Indie Writing, Film & Culture
“Blind Faith In Your Leaders Will Get You Dead": Today’s Reality Has Much In Common With Hollywood Warnings
In a world full of tension and uncertainty, the word “Dystopia” has never rung so true, probably since the Great Depression. How we cope with the new reality we find presented is determined by the pre-programming we’ve received in the past: the television programs we’ve watched, books we’ve read, and the politicians we’ve witnessed, and maybe even the grandparents some of us once bothered to listen to.
For those attracted to the dystopian genre, today comes as no great surprise. For those who engage in critical thinking like it’s a hobby, the dystopia we’re suffering today is necessary for the future utopia to exist and strive for—yesterday is now out of reach, and only if we do as we’re told can we have a modicum of the “old world” back.
Just as we’ve seen in films like Divergent, The Walking Dead, and The Hunger Games, or with the warnings we’ve read in 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or indie books like Watchers, without an organized and promised utopia to offer some hope, there’s no relevance to our struggles.
Some of us pride ourselves in obedience, albeit, foolishly. Locked down in our apartments across the globe, we’re united in a common goal to eradicate a virus (or that’s what the governments of the world tell us). Just a little while longer, they say, until we “flatten the curve.”
. . . And then we flatten the curve. The ventilators—those precious ventilators that we must keep free for COVID patients—turn out to increase mortality rates by 30 percent.
. . . But just a little while longer, stay locked down until we “find the vaccine.”
Stay locked down just a little longer until we can get your 5G enabling tracking app, your globally required immunity passports, your identity tattoos, your global government in order. . .
. . . Never had the virus, no vaccine? You dare to think on your own? But it’s your choice in the end, they say with a benevolent smile. But no immunity means you’ve just dropped five rungs on the social ladder or into oblivion. No jab, no job even.
Just as The Hunger Games’ can attribute its box office success in some part to the void it fills for the real needs created by society—a fatherly figure to shepherd its herd — we experience a similar patriarchal governmental response in our 'new' normal.
We do as we are told; the patriarchal lawmakers know best; we’re now living in our own Hollywood movie where emotions are tapped to such an instinctual level of cultural awareness within a universal audience that we’re rendered helpless to protest for autonomy and individual freedoms.
And yet we still fail to realize we lost our utopia.
Unlike Katniss in the Hunger Games, who grew up knowing only a brutal dystopia where children are sacrificed for the greater good, and who dares to call out the “Peacekeepers” for what they really are, we, in our ever-narrowing reality, on the other hand, populations rest at the feet of governments in subordination and/or defeat.
The film The Hunger Games particularly takes my attention because it represents the very real threats of government domination and class divide. The subtext of government totalitarianism, military intervention through the use of Peacekeepers, and the distinct divide between the haves and have-nots is merely reflected in editing, cinematography and sound techniques to provoke an emotional response . . . and yet it seems so relevant and real in our own lives.
The feelings evoked raise the question for both sides of the divide: at what cost can society continue with the status quo and at what cost if a rebellion occurs?
These are real issues reflected in real society throughout history, and now remains so vitally important today. This is no longer a Hollywood movie.
But for now, in our own Hollywood movie, we’re still in the prologue. We’re still eating the grain out of the hands that initially slapped us with a virus that came out of a de-regulated and cruel wet market, or if you prefer, a bio lab that played with a biological weapon for “gain-of-function” war policy.
And yet we keep picking at the feed.
We keep buying into the bullshit as the goal posts continually shift.
And what of those in charge, those who failed to regulate situations unbeknownst to us — that will never ever be shared with the puny little children that they call their “masses” . . . ?
The camera closes in, the frame begins to shake . . . our “slavery” is now our “freedom.”
What will you do when they finally come for you?
On occasion, writers try too hard to write a twist at the ending of the book. It comes in the form of a cliffhanger or departs from the audience-capturing content already written in prior chapters.
The important issue at hand is don’t. Forget the cliffhanger unless you’re planning a sequel, and forget the plot twist unless it jives with the other 70,000 words just written. Unless you’re planning to write an ending that’s true to what came before, then the book will fall flat.
Hemingway once noted how he rewrote A Farewell to Arms’ ending over 40 times. Why did he do it? Hemingway understood the importance of “getting the words right.” He took advantage of human biology, where our brain function is primed to remember the last thing seen . If the ending tanks, then despite the book’s high quality, the reader is less likely to return to future works written.
Contemplate some movies of the past, where the movie was exceptional but the public’s perception of the ending opened debate for years to come.
I Am Legend (2007) is a fine dystopian movie featuring Will Smith, and is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel of the same title. The novel itself inspired many great movies over the decades, but the 2007 adaptation’s ending leaves audiences feeling deflated. Seeing the hero blow himself up in the name of martyrdom (when he didn’t actually need to), has left many a fan of this movie shaking their head.
Alice in Wonderland (2010) is admittedly a favourite of mine, but the ending! Urgh. The book, for which they base the movies, had so many unique aspects that captivated readers twice over . . . and then hit them with the but it was all a dream ending. A cliche that killed the story’s impact.
Hemingway understood how the brain generally attaches the quality of a piece of work to the ending. It’s no different to the Olympic gymnast executing the best performance of their life and then stumbling on the landing. Writing works on the same premise.
I’m a big believer in the dystopian genre representing a society in which we can avoid. (Everything else between is post-apocalyptic). It’s becoming incredibly difficult to find a reliable list of dystopian entertainment true to its definition without seeing the same old things. Believe me, I’ve looked. Unless you want incredibly heavy topics to weigh your thoughts down for weeks on end, or zombies left, right and centre, the lists are few and far between.
So with this in mind, I compiled my own list of books and cinema for your own amusement.
1. Childhood’s End — Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke’s biggest seller is a science fiction tale about the pitfalls of utopia. Greeted by a benevolent alien dictator, Clarke delves into the human psyche to see what makes us tick. Childhood’s End reflects on a utopia bestowed upon the human race, but there’s a catch: “the stars are not for man” and never ask important questions. Will boredom end in cataclysmic tragedy or is there such a thing as triumph in transcendence post an apocalyptic destruction?
This is an easy dystopian or anti-utopian read, even for the fussiest of readers.
2. The Death of Grass — John Christopher
Published in 1956, The Death of Grass is an easy but somewhat brutal read about the psychology of survival. Following a 3 day journey of main protagonist John Custance and his family, this psychological thriller will have you questioning your own ethics.
The nature of the story isn’t so far-fetched either, and is arguably with as much foresight as Orwell, and as frightening as Stephen King.
3. 1984 — George Orwell
If you claim to be a dystopian fan and have yet to read this literary feat, then stop claiming.
The book that coined the term “Big Brother is Watching” is a guide to what is fast becoming reality. Orwell saw the writing on the wall after his time with the Imperial Forces and his journalism, and knew better than to keep it to himself.
Ahh, not the rats!
4. The Wool Trilogy — Hugh Howey
Three books of sheer thriller in a small confined space in a time ahead of ours. I read “Shift” in one night—all 565 pages. The others in the trilogy are equally impressive.
This series has it all: from 3-dimensional characters to the landscapes and dystopian plot. Men are evil brutes, politicians are far worse; their schemes, incredibly cruel. Humanity is flawed and weak. What can only happen next is anyone’s guess.
5. Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury
The easiest read by far and the most fetching, Fahrenheit 451 documents a society where the intelligentsia are evil brutes and their tools, their books, the single cause of societal corruption.
Bradbury delves into our own history where book burning occurred, and turns the narrative into a work of art. The educated are the enemy because thinking causes misery—or is it they dissent against illogical governments?
Firefighters now run to alarms where neighbours rat out neighbours for their beloved book collections. It’s a page out of 1984 going one step further to ban the written word and to broadcast lies to a gullible, now feeble-minded population.
Relevant to today’s ‘memory-holing’ of Internet media, and the prevalence of ‘Double think’, Bradbury’s warning is stark.
Read the book before viewing the movie if you can. . . before we burn this to ashes, too.
6. Red Dawn – both the original and the remake.
In the original film, Patrick Swayze leads the fight against the Russian invasion on American soil. In the 2012 remake starring Chris Hemsworth, they’re fighting the North Koreans. Either way, the Wolverines kick foreign ass in a patriotic, yet sometimes gut wrenching fight for freedom. These movies remind us of the fine line between reality and the dystopian world, and have us questioning our own integrity.
7. How I Live Now
This Oscar nominated movie depicts yet another nuclear war; however the backdrop is young love. Get the tissues out—this one’s a real tear jerker, too. As you shake your head at the suffering and misery one can cause the other, and you’re reminded of the Nazi atrocities of the past, you’ll mutter “no” in utter disbelief more than once as this dystopian tragedy unfolds.
This movie depicts AI and its effects on society’s middle classes in a hauntingly real outlook. One single mother is faced with a gruelling choice of self-sacrifice for her family’s survival.
A truly dystopian movie, where “getting older is [simply] not an option.”
What feels like something taken from the pages of Stephen King’s The Dome, Netflix’s Between offers insight into youth’s desperation when all those above the age of 22 die from a mysterious virus. The kids can’t leave their small town due to quarantine restrictions and eventually the world forgets their existence.
But not all’s as it seems as the scientists swoop down on this dystopian experiment.
Gamer has received many a negative review since its 2009 release, and leaves me scratching my head as to why. This fast-paced movie warns of the dangers inherent to AI technology and our addiction to gaming. This very avoidable society is perhaps closer than we think with Musk’s labs currently designing chips for our thumbs and our heads.
Although the script could’ve done with some fleshing out, the movie is well worth the sacrifice for any dystopian fan.
Are our thoughts really our own?
As the game gets harder, the expectations become higher.
I didn’t want to imagine myself walking into the workforce with the expectation of eventually earning my master’s degree or even a doctorate. I’m not saying I’m closing the doors to those potential opportunities in the future entirely, but completing my undergraduate education left me with a feeling many young people encounter when they are truly emancipated from the rules and guidelines of parents and teachers—the desire to jump into work and grow as a person (and grow your wallet in the process).
Writing a book lets your colleagues know you are worthy of respect, and respect is the basis of all relationships, both personal and professional.
Still, like all things in life, there are some pseudo-workplace cultural expectations that put a fork in the road for you, forcing you to take the time to work on something that isn’t necessarily said out loud but is ever-present in the attitudes of your employers and colleagues: writing a book.
Writing a book is similar to writing a thesis paper, except the whole world will look at it, and any mistakes you make will harm you more than a bad grade. In fact, they’ll affect your reputation. That said, this also opens up other opportunities for you that you might not have received otherwise.
Employers Will Notice Your Commitment
I once read an article in college that told everyone to train for a marathon and complete it. That itself made me curious, but what shocked me was that the author continued and told the reader to put it on their resume under “personal accomplishments.” Is completing a marathon worth putting on your resume?
It’s a major personal achievement, but the marathon itself wasn’t the important detail. What the author wanted to emphasize is that employers want to see drive, commitment, and follow-through with potential and current employees. Taking time to do something that significant shows you are someone who can embrace challenges. The marathon example could easily be replaced with continuous volunteer service, completing your next degree, or writing a book.
Specifically, I find that writing non-fiction is perhaps a superior option to most alternatives because it shows (assuming your book has to do with the field you are working in) that you are taking time to dive deeper into the topics and challenges many of your colleagues aren’t.
Colleagues Will See You’re Willing to Go the Extra Mile
Imagine you and a peer who is essentially a professional copy of yourself are applying for the same job. You might even have both run marathons together for all we know, except what makes you stand out is the book you wrote discussing the very topics relevant to understanding how to tackle your potential new role should you get the job.
While many thousands of Americans might run marathons in a given year, fewer people will take the time to work on a project that will forever have their name attached to it. Writing a book about a topic within your area of expertise or the field you wish to develop a career in demands and commands authority in that area. A book doesn’t just say you can write well; a book also means you have a mastery of the topics that help pay your bills. A book says that while your colleagues left work at the office, you were taking the time to advance your knowledge, expand your network, and embark on a challenge many begin yet rarely finish.
Writing and publishing a book lets your colleagues know you are worthy of respect, and respect is the basis of all relationships, both personal and professional.
You Become a Brand That Is Entirely Focused on You
You might call this the “celebrity factor,” but professionals will always remind you that you are your own brand. If you speak at a conference about ending world hunger, you will most likely be there because of the reputation of your employer or the organization you represent.
For example, Oprah doesn’t need a long introduction. People know her without having a personal relationship with her. They know her because of her public appearances and reputation in the realms of journalism, entertainment, and humanitarianism. Sad to say, you aren’t Oprah, and you’re most likely never going to be Oprah, but you can be the first and very best “you” that you can be.
Radio appearances, journal op-eds, and speaking at conferences is something authors can do more regularly than their peers without a book.
The ability to earn “brand” recognition based on your own name alone is something a book can almost guarantee, especially by networking and marketing yourself wisely.
Radio appearances, journal op-eds, and speaking at conferences is something authors can do more regularly than their peers without a book. You may not be Oprah, but when people within your field hear your name, they’ll think of you before they think of your employer, where you went to school, or any other tertiary details.
You Can Influence the Conversations in Your Field for the Better
Don Draper from the hit TV series Mad Men said it best: “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.” This is, at its core, a leadership principle that can be applied to other facets of life. For our purposes, a book is almost certainly the best way to change that conversation.
Do you think blue is a better color than purple? A book means you really believe it. Are people in the non-profit sector not paying attention to a very important blind spot that could harm an organization? A book means you care enough to try to save it.
Books change the world in ways very few things can, so with great intention comes great printability (or maybe Spider-Man put it differently)—or for every Milton Friedman, there is a Karl Marx.
Doors Will Open
The first thing that comes to my mind each time I publish a book is, “What now?”
The elusive “what now” is sometimes the answer itself because after the marketing campaign ends and the buzz dies down, your book is now in the wilderness, and maybe it will bring you back an opportunity in a week, or maybe a month, or perhaps even a few years.
Be bold, write about your passions, and be open to all opportunities that come with being a published writer in your own right.
Two years after my first book was published, I still get invited to speak at events and write on topics that otherwise wouldn’t have been realistic opportunities if I hadn’t first published. This is in many ways a door you open and can never close again. However, with great risk comes great reward, and authors command a level of respect and authority that is unique to them and can help open roads that would otherwise never be available.
Be bold, write about your passions, and be open to all opportunities that come with being a published writer in your own right.
Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom. (Written by Remso W. Martinez)
Dystopian fiction offers a speculative glimpse of the future, one often experiencing a cataclysmic decline, with characters battling their way through environmental ruin, technological control, and government oppression. As a sub-genre of science fiction, the popular dystopian novel can challenge readers’ views about current social and political climates, offer warnings, and in some instances, inspire action. But how is dystopian fiction determined? First, let’s define the difference between the utopian and dystopian world.
What’s the Difference Between Utopia and Dystopia?
When Sir Thomas More coined the term “utopia” in his 1516 book Utopia, he was inadvertently shaping centuries of genre. With the advent of Utopia, which was about an ideal society on a fictional island, the dystopia was born.
Unlike utopian literature, dystopian literature explores and warns of the dangerous effects of political and social structures on humanity (Hugh Howey’s Wool Trilogy) , and what led the society to the totalitarian outcomes and the difficulty of correcting the situation. Often there’s no way back, and the character’s needs are striped down to their basic survival (Aral Bereux’s J Rae Books).
Utopian literature, on the other hand, often focuses on the individual and societal cost of maintaining a perfect world. Usually one individual’s sacrifice is necessary for the utilitarian society to flourish (Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas), or there may be a hidden secret that must never be revealed (Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Childhood’s End).
What Is the Significance of Dystopian Fiction?
Margaret Atwood once said, “If you’re interested in writing speculative fiction, one way to generate a plot is to take an idea from current society and move it a little further down the road. Even if humans are short-term thinkers, fiction can anticipate and extrapolate into multiple versions of the future.”
The significance of dystopian fiction on literature can vary from educating and warning humanity about current social and political structures, to reflecting an author’s beliefs on the pitfalls of society (H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine), to critiquing behaviorism (Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange), and cautioning on oppressive regimes (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Orwell’s 1984).
5 Characteristics of Dystopian Fiction
Often times, dystopian novels focus on central themes that generally fall under these topics:
1. Government control
Specifically, there is either no government or an authoritarian ruling body. The most contemporary portrayal of the Government Control feature is Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
Collins’ The Hunger Games takes place in a future nation built on the ruins of North America. The fictional Panem is ruled by President Snow’s totalitarian government, the Capitol. Just as our own society amasses vast amounts of wealth into the top one percent, Collins’ Capitol holds most of Panem’s wealth and uses this to control its citizens.
Each year, two children from Panem’s 12 poverty-stricken districts are mandatorily selected to participate in a televised death match called the Hunger Games.
George Orwell’s 1984 also presents the reader with a world under complete government control, known as the omnipresent surveillance of Big Brother, which enforces complete control over the citizens of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia – the three inter-continental superstates remaining after a world war.
2. Loss of individualism
The dangers of conformity are often written into classic dystopias like 1984. How should the needs of society as a whole compare to the individual needs? Authors writing in the dystopian genre will need to keep this question in mind.
Two examples are Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, written in 1953, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.
Fahrenheit 451 explores the censorship of books in a future society where increased technology and mindless entertainment dominate. The idea? To save the citizen from the misery of thinking freely, critiquing life, or being creative.
We , written in 1920, follows a spacecraft engineer living in One State. The citizens of One State wear uniforms and are referred to by number, and are forever refused privacy or individual belief.
3. Environmental destruction
Often set in places that are inhabitable, the dystopian environmental story documents a warning of impending destruction.
The one dystopian novel that comes to mind when discussing this characteristic, is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Written in 2006, the post-apocalyptic tale documents a father and son’s journey of survival to a more hospitable environment in which to live after an extinction-level event wipes out their old life.
James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series also chronicles the events of how a world is destroyed by solar flares and coronal mass ejection. In the first book, a group of teenage boys are stuck in The Glade and have to find their way of out of an ever-changing maze.
4. Technological control
In a dystopian novel, the advancement of science and technology goes far beyond providing tools for improving everyday life. In this particular take of dystopia, technology is depicted as a controlling, ubiquitous and inescapable force which creates fear-mongering tactics and a subservient culture. Oftentimes, the government can be seen herding the people like sheep.
Two standout authors capture this terrifying characteristic in the form of authoritarian bureaucracy: Huxley and Philip K. Dick.
Philip K. Dick’s 1968 short novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where android robots are indistinguishable from humans, and mass extinction has led to artificial animals. Although it is supposed that the main character hunts down rogue AI before they can assimilate into society, the novel leaves the reader wondering if the protagonist is himself a sophisticated android hunting down the lesser AI, and if humanity was driven to extinction.
Philip K. Dick also warned of artificial intelligence advancements in Minority Report, where the Department of Pre-Crime looks into the future to arrest potential criminals before they actually commit a crime.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was written in 1932, and explores the danger of advancing technology too quickly. In the novel, the ruling World State uses powerful artificial reproduction conditioning technologies to control citizen class and actions.
All three books have since been adapted to film and streaming services.
Dystopian and even utopian worlds require some level of survival to be built into the narrative. Innate to the dystopian world are its inhabitants fending for themselves after a complete or almost complete destruction and devastation of their world.
One instance of survival is found in the pages of an early Stephen King novel, The Running Man. Written and first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982, the novel takes place in 2025 and follows the story of an impoverished man living under an oppressive government. The protagonist is to compete on a life-threatening game show to earn money to care for his family.
In the renown Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a group of schoolboys find themselves abandoned on a tropical island after their plane is shot down. Conflicts naturally emerge between the boys as they struggle to build a civilization and fight for survival. This dystopian novel has been widely distributed among literature programs for decades.
Aral Bereux is a freelance journalist, author and editor. She has written on many topics including AI, climate change, geopolitics, history, finance, religion and philosophy. Bereux’s writing has appeared in various online publications including Zero Hedge, AnonHQ, and Antimedia.com, and she was the only Australian author shortlisted by Lulu for her short story contribution to the Anthology.