Dystopia No More! Please?

As we reel from the Walking Dead season finale, ramp up to the release of Hunger Games in theaters and ponder the possibilities of that Dark Tower adaptation coming back from the (presumed) dead, one thought comes clearly to mind: Enough with the pessimism already.

There are, of course, all manner of reasons why a post-apocalyptic setting for your science fiction/futuristic action movie/any kind of glimpse into the world of tomorrow rings true, not least of which is the contemporary obsession with the idea that everything is going to hell at a higher speed than we would like, and by the way, we’re all doomed. Having a future setting that fulfills all of our worst case scenarios to some degree is, therefore, surprisingly comfortable and relaxing; it lets us feel good about being right, even if what we were right about is actually the collapse of civilization and society as we know it (To be fair, most shows and movies never really think that one through beyond “Things will be a bit dusty, and everyone will wear leather and probably a scarf to protect them from some generic environmental collapse,” so it’s not like entertainment is really being made from fictional people’s misery (Yes, it is)).

It helps that such pessimism and expectation of disaster is the culmination of sci-fi decay, which took the utopian science wonderlands of early SF through the “realism” and “they’re just like us, working stiffs!” of 2001 and Alien to the depressing conclusion of “Of course the future cannot save us, we are terrible people with terrible and destructive ideas” thinking, which can only be the post-apocalypse (There’s something even more inherently depressing about that term than just plain “apocalypse,” too: “Post-apocalypse” always feels like shorthand for “Sure, an apocalypse would be really, really bad, but think about how bad it’s going to be afterwards. Seriously, that’ll really suck, like really bad.” Good lord).

Ultimately, though, I think we’ve come to the point where such post-apocalyptic depressive futures are… well, done. Not just that they’re played out and overly familiar (Although they are, let’s be honest), but also that it feels increasingly lazy to default to “what happens… after the end of the world?!?” as the setting – or worse, the plot – for whatever the story is being told. I want stories that feel new, or different, or at least something that tries to imagine a world other than the one we’re already in or have been told to expect from countless movies, television shows and other media throughout the year.

It sounds ridiculous, but coming up with an optimistic future seems more imaginative and, these days, more interesting than visiting a dystopian world devoid of hope apart from our heroic lead(s) one more time. Think of the way that Star Trek stood out a few years ago, just by daring to set a story in a future where people haven’t screwed everything up and are trying to better themselves, society and, yes, the entire universe. I’m not demanding a million stories just like that – That’d somewhat defeat the point of “Let’s have something different!,” wouldn’t it? But… Can’t more people at least look at that kind of thing as a starting point and offer up something other than the end of everything you love, and what comes afterwards, part 73?

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Comments

  • Chastmastr

    Interestingly, I know of one post-apocalyptic TV show which is fairly optimistic…

    … Adventure Time.  :)  Yes, really.

  • Michael McDonnell

    The only two futures that people accept is a dystopian dark future or a utopian bright future.

    The problem about doing stories that in the future is your always are wrong, you overestimate or underestimate it you can’t be right, even Star Trek and 2001 have mispredicted the future.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/capelesscrusader Joshua Epstein

    I would argue that films like Minority Report paint a picture of a future that is neither dystopian or utopian, but a realistic approach to what society will look like if we continue on our current path of consumerism.

  • G_Shakespeare

    It’s pretty simple. Dystopian fiction will disappear the minute people stop worrying about their lives. All dystopias are reflections of present anxieties.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FunkyM217 Simon J. Broome

    Damn Skippy! Bring on the Utopia!

  • Linda_b

    Here’s CBR telling us what we should like not like again. Well since CBR is tired of this genre I guess we should all move on. Any suggestions CBR? Since you are so opinionated.

  • Toni Goodman

    Neither dystopia nor utopia:

    Babylon 5
    Farscape
    Mass Effect
    Star Wars
    Marvel
    Stargate
    Firefly

  • Statham

    You don’t think Star Wars is dystopic? With the Emperor who lords it over everything and has a weapon capable of one-shotting planets, whilst his Imperial goons enact pro-human regimes across countless planets and subject alien races to misery?

  • Anonymous

    This is what attracted me to Star Trek in the first place — the idea that humans will figure out their petty problems and do something grand.

  • Michael McDonnell

    Alien and Aliens had a more realistic look at the future were the technology wasn’t overly advanced, if there’s everything going be wrong in the future it’s who’s living in the future oppose to the technology.

  • Coryjameson

    I don’t think the world of Alien is entirely Dystopian. Certainly a corporation dominated future is dangerous, but there are some pleasures. Such as narrowly escaping a hungry homicidal alien by blowing it out the airlock. Also, having annoying co-workers who slap you for not letting them into the ship being eaten by said Alien. Traveling to new and exciting alien worlds with dangers on every turn. Great stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JonesDeini Jonesy Stark

    Society will be more or less what it is now, just with more advanced technology permeating it. I’d like to see this approach more often employed. Not Terminator. Not Star Trek. More Jetsons than anything.

  • Simon DelMonte

    Thanks for saying this.  

  • Anonymous

    That’s true but they do end up getting rid of the bad guys and setting up a better universe in the end.

  • NoGraemeScale

    Graeme MacMillan NO MORE!!!!! PLEASE???????

  • Demoncat4

    the dystopia land scape  has been so part of sci fi for so long that changing any new film or tv show showing a non happy landscape would to execs being like when new coke happen. if the formula works including in sci fi do not change  it. though would not mind seeing something where characters are not fighting doom all the time.

  • Michael McDonnell

    Why not do a story that is just set in the future, like Outland was High Noon in space, it would be cool to do a film about a mutiny breaking out on a spaceship with the mutineers dressed like Starship Troopers.

  • http://twitter.com/daryl_millar Daryl Millar

    It would be nice to see more positive visions of the future.  Although I would point out that there’s a difference between ‘dystopian’ (e.g. 1984) and ‘post-apocalyptic’ (e.g. Earth Abides).

  • http://twitter.com/daryl_millar Daryl Millar

    *deleted*

  • Mike Kowalczyk

    Dude! There’s 63 words in the first sentence of paragraph 2! Break it up, man. Periods. Use ‘em!

    Plus, what’s wrong with dystopia? It’s a creaive playground! Nothing more. Just let Hollywood grow tired of it (you know they will). Eventually you will get exactly what you’re looking for.

  • John Smith

    Star Trek had its dystopian periods (albeit in its past – First Contact took place after a nuclear war; the Eugenics Wars)

  • Michael McDonnell

    The Eugenics Wars took place in the 1990′s, an example of mispredicting the future.

  • numberthirty

    This is like saying a drums/guitar/bass/voice musical lineup is done because of how many times it’s been done. It’s only a cliche when you’ve decided it is.

    If you want to see the limitations, that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way.

  • Lord Prong

    A better universe in the end?  Really?  Tell that to all the Imperial Stormtroopers and other Empire employees who were not only retrenched, but lost all their superannuation and work benefits when the high and mighty “Rebellion” decided to totally change everything.  Did the Rebellion even consult with all those employees to ask them if they even wanted a change of leadership? No!  So now that Star Wars universe is run by a bunch of midichlorine hugging Greenies who crap on about “being one with the force,” but aren’t against blowing up a few billion poor bastards on a couple of Death Stars if anyone disagrees with them. 
     
    Better indeed!!!!

  • Lord Prong

    Actually the Eugenics War occuring in the 1990′s was explained and portrayed quite well by writer Greg Cox in his Khan books.   He did it in a manner that didn’t mispredict the future at all.  I highly recommend them.

  • Yanks5179

     I’d argue Star Wars doesn’t count as it happens a “long time ago, in a galaxy far away.”  ;-)

  • Alobar42

     Star Wars: A long time ago in a…..

    Just sayin’

  • TheDude

    How the hell does this hack keep getting approval for his stupid articles, honestly grame mcmillan or however you spell his stupid name is the worst writer ive ever read. I honestly hope cbr learns that this dude is a total chump and a hack.

  • Anonymous

    No dude, it IS a cliche and the fact that someone – it appears, you – doesn’t want to think the limitations are important enough to warrant going in a different direction doesn’t mean the concept should be revisited ad nauseum like it has been for the past 30 years.

    I liken this to the “savior” stories that permeated adventure and sci fi from the 40′s – 80′s or the vampire shtick which was resurrected in the 80′s thanks to Ann Rice and which still haunts us today.

  • Michael McDonnell

    What the Botany Bay was built at Area 51 using alien technology?

  • Statham

    No. The modern day vampire trend, with pussified ‘nice’ vampires? You can thank Meyer for that one. Anne Rice’s vampires at least had teeth and real character beyond ‘oh, I’m fighting over this girl’ – there was more across her Vampire Chronicles than some soppy love story.

  • Vicsage

    Can anyone at CBR start listening to the people on this site? please get rid of of him or sit him down and tell him how to structure an article without using a question and a flawed premise

  • Anonymous

    (not sure if I want poke a Star Wars nerd or not or if my sarcasm detector broke … but …)

    What about the genocides the Empire committed? Or is that not canon anymore … ? I’ll give you 100 million people killed on the Death Stars but billions? I’m sure the Empire’s history resulted in far more deaths than the rebels. In war, no side escapes clean and looks perfect but I’m pretty sure mostly everyone was happy that Vader, the Empire, and the Emperor died. Don’t they show celebrations all over the galaxy and statues getting torn down now?

    My Star Wars is a bit rusty.

  • http://www.smallfish-bigpond.com/ Kerensky97

    “It helps that such pessimism and expectation of disaster is the culmination of sci-fi decay, which took the utopian science wonderlands of early SF through the “realism” and “they’re just like us, working stiffs!” of 2001 and Alien…”How did 2001 get in there?
    1.  “A space Odyssey” was part of the DECAY of sci-fi!?!
    2.  What working class stiffs?  The best in his field scientist researching “first(*spoiler*second) contact” or the two brave astronaut explorers breaking the bounds of explored space?3.  And how is 2001 not a Utopian society, or at least Utopian for only being 33 years in the future (from pub date)?  By today’s standards it’s not as amazing but even Star Trek still used CRTs.  2001 had space vacations at crisp clean orbiting hotels and flatscreen tablets.

  • numberthirty

    The Addiction/The Blade Films/Innocent Blood/Buffy The Vampire Slayer/30 Days Of Night/Let The Right One In/Stake Land are all examples of films that don’t have much to do with the Anne Rice themes.

    Are you saying most vampire films are following that cliche?

  • Lord Prong

    Your sarcasm detector is well and truly broken dude…

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Anonymous

    = ) Thanks for being kind.

  • Big H

    More Dystopia Please!

    Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean other people don’t.

    I don’t like dancing/singing shows but I don’t go around saying they shouldn’t be on tv because other people enjoy them and that’s fine by me.

  • Guydc3

    No More Negative Articles From Graeme! Please?

  • Myraturnblatt

    Can CBR do a poll on if people actuaslly like Graeme and his  articles?… i say find someone that can actuall find a topic to write about without using it in the form of a question and isn’t  without a flawed premise  and isnt without a negative slant to prove a point

  • numberthirty

     It would be one thing to pose the question. To state it like it’s a fact is a whole other ball game.

    It’s a bit much.

  • Michael McDonnell

    I think it will take many generations to evolve into the perfect human and the perfect society, but I don’t think we’ll outgrow war and violence.