When previously asked on the topic, I defined dystopia as “a societal setup in which a group of individuals endures insufferable dehumanization and oppression at the hands of another group/individual’s flourishing”. I based this on the observation that in dystopian media and reality (in which dystopias are based) not everyone is experiencing suffering. It is mainly an oppressive authority versus the ones being oppressed. Although this is a great start, I want to add more to that definition. Now, if I were to define dystopia, I would say “a genre of media which takes inspiration from reality based on a societal setup in which a group of individuals endures insufferable dehumanization and oppression at the hands of another group/individual’s flourishing, usually offering a social commentary with the setup.”
The two new points that I added to this definition are that it is a genre of media that takes inspiration from reality and that it offers a social commentary with the setup. These come from all of the readings and movies we had from this semester: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Purge, Brown Girl in the Ring, Planet of the Apes, and even many dystopian media outside of those are all a product of pressing socio-cultural issues and fear of what could be in the future. Just like how Kim Stanley Robinson puts it in her essay Dystopias Now, “There are a lot of dystopias around these days, and this makes sense, because we have a lot of fears in the future.” The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the fear of theology being instilled more into government lawmaking, Brown Girl in the Ring is based on the fear of climate disasters and its effects on humanity, Planet of the Apes and The Purge are argued to be allegories of our current America, the list goes on. Because of these fears, these pieces of media are created to be hyperbolic and exaggerations of what our futures could be if reality were to stay on the same path, leaving a preventative and cautionary message and social commentary at its core.
Many dystopias have different characteristics and traits, like surveillance, oppression, control, but the most important one that trumps them all and is included in all dystopias is the message behind it. Yes, it can be argued that my definition can be tweaked so it can be vague enough to include all situations, fictitious or real, however I feel it is more authentic to include that it is fictitious that is based on reality. That way, to say that dystopias are purely an overstatement would be inaccurate to the definition.