Childlike Imaginings and Positive Thinking in Disney’s Tomorrowland

By: Kirsten Cooper

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.

Image via Google Images

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.

References

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.

Production: The Factories and the Fortunate

Image by Marisa Sloan

By: Marisa Sloan

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. 

It was my greatest creation of all.

The Land of Faerie: Honesty, Desire, and Other Dystopian Themes

By: Sammy Bredar

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.

Image via Google Images

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?

What Happened to Monday?: Overpopulation and Individuality in Dystopias

By: Natalie Kuss

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!

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. 

References:

Wirkola, Tommy, director. What Happened to Monday? Netflix, 2017.

Utopias and Dystopias: The Potential of Human Nature

By: Katrina Brown

“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, DivergentThe 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. 

Red Queen: A Series of Inclusivity

By: Sammy Bredar

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. 

Dante’s Inferno: Fire, Brimstone, and Utopia

By: Ben Sapet

It might seem like a stretch to call Hell, the realm of eternal torment, a “perfect place” but, in his epic poem Inferno, Dante (the 13th-century Italian poet) writes it as just that. Dante writes of taking a highly allegorical journey through Hell in order to meet his courtly love in heaven. The Roman poet Virgil serves as his guide through the nine circles of Hell, each circle with its own set of sinners and corresponding punishments. In his trek through the fiery underworld, Dante meets important figures from history and myth, contemporary people in power, and even people from his own life—all suffering grotesque punishments for the sins that defined their lives. 

Image via Google Images

As the author, Dante takes great pains to give Hell its nightmarish geography. Located at the center of the earth, Hell is comprised of nine concentric circles—each with crimes and punishments more horrible (in Dante’s opinion) than the last. These range from a fairly pleasant eternal limbo for Homer, Socrates, Caesar, and everyone else who never knew Christ (because they lived before his birth) to the center of hell where those who betrayed their God-appointed leaders spend eternity in a frozen wasteland being chewed up by one of Satan’s three mouths. In between those circles are other bits of nastiness such as gluttons facing eternity lying in filth with excrement raining down on them, heretics in burning coffins, and murderers submerged in rivers of boiling blood. It is an altogether unpleasant place to call a utopia, a perfect place; however, Dante’s hell certainly fits the criteria. 

Utopian thought is often a result of an author diagnosing the ills they observe in the world. Dante uses this imagined world to diagnose the unpunished sins he observed in his own 13th-century Italy (as well as in history and myth) and, in turn, to imagine the divine punishment God might dispense. 

Image via Google Images

Utopias tend to mirror the cultures from which they arise, even as the utopia tries to negate that culture. Dante’s hell takes a decidedly Italian/Roman-centric view of history. Dante keeps the Roman poet Virgil in tow, condemns Odysseus for deceiving and murdering Rome’s Trojan ancestors, and equates the betrayal of Caesar to that of Jesus. Dante is nothing if not thorough. Historical and contemporary enemies of Rome, such as Alexander the Great and Guy de Montfort, burn right alongside one another.

Utopias are inherently grounded in the perspectives and biases of their creators. Dante came from a Florence divided by the power struggle between the Vatican and the Holy Roman Empire. Dante was a Guelph, who supported the papacy and opposed the Ghibellines—those who supported the Holy Roman Emperor. The division went even further with a rift between Black Guelphs, the ardent supporters of the papacy, and the White Guelphs, who had reservations about the scope of papal power. As a White Guelph, Dante found himself in exile, but gets the last laugh by placing Popes, emperors, Black Guelphs, and Ghibellines in Hell. Dante’s personal experience informs his depiction of Hell to the extent that he makes God seem very concerned about the minutiae of Florentine politics and almost always in favor of Dante’s White Guelphs.

Dante’s hell is the ultimate cathartic utopia; as an author and architect of Hell, he gets to assume the role of God’s mouthpiece, classifying and judging wrongs by his own compass, then imagining what nasty ironic punishment God might dole out. It is not a perfect world because nothing bad happens; it is a perfect world precisely because God has brought bad things to those who Dante sees as sinners. Prior to Dante’s viscerally realized Hell, Judeo-Christian Hell was pretty vague; it was menacingly characterized as a terrifying land of fire where the wicked are punished. Upon introducing a utopian framework to Hell, Dante radically changed the Christian mythos. Hell became a part of God’s domain with its own kind of perfection, perfection in which grisly justice is meted according to a divine plan. 

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.