By Damini Singh
In contemporary times, television is one of the most reliable and easy means of entertainment, with content ranging from reality TV, cooking shows and soap operas to sitcoms, blockbuster movies and news shows. The idiot box has been helping people kill time, go about daily activities as well as have a much-deserved leisurely hour, for generations.
Technology has also been constantly evolving. The television shows are not restricted to just television – these shows are available on the internet, through both paid (Netflix, Amazon Prime) and unpaid platforms (most torrent websites). With the increase in the viewership of said shows, the practice of division and reorganisation of content under labels known as genres sprang up, leading to many studies that tried to figure out viewership patterns and the kind of shows that audiences tend to like the most. It has been a recurring result that dystopia-ridden television shows and movies, that predict a bleak and dark future for humanity, have excellent viewership – people tend to like this particular genre of shows a lot, when it comes to sitting in front of the television with a large tub of popcorn and have an evening of entertainment.
Why dystopia revolves around the supernatural
It is not a mere coincidence that one of the most-viewed genres happens to be dark sci-fi. Human beings have always been fascinated with the apocalypse and the destruction of the contemporary social order. The knowledge of the future is the one domain that humans cannot possess – it has been virtually impossible so far. This increases the fascination with dark, dystopian predictions tenfold. Fascination, bordering on obsession, along with the grim reality of today’s society, has gradually transcended to mass media.
The creation of dystopian fiction and its large viewership has given humans an imagination to purge the world of everything that is wrong or could go wrong, according to them. The power to enforce a large-scale rebirth, according to the creator’s notions of what a perfect world would be like, is what has led to the sweeping range of books, television shows and movies based on the same order of events. This is a reason that many religions, upon founding, almost immediately came up with books and theories after theories, suggesting how God will end the world due to humanity’s corruption, and then start afresh with the choicest of his loyalists. These events can, obviously, also be metaphorical. Pop culture today doesn’t really show God’s intervention – rather, it has a protagonist who, via their actions, becomes god-like to the tormented and the downtrodden, in their respective universes.
Origin of dystopian fiction
Dystopian fiction is born out of a lot of factors, the foremost being people’s interest in the darkest parts of the human imagination. This darkness is not just in the storyline and concept – often in visual media, the usage of direction, settings, and most importantly, colours, are used to portray that the darkness lies in the human mind, that could breed catastrophe if allowed to run rampant. In futuristic sci-fi, the world order is in chaos. There are ruins next to majestic buildings. The gap between social-economic strata is huge. The rich become richer while the other classes are left squabbling over a piece of bread. Yellow ochre skies, floating robots and flying cars are some imagery of bleak futures as shown in movies and TV shows. Shows such as Westworld, movies like the Divergent series and even graphic novels, such as Watchmen, all have shown a dystopian future, with a raging AI, vicious and rigid social order, as well as a madman’s biological attack on cities, respectively.
These aren’t just imaginary predictions of what could become of the present world. Some of these fictional shows are projections of the current political and social scenario, as viewed by the creator of the shows. For instance, Francis Ford Coppola’s dark drama, “Apocalypse Now”, was based on the outrage caused by the Vietnam War. Another instance is George Orwell’s 1984. It was a book based on the author’s hatred of totalitarianism and political authority – a hatred that had itself developed from the reigns of real-life dictators, such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in Russia. Yet another classic dystopian graphic novel (and the subsequent film), V for Vendetta, was further based on 1984 – both spoke of totalitarian governments that reduced their countries to a grim state. Both the works also focused on the secret police, an organisation that perpetrated atrocities on the citizens that dared to speak up, or had a slip-up and made trivial mistakes. Thus, both the authors, George Orwell and Alan Moore, imagined a futuristic time, where the victims of the state’s cruelties struggled against the government to bring some light back into the world. These novels and many others based on similar themes have struck a chord somewhere in the readers’ minds – thus leading to movie and television adaptations, as well as inspiring a set of new dystopian works.
Dystopian fiction is much closer to reality
Some of these works aren’t just predicting an imagined fear; rather, they are building upon the current technological advancements and portraying a future where all the negative aspects and features of science have created a society that looks perfect but is far from it. One of the most important instances of such a show is Black Mirror. It is an anthological series that streams on Netflix, with each episode airing a different society. An episode that was the closest to home was season 3, episode 1, titled “Nosedive”, which spoke of a not so distant future, where the government had enforced a citizen rating system. Every action led to a person being rated on a scale of 5 by others. Demarcations were made on the basis of a minimum rating – for instance, in order to book a flight, one needed to have a minimum rating of 4.5.
In fact, the citizen rating technology depicted in this show might become a reality pretty soon. The Chinese government has come up with a Social Credit System, a plan that the state will make mandatory for all its citizens by 2020. This system will look at the different dimensions of a person’s life, aspects such as financial standing, political history, purchase history and even their social interactions, to calculate their “trust score”. This system has similar shades and undertones as was depicted in the episode. The ratings will be brought down by fraudulent payments, bad behaviour in the society, and even remarkably trivial activities such as the purchase of video games since it implies that the person’s productivity is going down. The Chinese officials claim that this step is taken to make a citizen more responsible and development-oriented, as well as to influence them towards the makings of a better society – but most people think of it as just another step taken by the state towards citizen surveillance. The fears of many are coming true – the country has indeed moved towards turning into a dystopia, with a grim future and a totalitarian government.
While it is indeed difficult to imagine situations such as the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse, or the sun causing a power outrage and plunging the world into darkness, in the immediate future, some scenarios are not unlikely. Dystopian fiction stems from the imagination of not just the creator, but of the blooms from the fears of the human mind and the darkest corners of the human imagination. We can only hope that in the darkest of times, just like these shows, we have a rebel, a survivor, who will lead the fight and bring peace and light back to the world. Until then – sit back and have a great binge.
Featured image source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius