone smile.
As I gazed upon his sunken cheeks, it crystallized that he was in the throes of pre-termination too, albeit at a slower pace. The metal exterior and waves of smog that separated us dissolved in those moments.
We all have to produce, his eyes said to me.
Our connection snapped as a drone blared overhead. As he disappeared from view, a cadmium prescription bottle tumbled down the chute and onto my mattress. I squeezed with a phantom’s strength on the cap, and umber beads pooled onto the sheet.
Three-month supply. I almost gulped them all to quell the convulsions.
But instead my fingertips caressed the walls like Tantalus grazing the skin of an apple. With a final thrust of my body, I slammed off the switch that was synced to my hand.
The monitor, in all its behemoth white brilliance, shrilled and snarled until it snapped to pitch.
My chest squeezed my heart, ready to drain its juices like the grapefruits that once flourished in the coastal regions. The winds that had frosted and fossilized those sweet flesh plants would soon claim my body too. Before the end of the day, the board of directors would notice that I never clocked in, and I would be another carcass in the streets.
I laid there with my cheek scratching against the fibrous sheet. The shutters of my lids slammed down. Iridescent tendrils snaked across the palette of shadows. Maybe this was what it was like for humans to dream centuries ago. This would be the only work I ever produced without the pressure of a quota, or the rush of Aetura in my veins.
The land is perfect: endless partying, harmonious subjects, and the inability to lie. This appears to be a utopian land for the fey, or the magical creatures who live in the world of Faerie. This seemingly perfect world is riddled with betrayal, which lends itself to dystopian themes, such as isolated society, a sense of despair, and institutions to ensure order. Holly Black’s series Folk of the Air currently consists of two novels which further expose the crumbling utopia of Faerie. The series begins with The Cruel Prince, which introduces readers to sisters Vivienne, Taryn and Jude. Vivi has the same human mother as twins Taryn and Jude, but her father Madoc is a fearsome general of the High Court of Faerie, the ruling group of the society. The novel opens with the murder of Taryn and Jude’s mortal parents. Madoc discovered that his wife betrayed him by running away from Faerie and marrying a mortal man. He exacts his revenge by killing both his former wife and her new husband. The three sisters Vivi, Taryn, and Jude are then swept up into the life of the fey. Vivi wants nothing to do with the world of Faerie, but twin sisters Taryn and Jude are fascinated by the magic and intrigue of the land. Which lends itself to the tension between Fairie existing as a utopia for the fey, but a dystopia for mortals like Jude.
Protagonist Jude longs to be a knight of the High Court, but she soon discovers that the land of the fey is not as beautiful as it initially seemed. She lives her life as a quasi prisoner to Madoc, a man who pretends to be her father after killing the three girls’ mother. Taryn and Jude know that it was Madoc who killed their parents. Despite her inner hatred for Madoc, Jude admires his dedication to the High Court and longs to be a knight within it. Jude’s journey to knighthood is riddled with hardships, and, eventually, her recruitment to become a knight for Balekin, an in-line ruler of the High Court of Faerie. Jude must make difficult decisions in her journies in Faerie, such as commitment to her family, her knighthood, and her lover, Locke.
The Folk of the Air series is a prime example of a dystopian landscape with present themes such as control and order, altruism and egoism, and hope and despair. The land of Faerie seems to be free and abundant with endless partying and ecstasy. Upon further inspection, however, it is clear that all who live in Faerie are under tight control of the High Court. Constant schemes of manipulation and betrayal infect this society. Jude serves as a spy for Balekin, scheming and plotting to manipulate those who threaten Balekin’s rise to power. In terms of altruism and egoism, Jude consistently must decide between her own benefit and desires, or the good of those she loves. More often than not, Jude makes choices for her own benefit, such as her decision to become a spy for Balekin, or her love affair with her sister’s betrothed, Locke.
Jude faces constant hardships and despair, characterizing her as a dystopian literary figure. She faces internal conflict with her family in regard to her sister and her “father” Madoc. Jude has a great love for her sister, but she must lie to her to conceal her love affair. The inner conflict that pervades Jude’s thoughts is one of desparation and heartache. Jude finds a constant need to both impress Madoc with her skills in knighthood, but she also broods a deep hatred for him, as he took away the life she could have had within the human world.
Though the land of Faerie is a utopia for the fey, it is a dystopia for the humans who come to live there. Humans are not meant to live among the fey, but special circumstances such as the marriage of Madoc and his former human wife, permit humans to live in the world of Faerie. The temptation of indulgence and the ability to lie make it difficult to be a human living among the fey; the fey who can stop indulging, the fey who cannot lie. Humans who live among the fey are often manipulated to lie and do favors for those in power. Jude, as well as other humans living in the world of the fey, must decide how they want to view the world they must live in: is it their dream utopia, or their worst nightmare?
Overpopulation has created numerous complications over the last few decades, including crowding and food shortages, for a variety of countries across the globe. In these areas, overpopulation has caused panic for both citizens and those who govern them due to the increasing inability to support more people. Not only are individuals distressed about overpopulation leading to a lack of resources, but they also fear government interventions that could limit their freedoms. In the 1970s, China went so far as to create a one-child policy that penalized couples for having more than one offspring. This policy lasted for years; it was not until 2015 that China began to allow couples to have up to two children. The idea that one day there might be serious measures taken to ensure the survival of humanity through population control has spurred anxiety about the side effects of such control. The fear of overpopulation is not only reflected in real-life laws and policies, but also in contemporary film and television as seen in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, the CW’s The 100, and many more.
With the rising popularity of this topic, Netflix recently took up the topic of overpopulation and produced What Happened to Monday?, a dystopian film in which a group of septuplets, the Settmans, try to survive in a world that has restricted each household to one child. The consequence for not abiding and having additional children is cryosleep, a process that leaves individuals frozen until the conditions of the society become optimal enough to wake them. What Happened to Monday? also explores how the desire for individuality within a dystopian society breaks down the bonds of family and wreaks havoc on an individual’s psyche. The film exploits the combined fear of overpopulation and government conspiracy that plagues citizens everywhere to create a compelling story of seven women fighting for survival in a world that only has room for one.
The Settman sisters are septuplets who remain hidden within their grandfather’s attic after the death of their mother during childbirth to avoid being taken by the Child Allocation Bureau, or C.A.B. The C.A.B. is headed by Nicolette Cayman, the woman responsible for passing the Child Allocation Act that began limiting households to one child and dooming additional children to cryosleep.
In an effort to keep his grandchildren hidden, Terrance Settman, the sisters’ grandfather, creates a system in which each sister is allowed to leave the attic for one day each week. They are even named for the day of the week that they are allowed to leave the house. Terrance ensures that they look exactly the same each day, even to the point of mutilation after one sister loses her finger in an accident. They also share any pertinent information with the group from their ventures outside of the attic to keep suspicion low. They all assume the identity of their deceased mother, Karen Settman, and use her digital I.D. bracelet to remain undetected by the C.A.B. The Settmans are prevented from creating any life of their own outside of the attic; they must make a collective effort to remain alive through their strict routine that does not allow them to have any secrets or separation from each other. They attempt to avoid being put into cryosleep indefinitely by following the same schedule and taking on one shared identity.
One day, however, Monday never returns home from her day out of the attic. The sisters risk their lives to find Monday, only to discover that she accepted a bribe from Cayman and turned them in to the C.A.B. in exchange for a life of her own. In their efforts to find Monday, the remaining six Settman sisters unravel a government conspiracy that changes their view of not only their sister Monday, but also the C.A.B and the governing power of the world forever. The sisters break into the C.A.B headquarters where they find that all of the children being put into cryosleep for the future are actually being incinerated. They are able to record one of these murders and expose Cayman and the C.A.B. The Child Allocation Act is repealed, the C.A.B. is dissolved, and Cayman is sentenced to death, finally allowing the surviving sisters to live out the remainder of their lives without fear of being persecuted.
What Happened to Monday? not only theorizes the potential effects of overpopulation and possible solutions to control it, but also depicts what happens when individuality is suppressed in an effort to survive. The innate desire to live overshadows the Settman sisters’ need for individual identities for years. Eventually, one of the sisters is unable to suppress her need for her own life and therefore risks her entire family and livelihood to create one. What Happened to Monday? explores the desperation that humans possess in regard to creating a unique identity and expressing individuality and how dystopian societies damage the mental health of citizens in order to remain in power.
Dystopian societies inherently stifle individuality by creating an environment where the need to survive greatly outweighs any other basic human need, including those related to mental health. Dystopian governments and institutionsoften limit the freedom of citizens in an effort to create uniformity by disguising oppression as a solution to benefit the society as a whole. These establishments focus on an issue that creates fear within a society, such as overpopulation, and use it to further their own agenda, whether this is to gain power or some other desired outcome. What Happened to Monday? serves as a warning to current society as to what could happen if a government institution used fear to assume absolute power and removed the ability to become an individual.
Wirkola, Tommy, director. What Happened to Monday? Netflix, 2017.
“Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is… involv’d and interwoven with the knowledge of evill”
-John Milton, Areopagitica
Dystopias and utopias have remained a point of fascination because of both their extreme nature and their ability to imagine the grand and grotesque. Recently, dystopias in particular have seemed to capture the public’s attention, with their portrayal of all the ways society can go wrong—one needs only to think about examples from pop culture such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Good Place, Handmaid’s Tale, and The Maze Runner. This is perhaps an indicator that society’s fears, rather than its hopes, are at the forefront of its collective minds. But what is it that keeps dystopias and utopias so fashionable, so perpetually intriguing, and most of all, so diverse? How is it that we keep coming up with infinitely many ways for the world to go so perfectly right or horribly wrong?
The truth is that, at their core, utopias and dystopias are a reflection of human nature itself, and the potential within that nature. It is this potential that enables humans to build cities and destroy wildlife, to dramatically increase human lifespans and happiness but also to create (and use) the atomic bomb. It is an undeniable fact that for better or worse, humans have changed and shaped the world to their liking– in a way that could lead to our demise or to a yet unprecedented level of prosperity. Indeed, in many people’s conceptualization of the future, extreme prosperity is followed by extreme destruction. However, like human nature, dystopias and utopias, the good and the bad, are intricately wound up in each other. As John Milton argued in Areopagitica, a speech decrying the censorship of books, one cannot know good without also knowing evil. He says that it is only through confrontation with evil, through temptation, that true good can be expressed, as a “good” choice is meaningless without an alternative.
The reason why utopias and dystopias ultimately stand the test of time and keep society’s fascination is because they reflect the polarity of human nature—extreme violence and destruction; extreme healing and unity. Utopias and dystopias then are an exploration of those poles; a journey through which society better understands its limits and potential downfalls. Utopias hold perpetual interest because, like a cockatoo with a mirror, humans are fascinated by this vision of themselves that behaves like them yet remains apart from them. In the same way, dystopias hold within them the power of the abject, the ability to show society what it is it fears most about itself.
Utopias have always existed in the imagination as what society could look like if human nature was purely good, and many religions have painted the picture. In Christianity’s Garden of Eden as well as in Heaven, humans are imagined without evil, purified by God. Religion has imagined the evil of human nature as well in the purest form of dystopia: Hell.
The dramatization of humanity’s good and evil, and the exploration of what that would look like, has taken form in more contemporary ways as well. The Handmaid’s Tale explores the potential of human nature to oppress, as well as the potential to survive adversity. The Hunger Games, explores the same, and evokes the question, “what are we capable of?” Within both of these works, the good of human nature is illustrated as well, a tiny flame that cannot be suffocated no matter how great the darkness. Another contemporary example is The Giver, which instead of exploring what we are capable of, explores the idea that it is the range of emotion, of good and evil, that makes us human. Were society ever to try to change or limit human nature to create utopia, the resulting lives and society would be less meaningful, for what is happiness without sadness? What is good without evil? Milton would argue that we cannot know one without knowing the other. These facts of life, like the light and the dark, must operate in tandem to create the dimensionality of human experience, and the meaning found in it.
Ultimately, utopias and dystopias are so compelling because they reflect human potential exaggerated on a grand scale. The potential of a single human who is actively good, multiplied by a million humans who are actively good, results in a utopia. The way in which this delicate balance swings ultimately rests with the author of such societies, and their belief in whether human nature is good or evil—as well as how “good” and “evil” is best expressed. In fact, this conflicted duality of human nature itself is what relegates both utopia and dystopia to the realm of fiction and prevents them from being achievable in reality. Such is the reason why utopias and dystopias become so prickly to write about and analyze; to reconcile the pure good of utopia with the duality of human nature is impossible. To truly have utopia, human nature itself would have to change to allow for an elevated state of being.
Humans are all mixtures of good and evil, of right and wrong, of negative outcomes born of the best good intentions. Humans are both the terrorism of 9/11 and the heroism of its first responders. Because of this duality, pure utopia will never exist, and neither will pure dystopia. Instead, society will always be a mix, and must not only come to terms with, but also celebrate the real world ramifications of this fact.
The book series Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard follows some dystopian stereotypes but takes the concept of a dystopian society in an entirely new direction by incorporating LGBT characters Evangeline Samos and Maven Calore into her world. Red Queen introduces readers to Mare, the protagonist of the series. Mare is a Red girl in a world full of Silvers. Silvers have supernatural abilities and can manipulate worldly elements while Reds have no powers of their own; they are forced to serve the Silver elite. Though Silvers make up only a small percentage of the population, their abilities allow them to hold a tyrannical rule over Reds. In this dystopian society, those with Silver blood hold the power, and those with Red blood are treated very poorly by the wealthy and powerful Silvers.
Mare is a young girl who finds herself thrown into the royal lives of the Calore family. She discovers, as a Red, that she has the ability to produce and manipulate lightning. Silvers can manipulate elements, but they cannot produce them, setting Mare apart from Silvers. While Mare has the gift of lightning, Evangeline can manipulate metals, and both Calore princes can manipulate fire. Evangeline Samos is a Silver and Mare’s competition for Prince Cal Calore’s hand in marriage. Maven Calore is Cal’s younger brother and, eventually, worst enemy. Both Evangeline and Maven are painted as villains, and they are also the only LGBT characters that are consistently present throughout the series. While Aveyard does follow some dystopian novel commonplaces with a heterosexual forbidden love story and a love triangle, her incorporation of LGBT characters into her series separates her writing from other dystopian works.
LGBT characters are often portrayed in literature entirely based on their sexualities and nothing more; they are who they love. Aveyard recognizes this fault in literary representations and turns it on its head, introducing a lesbian character, Evangeline, and a bisexual character, Maven. In both cases, these characters are much more than these identifiers. Evangeline is modeled throughout the series as a powerful woman and talented manipulator of metal. Maven is the main antagonist throughout the series, often known for his love of power, prowess, and confidence. Both Maven and Evangeline are much more than just their sexual orientations. Aveyard addresses the issues of same-sex marriage in royalty with the character Evangeline not being allowed to be with the woman she loves because of her predetermined destiny to be Queen. Evangeline longs to be with her lover Elaine, but her royal status does not allow her to do so. Rather, she must be with a man because it is what is seen as “proper.”
While Evangeline struggles with the marriage requirements of her elite position, the character Maven Calore internally battles with his romantic complications as a bisexual man. Maven is in love with Mare, heroine of this series. The reader discovers that Maven was once deeply in love with a boy named Thomas, their love affair resulted in Thomas’s death. Maven, overcome with joy in embracing his sexuality, accidentally kills Thomas in a fire started by his own passion. Maven’s guilt in regard to this incident creates conflict in terms of his sexual orientation, and he feels a great sense of shame for his past love for Thomas and his current love for Mare. There is a sense of residual guilt in Maven throughout the series.
Evangeline and Maven are eventually allowed to live freely in a new utopia toward the conclusion of the series, but this makes a clear statement about modern society: these characters could not be their true selves in the real world, but rather are only allowed to fully embrace their sexual identities in a utopian, perfect world. The critique presented then is that even while living in a dystopian society (perhaps one closer to our own than the series’ utopia), they should still be able to embrace their true identities and live authentic lives, but cannot due to external pressures and societal expectations regarding sexuality. Evangeline and Maven can only embrace their sexualities in an idealized world. Red Queen’s LGBT community represents the real world’s LGBT community and the safe space that it needs, yet still does not have.