Tag Archives: utopia

Feasting in the Future: Food Within Dystopia and Utopia

By: Maggie Mayer

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.

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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.

References:

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.

A Guiding Star in a Dying World

By: Rachael Carmichael

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. 

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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.

References:

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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.  

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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.

The Prison Utopia

By: Marlee Jacocks

Image via Google Images

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

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

Image via PrisonExp.org

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

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

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

References:

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

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

The Utopia and Dystopia of “Altered Carbon”

By: Maggie Mayer

Image via Google

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

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

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

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

 

References: 

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

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

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

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

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