Why do we travel to dystopia?

Black Mirror advertising image of shattered glass, in the centre of the crack is a smiling face

Dystopian stories, whether it be in literature or television, have appealed to us for decades. George Orwell’s 1984 is an example of a traditional dystopian tale that is constantly referenced and used as a benchmark for any new stories that emerge. Newer and more modern tellings, such as Black Mirror, offer a much more confrontational approach, forcing us to really see parallels between those worlds and ours. We all grew up with The Hunger Games, which for a lot of us was our first taste of reimaginations of our societies, that tend to make us appreciate ours a lot more.

The adjective ‘dystopian’ itself is often used in news reports of political events, being the only succinct way to really describe the surreality of the story. It has a familiar taste, but of something that we really shouldn’t grow to like. Our obsession with dystopia may stem from our need to prove to ourselves we aren’t living in the worst parallel universe possible, or just a craving to experience worlds where there is a more systematic approach to the chaos of life, but either way they satisfy us. It is always a world that is much more violent and separatist than ours, e.g. the subculture in A Clockwork Orange or the districts in The Hunger Game, and this definitely contributes to our addiction, the existence of a world that is worse than ours in some capacity.

Shot from the film 'A Clockwork Orange' of a group of friends sitting in a bar surrounded by mannequins drink milk. A sign in the back says "Moloko Vellocet' 

Personally, my favourite dystopian story is A Clockwork Orange, followed closely by the earlier seasons of Black Mirror, particularly the Christmas special and The Waldo Moment, which was heavily referenced in January 2017 on the election of Donald Trump. I first read and watched A Clockwork Orange last summer, using it to complete some Philosophy A Level induction work, but soon found myself rewatching the Kubrick adaptation several times that week, boring my friends with the details of it. My favourite scene has to be the typical favourite scene of anyone who has seen it, Alex doing a rendition of Singin’ in the Rain, while violently pummelling a man, just because of the peculiar feeling of the scene where Alex’s euphoria mixes with the fear of the man creating a weirdly cathartic atmosphere. The brutal imagery that makes the film oddly unique was reason enough for Kubrick himself to request the film to be withdrawn from British release. 45 years after it was withdrawn, a poster for the film hangs on the wall of my history classroom.

Black Mirror is probably the most accessible title mentioned in this article; anyone with any social media would have seen posts about the Season 4 release two months ago. I remember when the show was first released in the UK on Channel 4 when I was just 10 years old, and rewatching them almost 7 years later gave me such an odd nostalgic feeling. Especially The Waldo Moment. The blue cartoon character jumped out of the screen when I properly watched it, giving me flashbacks to when I was about to finish primary school and had zero awareness of what the show actually meant. It feels odd to think about the relevance of that same blue cartoon years later, and how much more it means to me.

I think that encapsulates why we love dystopia. The fact we can revisit it, and see new facets of truth in it, a new dimension to the offsetting feeling it gives us, and a new opinion on it. Also with the ever-changing state of politics that we live in, having the plethora of situations and almost simulations is somewhat comforting. To see how people played them out. To see how people reacted. They’re like a manual to navigating albeit absurd but realistic worlds. Dystopia allows us to reassure ourselves. Reassure ourselves that we aren’t overreacting, that we aren’t in the worst possible system and that there are flickers of hope in our reality.