The latest Republican attempt at scaremongering John McCain into the White House co-opts the form of science fiction. Last week Focus on the Family issued a 16-page piece of dystopian fiction, a letter from "A Christian from 2012" detailing society's descent into chaos following 4 years of an Obama presidency. From terrorist attacks the end of the Boy Scouts, FotF's letter paints a ludicrous picture with the specific intention of getting young evangelicals, many of whom support Obama, to change their votes. The letter is a ham-fisted attempt at the genre of dystopian SF—a genre that has been pretty solidly left-wing since its inception. Here are just a few liberal dystopias that are both more plausible and better-written than the 2012 letter.
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler
Following a broad economic collapse caused by a laissez-faire government (sound familiar?), America has descended into total anarchy. The first volume depicts some of the chaos—the middle class living in walled forts; roving gangs of anarchists. In the second volume, a reactionary movement called Christian America promises a return to order—one that requires concentration camps for "heathens" like the novel's agrarian protagonists. Maybe it's just me, but I find it much easier to believe Christian America as an heir of Focus on the Family than the 2012 letter's world as an heir of Obama.
In Huxley's definitive dystopia, capitalism is no longer just an economic system, it's an object of worship (with Henry Ford standing in for God). In 1958, Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, a book of essays that showed further pessimism about the world's regression to assembly-line living
The prophecies I made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would... In the West, it is true, individual men and women still enjoy a large measure of freedom. But even in those countries that have a tradition of democratic government, this freedom and even the desire for this freedom seem to be on the wane.
V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
I don't think I can say anything better than what Alan Moore wrote in his 1988 introduction to this story:
Naiveté can also be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to nudge England towards fascism... It's 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century... The tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I'm thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore.
Thankfully Thatcher's prediction of permanent Conservative leadership didn't come true, and Alan Moore still lives in Northampton. The 2006 film version wisely does away with the nuclear war angle, instead depicting England's adoption of a Bush-style government as the cause of all the trouble.
In Richard Kelly's whacked-out apocalypse, the fate of the world depends on the result of a presidential election. Southland Tales isn't afraid to get specific in naming the affiliations of its bogeymen: Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Bobby Frost is the head of US-Ident, the military contractor that won the task of strengthening and streamlining the surveillance state. In this film, Republican victory means solidifying the bond between evil government and evil business, which somehow opens a black hole above Los Angeles. Or something. It's hard to follow, but one thing is clear: Richard Kelly doesn't like Republicans.
British artists really didn't like Margaret Thatcher, did they? The Tower is a tour-de-force concept album about the bleak direction in which the Conservatives were leading the country. Against a synth-driven background of demented circus music, the lyrics are a litany of brutality, repression, and intolerance. Unlike Alan Moore, the Dots weren't sticking around to see how things turned out; they packed their bags and moved to the Netherlands soon after the album was released. The final song on the album, "Tower Five," is a less-than-fond farewell: "You wanted easy answers / You want a tidy end / Don't you know you've got a lot to answer for? / You wanted shining heroes. / You wanted sparkling knights / BUT THEY'RE GONE. / You chose your grave. / Lie there." [Lyrics and samples here.]
Children of Men, co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Children of Men's Britain has become a police state as a result of anti-terrorist and anti-immigrant paranoia. As in the film version of V For Vendetta, it's a direct result of adopting George W. Bush-style policies, and the film is rife with images intended to remind us of American policy: Guantanamo-style detainees held in cages, media obsession with "illegal immigrants," and, most chillingly, the words "Homeland Security" above the entrance to a bleak refugee camp.
The Book of Revelation, by John of Patmos
As I've long argued, John's Apocalypse is a revolutionary book that's been co-opted, in recent years, by reactionaries. Its most moving passage describes the destruction of a Babylon, depicted in Rev. 18 as a proto-capitalist dystopia: "The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 'Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!'" (Rev 18:15-17) How's that for a religious picture of a world on the brink of collapse?