Fundamental aspects of classic dystopias that have become a reality. Reflection article.


To which extent were the famous classic dystopias true? Did the predictions of authors such as Orwell or Huxley come anywhere close to the present reality

"Prozodezhda nº 1", Popova. 1921.

In the current troubled and vertiginous years in which we are living, I wanted to carry out a retrospective analysis to try to dig into the success achieved by the great prophets of the sinister at a social level in their day, the authors of dystopian novels. To be honest, the result has been overwhelming. All the dystopian books written in the Twentieth century are certainly influenced in an open and explicit way (more or less) by Robert Hugh Benson's 'Lord of the World' and Eugeni Zamiatin's 'We'.

The plot of Benson's story revolves around religion, although that story is also the pioneer in predicting a new globalist geopolitical model consisting of large opposing groups. It was written before the two great wars that completely changed the world took place, and it is based on old ideas even for that time (in particular, the context of the ridiculous attempts to replace Christianity after the French Revolution), which has made 'Lord of the World' age worse than other novels and, in spite of its literary quality, it is the great forgotten work of the genre. However, the transition formula presented from a free world to the sinister domination is in full force: an apocalyptic or social emergency message that enables tyranny or unfair laws. 

Although this situation has taken place in some degree at a national level in Spain with relative frequency throughout recent history, it is only in the last few decades that it is being challenged at the global level and with potential for success. Donald Trump joked about this very thing a few days ago in Davos, giving as prior examples the depletion of oil or the threat of overpopulation. It is true that none of these apocalypses had reached the same extent in all sectors of society as that of climate change-in order to mitigate its effects, it has already been suggested that humans should eat only one meal a day and get used to living without hardly consuming any energy. This same key idea was effectively incorporated, among others, by the also British author Allan Moore in his work 'V for Vendetta'.

The next popular dystopia in chronological order would be Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World', mainly influenced by 'We'. It is perhaps the riskiest among the classic dystopias, making a very strong statement in terms of technological evolution and its influence on society: the closest to science fiction, overlapping with it. The concept of Soma as an institutionalized evasion drug was likely to become a reality over the years, but fortunately this has not yet been the case. Recently, Huxley seems to have guessed right the tools that are used to try to ideologically shape society: propaganda was already in full form around the time when 'Brave New World' was written, but even with the power of broadcasting of the worst dictatorships, it did not manage to spread in the same way as in today's society, exposed to the constant bombardment of short and direct messages on social networks... And news from increasingly digitalized and devalued mass media, whose only focus are high-impact headlines to get clicks, which feed the reader with bursts of information without pretending that they digest it-all to guide the collective thinking and corner or intimidate the dissident to convince them that they are obviously wrong. On the other hand, there is the sexualization of childhood in the classroom, which, although nowadays is carried out by other factors, the purpose is the same as in Huxley's novel: to banalize human relationships and, more specifically, to turn society into a large herd where family relationships do not exist. To all the concerned readers, do not think that I am overreacting or that this is a conspiracy theory: they call it queer theory, and its sacred scriptures make it explicit without any hesitation.

‘Soviet propaganda poster’, Rodchenko.

'1984' is the classic literary dystopia, both for its unquestionable literary quality and for its ability to masterfully combine the best of the preceding ones (namely 'Lord of the World' and 'Us'). Moreover, Orwell plays with great advantage by digging the trench very close to his contextual reality (the Soviet dictatorship), thus achieving a very realistic work, even with a few touches of futurism. On the other hand, and due to its success, it is the perfect example of a work appropriated by all political groups of the political spectrum, even by the extreme left-despite the crude correspondence of Big Brother with Stalin, with the excuse that Orwell was part of the International Brigades in the Civil War- before he stopped considering himself a socialist (the Republican Front in Catalonia taught him a lesson) and wrote his greatest works. The extrapolation exercise to the actual world is in this case more complex, due to the plethora of interpretations, which come mainly from the power of the devices we all have in our pockets, on our wrists or at home. Nor is it worth revisiting the topical parallels with the methods of communism. I will focus on more subtle issues, the real Orwellian innovation. Firstly, lies and hypocrisy are publicly and openly legitimized in Spain as standard ways of carrying out politics. In this regard, the most significant achievement of the author is the creation of Newspeak as a systematic tool of social control, which has unquestionable contemporary applications in the form of euphemisms, meaning manipulation and a constant clash of terms to define the same concept. The most interesting part is when certain situations arise, such as trying to prevent a word from being used or demanding that it be removed from the dictionary, as if that would stop speakers from using it.

To conclude, and although it is not usually classified as such, 'Momo' is actually a dystopian novel disguised as a children's book. Surprisingly, it was written by a German author, in spite of its genuine Latin flavor in the way it conceives life and work (not only because of the supposed geographic localization). On the other hand, it has been mainly considered as a kind of moralistic tale because it is closer to reality than its older 'cousins', which are prudentially futuristic, sophisticated and better equipped regarding sociology and science fiction. However, the time-stealing "gray men" have won the war with adults and children alike... and there seems to be no turning back. And there seems to be no turning back. Dear reader, try checking how many seconds someone can go during their spare time without reaching for their darn smartphone. The dramatic prophecy does not lie in the fact that we use it to watch stupid things or play games, but rather that the technological capacity for easy communication and access to information or resources implicitly forces the user to spend way too much time writing WhatsApps messages to people they used to call only from time to time, looking for trips, watching for great deals until they reach the best price, browsing catalogs or, in general, carrying out multiple and unnecessary tasks that we do for the simple fact of having the ability to do so. We do these things because the social system blames us for omission if we do not text to X and Y, if we are not able to get the best prices or if we have not taken this or that decision, assuming that we have an indefinite and inexhaustible time to browse the Internet, something we can do even while we are eating... And the belief that nearly everything else we can do in the meantime (in particular, opening our eyes, thinking or imagining), is a waste of time.

We can consider this as a mere exercise of the imagination, a sort of game or, perhaps, a simple set of coincidences. But all of them have come to converge in a very few years, as occurs in all these novels. Interesting, isn't it?

Iván G. Cantero

Translated by Beatriz Guerrero García