What is a Dystopia?

The Hunger Games phenomenon has people discussing a funky word, dystopia. Filmspotting.com put together a Top Five Dystopian Movies list recently. Their definition allowed 28 Days Later and The Road Warriorto be considered, though.

Dystopias: disorderly or over-orderly?

What? I cry foul. A post-apocalyptic movie isn’t, by definition, dystopian is it?My wife and I have been discussing the defining properties, and I think that being set in a disorderly world doesn’t make a story dystopian.

First it has to be the opposite of ‘utopia’ (which literally means ‘no place’), right? I take a utopia to be a vision of social order that allows human nature to flourish and achieve its full potential. From Plato’s Republic to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (he coined the word), the point is to imagine a world of perfect justice and virtue and then speculate about the kinds of laws and institutions which would bring them out.

A dystopia, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from a lack of order, but an overabundance of it. In other words, dystopias imagine a world where laws and institutions bring out the worst of human nature, or snuff it out altogether.

That’s why The Hunger Games, Equlibrium, V for Vendetta, The Matrix, Blade Runner…all the way back to A Clockwork Orange and even further back to Metropolis–these are all dystopias, and 28 Days Later, Terminator, The Road Warrior, etc. are not.

What do you think? Is this a functional definition? A distinction that matters? What’s your list?

5 Responses to “What is a Dystopia?”

  1. Brendan and I agree. I was just telling him how when I think of dystopia I think of A Brave New World. People tend to mistake chaos with dystopia, but dystopia, I think, is a super controlled state functioning under the guise of a utopia.

  2. I agree, dystopia is the opposite of utopia; furthermore, I think dystopia can develop out of a post-apocalyptic environment. It’s an attempt to create order out of the chaos. If you have time check out my post of dystopian novels. A new one I ran across is Divergent by Veroncia Roth, which is fairly riveting.
    Happy Pages,

  3. Hi there, I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, hope you don’t mind – because I love your writing! Happy blogging – and if you want to accept the award, please go to http://butimbeautiful.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/and-a-big-thank-you-to-nomadic-angel/ for the Rules, the picture and all that jazz.

  4. Sweet! Thanks for reading. Appreciate the kudos:)

  5. […] Uroboros blog a while back tried to define dystopian fiction—a dystopia being a society that’s the polar opposite of […]

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