Art reflects culture, and in recent years we’ve seen a rise in dystopian future novels and movies. If they’re popular, it means there’s something we see in our world that we reflect (to its very extreme) in our entertainment.
So what do we see in our world that we reflect in our art?
The Classic Dystopian Novels
You’ve probably read some of these in high school, and even if not you’ve probably heard of these novels:
Ideas Can be Crimes:
George Orwell’s 1984
In Orwell’s 1984, an oppressive government controls every aspect of the world, especially thought. A group called the Thought Police monitors the populace for unapproved thoughts that could undermine their power, seeking to stamp it out. We see this in our world today with certain Church teachings, especially those about marriage, being seen by others as the enemy of human progress and must be eliminated.
Screen Entertainment is King:
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
In Fahrenheit 451, books are banned. And, no one wants to read them anyway. Instead they fill their time with screens, TV and movies (cell phones didn’t exist when the book was written). We see this in our world today with how much time we spend on our devices and not interacting with each other or reading or other hobbies.
Self-Medicate the Pain Away:
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
In Brave New World, drugs and promiscuity are the way the populace remains under control. If life is hard, self-medicating with temporary fixes numbs the pain, at least for a while. We see this in our world today with the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, and hookup culture, as well as the high prevalence of mental illnesses among millennials.
Current Dystopian Novels
There’s a good chance you may have read these books (or seen the movies based on some of them).
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games
Every year, the Capitol chooses two children each of the 12 districts to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games as punishment for their rebellion some years ago. And the people of the country eagerly watch the games. We like to think that the future will be more civilized than the past, what with the Roman gladiatorial fights and things of that sort. But, the Hunger Games shows that’s not the case even in an “enlightened” future. We see our thirst for blood and gore in our movies and TV especially.
Picture-Perfect Looks, and the Surgery to Make it Happen:
Scott Westerfield’s Uglies Series
Everyone before age 16 is considered an Ugly: they haven’t had their plastic surgery to make their looks perfect, turning them into a Pretty. Children dream of their 16th birthday and what kind of extreme alterations they want to make to their appearance. We see this in our world today in our obsession with beauty and body image, and of course the rise of cosmetic plastic surgery.
Babies are a Burden:
P.D. James’ The Children of Men
Worldwide calamity strikes and suddenly no one is able to have kids. What happens when the final generation of children are now adults? It’s a huge look at the consequences of seeing children as a burden and not a blessing: the contraceptive mentality. We see this in our world today with declining birth rates in the West.
Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World
Originally written in 1907 but recently republished, Benson imagines a world that marginalizes faith and seeks to replace it with secularization. Oh wait, that’s what’s happening right now. It’s always interesting to see how prophetic older books can sometimes be. Pope Francis highly recommends this book.
So, Now What?
Part of the Christian life is working to make this world more like Heaven, it’s part of the stewardship God has given us. Art reflects culture, and dystopian novels show us that way things could be, taking current ideas to their extreme. It’s a wake-up call, a call to arms. Time to take a stand.
The Rise of Dystopian Nonfiction | First Things
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