Media and societal dystopia

I don’t read modern novels. Authors frequently become tangled in their own small, distorted worlds;  their characters are often portrayed as pathetic victims, drug dealers or psychos; and the plots usually are designed to depress and frighten the readers—and that goes double for movies and television adaptations.

They feature imaginary places and life conditions that are “extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror,” according to my dictionary definition of dystopia. For examples, sit through the usual 20-minute audio and visual torture of preview “trailers”—once known as “coming attractions”—shown prior to main features in your local theatre.

An example of media dystopia appears in a review of a recent HULU TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Typically, it’s about a lesbian “Enslaved by a totalitarian society that mandates she be used solely for the purpose of procreation,” according to Hunter Ingram of the Wilmington, N. C. StarNews staff.

Editors gave Mr. Ingram a half page of the ENTERTAINMENT section to tell us they think this is “compelling” and “vital television.” And, in his imaginary world, Ingram believes that this bizarro tale is timely because of Donald Trump’s presidency.

He writes: It’s a “keen commentary on the very real fears of minorities and marginalized groups.”—talk about fiction…. Ingram believes this production “shouldn’t be dismissed as coincidental, nor does it feel beholden to the nation’s current climate to convey the horror of oppression.”—Whatever that means.

Mr. Ingram’s delusion about President Trump’s “oppression” of women is itself a dystopia—an imaginary state in which life is bad. In this condition he adds distortion of fact. Presumably blaming Mr. Trump’s recent campaign, Ingram equates  “American streets having played host to plenty of protests… with TV flashbacks “to the time when women were stripped of their rights and a protest against the new order ends in a military gunning down the protesters, wiping away free speech in an instant.” Stay with me on this convoluted thinking….

Ingram must have missed the frequent news reports of urban thugs destroying property, stealing, and killing unsuspecting police in several American cities. Yet, none of them were gunned down without cause. Anyway, Trump had nothing to do with that.

Of course, except for those peddling fake news, we all know that black-shirt, masked leftist fascists are the protesters who have violently tried to shut down free speech at Trump rallies, and more recently on university campuses against conservative speakers.

Although I haven’t seen the Tale, Ingram says that this TV dystopia “feels surreal.” Thus, obviously, it has no connection with the reality of President Trump or traditional American society.

But this tale could easily reflect actual Islamic culture and law: oppression of women; wiping out free speech; substituting cruel sharia for humane Western law; executing homosexuals; “about the female experience in a society that only prioritizes them and values them based on the functionality of their organs”—as Mr. Ingram aptly describes it.

He writes, “The Handmaid’s Tale is not easy to watch.”

Nor, in my opinion, is it worth watching.

***

  In the May issue of Chronicles magazine writer Daniel McCarthy features an article titled, “No Place for Humanity: Our Free-Chosen Dystopia.” He notes that prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States there seemed to be “a sudden passion for antitotalitarian literature” such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We; and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

McCarthy defines dystopian literature: “…a moral genre, a critique not only of power but, in its most outstanding classics, of progressivism.” Early authors were “men of the left. Who better to show the horror of how enlightened ideals and progressive politics go astray?” he writes. The central theme of these authors was that the totalitarian state destroys the deepest human loyalties; “the family and truly intimate commitments between a man and a woman are, in fact, thoroughly inimical to the ethos of the state.”

All of these leftist authors “recognized that there was no place for humanity in an idealized progressive politics pursued with scientific rigor. A thoroughly rationalistic approach to maximizing human prosperity and equality only led to the annihilations of all culture, personality, and love. It required the creation of a police state.

“Readers who turn to their works,” advises McCarthy, “in search of parallels to Trump and the American right are missing the point. They would be more politically savvy, as well as better readers, if they understood how Orwell’s and Huxley’s dystopias reveal an ugliness in the progressive project that many Trump voters perceived as well.”

Much of that ugliness has been embedded in our institutions and lifestyles. Again, I think of Pogo Possum’s astute swamp observation: “We has met the enemy and he is us.”

A dehumanized, collectivist, state-controlled society is upon us and we have allowed it to happen. The pathologies of political correctness; multiculture mania; shutting down “unacceptable” speech at our academic institutions; creating unnatural sexual identities; media “fake news”; compulsive drug use; street gang violence and increasing mental disorders are self-inflicted societal wounds—that we may never be able to heal.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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