Dystopian Reality v. Dystopian Fiction

It’s pretty weird that I’m “on” Twitter and what’s weirder still is that I have reported two tweets as presenting wildly inaccurate and misleading information. The most recent one?

Yep. The other tweet I reported was also one of this guy’s. We’re living in a science fiction world right now. Seriously. Among other things, 1) There is such a thing as Twitter, 2) the (alleged) president of the United States uses it as platform for announcing and making policy, 3) citizens are responding in kind. I find it utterly bizarre that we’re referring to any kind of communication as “tweets.” But there it is. Leadership in 280 characters a pop.

Among my first favorite novels were Fahrenheit 451 and Ayn Rand’s Anthem — both dystopian novels in which individualism is threatened. Later, when I was older (and more replete with vocabulary) I fell in love with Brave New World.

People like dystopian fiction. I think it’s often with the feeling, “Thank God I’m not living in that world. I hope it never happens to us. Of course, it won’t because we’re not as stupid as the people in this novel.”

The people in these novels regard their world as “normal,” and their daily lives as something to get through and even enjoy. People in Brave New World are very happy with the stratified society for which they have been designed. They have sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, enough money to live on, occupation, safety, security. The idea that there might be something “more” and something “deeper” ends up destroying this world.

This is a formula. A dissatisfied protagonist, a rebel with a higher purpose, upsets the apple-cart. Readers of dystopian fiction (judging from my students, friends and self) like to believe they are the rebel, but I think most of us just want to survive the whole mess and are not rebels at all. Complaining to Twitter about OFFAL’s inaccurate claim about mail-in voting does not constitute an existential act that will bring down a society.

Philip K. Dick wrote his share of dystopian fiction. PKD’s protagonists are very ordinary people, the kind we wouldn’t even notice walking around in our “real” world. Most people know Bladerunner which is based on the infinitely less sensational and sexy Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. (I have the T-shirt). I love the film MORE than I loved the book. Ridley Scott opened it up in ways PKD couldn’t.

Netflix made a (an egregious but probably entertaining) miniseries from PKD’s book, The Man in the High Castle which looks at a future in which the Nazis and Japanese had won WW II. The only part of “America” remaining is the backbone of our world, the Rocky Mountain States. In PKD’s book, the “Man in the High Castle” is the center of and organizer of the covert resistance. Members of the resistance are not sure if he is real or not. PKD’s enigmatic leader lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the miniseries he lives in Canon City, Colorado and they don’t pronounce Canon right. It’s caƱon, not cannon. And I won’t even bother to deal with the other teeth-itching inaccuracies (I guess I have a pretty big loyalty to the novel…) “Let it go Martha. Drop it. Now.”

My favorite PKD novel is Galactic Pot Healer. It’s not a dystopian novel and, on most normal levels, it doesn’t make much sense, but I love it. In this story, God is redeemed by art.