Intro to Dystopia Continued
Transcript for Ted-Ed video “How to recognize a dystopia”- Alex Gendler
Have you ever tried to picture an ideal world? One without war, poverty, or crime? If so, you're not alone. 00:14 Plato imagined an enlightened republic ruled by philosopher kings, 00:19 many religions promise bliss in the afterlife, 00:22 and throughout history, 00:23 various groups have tried to build paradise on Earth. 00:27 Thomas More's 1516 book "Utopia" gave this concept a name, 00:32 Greek for "no place." 00:35 Though the name suggested impossibility, 00:37 modern scientific and political progress 00:40 raised hopes of these dreams finally becoming reality. 00:44 But time and time again, they instead turned into nightmares 00:48 of war, famine, and oppression. 00:50 And as artists began to question utopian thinking, 00:53 the genre of dystopia, the not good place, was born. 00:58 One of the earliest dystopian works is Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels." 01:03 Throughout his journey, Gulliver encounters fictional societies, 01:06 some of which at first seem impressive, but turn out to be seriously flawed. 01:11 On the flying island of Laputa, 01:13 scientists and social planners pursue extravagant and useless schemes 01:18 while neglecting the practical needs of the people below. 01:22 And the Houyhnhnm who live in perfectly logical harmony 01:25 have no tolerance for the imperfections of actual human beings. 01:30 With his novel, Swift established a blueprint for dystopia, 01:33 imagining a world where certain trends in contemporary society 01:37 are taken to extremes, 01:38 exposing their underlying flaws. 01:42 And the next few centuries would provide plenty of material. 01:46 Industrial technology that promised to free laborers 01:50 imprisoned them in slums and factories, instead, 01:54 while tycoons grew richer than kings. 01:57 By the late 1800's, many feared where such conditions might lead. 02:02 H. G. Wells's "The Time Machine" imagined upper classes and workers 02:06 evolving into separate species, 02:09 while Jack London's "The Iron Heel" portrayed a tyrannical oligarchy 02:13 ruling over impoverished masses. 02:17 The new century brought more exciting and terrifying changes. 02:22 Medical advances made it possible to transcend biological limits 02:26 while mass media allowed instant communication 02:29 between leaders and the public. 02:31 In Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", citizens are genetically engineered 02:36 and conditioned to perform their social roles. 02:39 While propaganda and drugs keep the society happy, 02:42 it's clear some crucial human element is lost. 02:46 But the best known dystopias were not imaginary at all. 02:52 As Europe suffered unprecedented industrial warfare, 02:55 new political movements took power. 02:57 Some promised to erase all social distinctions, 03:01 while others sought to unite people around a mythical heritage. 03:04 The results were real-world dystopias 03:07 where life passed under the watchful eye of the State 03:11 and death came with ruthless efficiency to any who didn't belong. 03:16 Many writers of the time didn't just observe these horrors, 03:19 but lived through them. 03:22 In his novel "We", Soviet writer Yevgeny Zamyatin described a future 03:26 where free will and individuality were eliminated. 03:30 Banned in the U.S.S.R., the book inspired authors like George Orwell 03:34 who fought on the front lines against both fascism and communism. 03:39 While his novel "Animal Farm" directly mocked the Soviet regime, Intro to Dystopia Continued the classic "1984" was a broader critique of totalitarianism, media, and language. 03:50 And in the U.S.A., Sinclair Lewis's "It Can't Happen Here" 03:54 envisioned how easily democracy gave way to fascism. 03:59 In the decades after World War II, 04:01 writers wondered what new technologies 04:03 like atomic energy, artificial intelligence, and space travel 04:06 meant for humanity's future. 04:09 Contrasting with popular visions of shining progress, 04:12 dystopian science fiction expanded to films, comics, and games. 04:18 Robots turned against their creators 04:21 while TV screens broadcast deadly mass entertainment. 04:25 Workers toiled in space colonies above an Earth of depleted resources 04:30 and overpopulated, crime-plagued cities.04:34 Yet politics was never far away. 04:36 Works like "Dr. Strangelove" and "Watchmen" explored the real threat of nuclear war, 04:42 while "V for Vendetta" and "The Handmaid's Tale" 04:44 warned how easily our rights could disappear in a crisis. 04:49 And today's dystopian fiction continues to reflect modern anxieties 04:53 about inequality, 04:54 climate change, 04:55 government power, 04:56 and global epidemics. 04:58 So why bother with all this pessimism? 05:01 Because at their heart, dystopias are cautionary tales, 05:04 not about some particular government or technology, 05:08 but the very idea that humanity can be molded into an ideal shape. 05:14 Think back to the perfect world you imagined. 05:17 Did you also imagine what it would take to achieve? 05:20 How would you make people cooperate? 05:24 And how would you make sure it lasted? 05:28 Now take another look. 05:30 Does that world still seem perfect?