“…it’s what happens in the United States when a truly radical ideology takes over.” This is George Romero’s answer to the question of what his film Night of the Living Dead is about. To me, this is a most thoughtful and complete assessment, and perhaps what explains the movie’s enduring success. Of course, on […]
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Categories : Readings, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Ideas
The times being what they are, a lot more dystopias have been popping up in media. Lately, I’ve noticed these new dysfunctional societies have these things in common:
- Centralized planning, both economic and political
- Industrial efficiency valued more than privacy
- No distractions like sports, art, holidays, contests.
- Discrete cannibalism
Maybe it’s just me just cherry-picking, but it’s what I’m noticing. Here’s an example from Pseudopod: “Meat” by Sandra M. Odell.
That this is a short story makes no difference in world building. A word here, a phrase there, adds to the fleshing out (sorry) of the environment and adding to the reader’s ability to relate without detracting from the plot.
For me, a pared-down dystopia is unbelievable.
Consider the archetype for the dystopic story, the novel “1984”. Grungy, war-weary, and soul sucking. Yet it had the very basics of distraction. There was music. There were museums and newpapers. There were viewscreens. All of it was government approved, sure, but it took the proles minds away from their drudgery, and made them more efficient for the long haul.
There were pubs and perhaps illicit drugs. There was a lottery with announced winners (invented prizes for invented winners, but still, a distraction). There was chocolate, weak and smoky in flavor, which makes me assume there were spices, so maybe a culinary culture for homemakers.
Why do I find these distractions important? Without these distractions, the citizens would very quickly go insane.
Now, insanity is a further opportunity for worldbuilding. Cultures have their own, distinct neurosis in response the culture’s environment and social pressures. These neurosis are called “culture-bound syndromes”. We know about amok , a murderous rage found in Indonesia (and source of the term “to run amok”). What of taijin kyofusho in Japan, which makes a citizen so afraid of making social blunders that he refuses to leave his home? A disorder among the Inuit called piblokto is thought to be caused by both isolation and Vitamin A deficiency. Last, we have the origin of hysteria in Western Europe, first defined as a woman’s disorder which caused emotional excess leading to rebelliousness.
A dystopia would have any one of these, plus oppressive treatments for their removal.
Note in “Meat” that there are “crazy heads” who are condemned to “Processing” and that the protagonist herself has a rather nifty psychosis developing for solid social reasons. Well done there.
I know you’re asking “what about the cannibalism”?
I’m wondering if a reader could still relate to an industrial dystopia where cannibalism is considered a duty. In “Logan’s Run”, killing people off at the age of 30 was sanctified by a supernatural “renewal” ritual. There are primitive societies where eating enemies or the brains of deceased relatives was encouraged, the latter creating a culture bound syndrome (subject of the X-Files episode “Kuru”). What would it take for your closest city to dig in?
Did “Soylent Green” have side-effects?
What dystopia strikes you as believable? How messed up is it?
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Categories : Unsettling Questions, Writing, Writing Ideas
Have a look at this:
You’d think this movie a twist on the manga and movie “Battle Royale”, and on the surface you’d be correct. Instead of BR’s high school students being kidnapped and stranded on a deserted island, TBE has office workers in South America trapped in their curiously well-fortified office building. Both purposes are for all participants to kill each other until one remains alive.
The movie is written by James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead! Guardians of the Galaxy!) and directed by Greg McLean (aussiesplatter classic Wolf Creek). Actors are mainly from TV, including John McGinley (who always does great villains), the President from “Scandal”, the big guy from “ER”, and a lot of actual South Americans, even though it was shot in NY state though set in Bogota.
In BR, the government selects a class at random each year. In TBE, we are never really told why the voice demands the massacre, except for a vague monologue by a disfigured white guy at the end of the movie.
However, deeper down, TBE owes much more to “The Cabin In The Woods”, Joss Whedons’ satirical ode to American horror tropes. As mentioned, a faceless corporation maintains the high-tech murder site and watches using omnicient security cameras. Both movie feature a pot-smoking slacker who turns the corporate technology against its masters.
What actually happens? Trailer says it all. The tension is evenly paced. Characters are believable, even slightly sympathetic. The cool boss becomes lethally practical, friendships are betrayed, old scores are settled.
What didn’t work? The pothead in “Cabin In The Woods” was sharp and rebellious where TBE’s stoner bordered on hysteria, yet somehow overcomes qualms to literally pick through the remains of his co-workers, and that just did not convince. Also, the director of “Wold Creek” must have wanted some practical effects gore, but the prosthetics here are more ambitious, and the camera lingered too long on skulls looking more deflated than shattered.
Overall, it was a taut, entertaining thought experiment at 1 1/2 hours long. Have a look at it when it hits streaming or cable.
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Categories : Movie Reviews, Reviews
Cephalopods are overwhelming the world’s oceans. After the dolphins leave, will the octopi move in on the fish? Touch the coolest lil beastie to see the article.
There is the Spanish Flu. There is Ebola. There is the Black Death. Why have we not heard of the British Sweats? It has a 40% mortality rate. What would happen now if it came back? Touch the Limey Ponce to learn more.
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Categories : Writing, Writing Advice