Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dystopia Death Match

     Having plunged into dystopian waters with a book, a sequel and a short story (thus far), I felt like it was incumbent upon me to look back at the august history of the subgenre.  I don't think you could debate that the two books that defined it and are still its two primary exemplars are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  I'll admit a preference for Mr. Orwell's work as I lean toward darker narratives and it's black as they come.  Mr. Huxley's novel is no less significant but is very much a social satire, and not quite as much a stark nightmare.  In terms of literary notoriety it seems as though the scales may tip ever so slightly in favor of 1984; it is Mr. Orwell who has an adjective that actually means dystopian named for him, after all.  However, they both clearly laid the groundwork for what every dystopian writer (which sometimes feels like every writer) is doing today.
     A more salient analysis of what lies at the heart of each of these works -- and what specifically terrified each of these authors -- could not be found than the following statement by one of Media Ecology's pioneers Neil Postman.  To whit:

    -- What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.' In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. --

      Mr. Postman clearly came down on the side of Huxley.  Essentially, that's what Media Ecology is all about.  Looking at the world that Orwell and Huxley saw as the future (in other words, right now), which way did we end up going? 

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