Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why we keep going back to dystopian futures

Today I read an article in Wired about H.G. Wells and why "we keep coming back" to his dystopian visions. Putting aside the possibility that maybe his dystopian fiction was simply more compelling than his utopian fiction, let's remember why fiction exists in the first place...

Fiction is often called escapism, as in an escape from reality. No one tries to escape a world they like. Contentment doesn't lead to fiction being written or read. And if you hate the world as it is and want to see it wrecked, it isn't hard to see why dystopian fiction would appeal to you.

But couldn't this disposition also drive you to utopian fiction? Of course. But remember, when you're miserable, you don't necessarily want to dream of a better tomorrow. Much more satisfying to see everything destroyed so you can say "I told you so!" (H.G. Wells' epitaph: "I told you so, you damned fools.") Truly miserable people don't want a utopia that is going to deliver the whole human race, morons included. Utopia isn't any fun if your enemies get to enjoy it too.

And as the article points out, the darkest philosophical elements of Wells' visions are left out of the movies. The adaptations allude to these elements in the broadest sense, if at all. So perhaps we just keep "going back" because novels like War of the Worlds (dystopian or not) have become brand names that instantly get our attention. I would bet a big swath of the War of the Worlds film audience found Independence Day similarly entertaining.

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