Dystopia Reimagined

At the beginning of this course, I defined dystopia as a society consumed by perils, conformity, and freedom infringement, while civilians are simultaneously plagued by immense fear and distrust. Although valid, this definition fails to address both the cause and effect of a dystopian society. Thus, as we approach the end of this course, I redefine dystopia as a society plagued with fear, injustice, and cynicism, as a result of persistent oppression. The oppressor(s) consist of empowered individual(s) that control the citizens’ resources, obstruct their civil liberties, and generate their disastrous realities. It is the presence of this oppressive force that ensues the dystopia and lack of sufficient agency of the oppressed force that sustains the dystopia.

The term oppression refers to prolonged unjust treatment, yet it is also a complex and multifaceted phenomena. Iris Young, an American political theorist and social feminist, was one of many individuals who attempted to accurately define the term “oppression”. In her article “Five Faces of Oppression”, Young explains that oppression consists of five main characteristics: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. These factors of oppressed societies are paralleled experiences within dystopian societies. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a renowned dystopian novel that is exemplary of the dynamics of dystopian oppression. The restricted state of the women caused by the “Commanders” within the Republic of Gilead, clearly depicts the role of superiority within a dystopia.

Nonetheless, a dystopian society is much more than “an imagined state or society in which  there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic”, as defined by Oxford Languages Dictionary. Rather than being “imagined”, dystopian societies are subjective, since it is only the oppressed entity that can reap the detriments of oppression. This fact makes it easy for mass media to convey dystopias as merely fictional content, while marginalized consumers perceive dystopian media as thorough extensions of their reality. The relentless genocides in Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the recently obstructed right to protest and obtain an abortion in the United States are current examples of this. It is critical to understand the relationship between contemporary perils and avenues of oppression to holistically understand the complexity of a dystopia.

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