We all like dystopian films and tv shows. Imagining what could happen to our society, on a large scale, in the future, has always been fascinating. We crave them, we eat and endless stream of savoury snacks enjoying a good night out (or in, thank you, Netflix) and we finish our viewing pleased with our reality. But is our actual world so different from dystopian futures? Yes, of course. For now.
“Woah, for now?? Are you for real??”. Look guys, the scary part is that these fictional works are scarily accurate. If you look around you will be able to see the first step towards the horrible consequences showed in those movies and shows. Because the fact is that any kind of future does not happen overnight. It will be a gradual process. And the first steps have already been taken. Here are some examples.
1. Advertising goes here
Let’s start small with Blade Runner. Not that Blade Runner qualifies as “small”. It’s one of the best sci fi movies of the century. What I refer to is the first subject in this list: billboards. Those huge animated billboards looked so freakishly big in the 80s. But if you take a stroll through Piccadilly Circus in London or Time Square in New York you will find the exact same scenery. Ok, maybe this first point is not so scary. But let’s dig a little more. Futurama joked about this, suggesting a future where ads get broadcasted in your dreams. Would that be THAT impossible? Think about how fast the digital revolution happened. In 30 years we went from an analogic world to super fast hyper advanced computers that sits on your wrist. Every channel is already filled with ads, from “old boring facebook” to Snapchat. Heck, it’s august 2015 now, and the Apple Watch already sounds like old news. What will be the next step? Smaller and smaller devices, of course. At one point it will come to chips. Experimental and not safe solutions has already been tested. Verichip was the first and only human chip approved by the FDA in the US, but after some controversy was discontinued. The new company that owns it, PositiveID, doesn’t promote it anywhere on their website. Still, I think it’s just a matter of time. Maybe other 30 years. But eventually it will happen. And we know very well that with any digital channel comes advertising. So, are Futurama dream ads really THAT impossible? Ok, maybe this is a stretch. But I definitely see our digital age as the first step towards a dystopian future where advertising is omni-present.
2. Make them fight
The Hunger Games took the sci-fi genre of killer-games to the general audiences, but ideas like that have been around for ages. So, the concept here is to create entertainment in watching people fight for their life. Even if in The Hunger Games there are also rich contenders, the real fun (and tragedy) comes from watching the poorest contenders. Last year the CBS network in the US launched a show called “The Briefcase“. One family, that heavily struggle with money, is given a chance to see how good is life without money problems. Then they make this family meet another family, equally struggling, and make them learn their story. At the end of the show the first family has to decide if they want to keep 100.000$ for themselves or give it to the second family. They don’t know that the second family is given the exact same experience, with the money, the choice, etc… So, at the end of the day producers say “hey, it’s not the hunger games, these are middle class families and we get them to bond on a human level“. Bullcrap. If you think about it, this show is just pure cruelty. It’s really about taking two families, that may be not extremely poor but are surely on the verge of it, and get excited by seeing how much they struggle with this moral choice that is hard because they really need the money. If this is not the first step towards The Hunger Games I don’t know what is.
3. We stay here, you stay there
So, I live in London. Amazing city. Housing cost? Downright crazy. The housing crisis in this town is a real major issue. And some politicians even came up with ideas to make it even worse. Lots and lots of Londoners are forced to move out, out and out again, in order to afford a roof over their head. Regulations could be put into place, but they are not. Free market ruleZ. If the trend doesn’t stop in the matter of years we will have the London tube zones that will kinda work like the Districts in The Hunger Games. People working simple jobs will live in the external districts, will take the train every day to go into the best districts, to be the waiters, the cleaners, the guards, the clerks and whatever is needed. And then travel back to their districts. Pardon, zones. Yes, I am comparing London Tube Zones to The Hunger Games Districts. Even if you don’t want to touch The Hunger Games, there are many other works that imagined this kind of segregations. Think about how the cities are in Blade Runner or in The Fifth Element. Heck, in 1927 Fritz Lang imagined Metropolis with workers living a slave-like life in the lower parts of the city. Don’t you think that the situation we live in now, in the biggest metropolis of the earth, is the first step towards those dystopian futures?
4. Who run the world? Corporations.
Have you seen the beautiful tv show “Continuum“? You should. Not only it’s a captivating story, but its dystopian premise is great: the world is run by 20 big Corporations. Governments stepped down and gave them full power. Profit, debits and credits became the only important thing, the foundation of social life. Even Police will bill you if they have to act because of our acts, whatever they are. Monopoly is the only form of business and everything is legit for the Corporations.
Now, let’s look at our reality. Lobbyists influence political agendas everywhere. To the point that basically in all western countries the number of people who don’t believe in voting is almost at 50%. Why? Because they believe that politicians are not there for the people, that they are not elected for the supposed mandate, but they are, in fact, just there to enforce the corporations requests. Are they right? Are they wrong? The truth is that lobbies are stronger than ever. They often get politicians to follow their lead.
And when they don’t follow, Corporations get angry. There is an increasing trend of Corporations SUING Countries. The premise? “You passed a law that hurts my way of making profit, therefore, I sue you”.
Wait a second. What? If there was ONE thing that made us feel safe against the extreme power of Corporation was the idea that we have the power and that we can set the limits. Now these Corporations are saying “no, you can’t limit us. We want to do whatever we want, otherwise we will sue you”. Creeps. You know what Corporations? Sue us, we are the Government, we will win. What are you going to do? Wage war?
5. Samsung owns a military department
Wait… what? Oh, for a moment I thought I said “military army”. No, Samsung does not own a military army at all. But they build jet engines, weapons, tanks and on the civilian side drones and huge ships. What if Samsung, that is responsible for 70% of South Korea GPD, decided to wage war? They could hire any number of Private Military Companies in the world, those nice, friendly companies of mercenaries, give them all the firepower they need and voilà. Crazy, I know. But not entirely impossible, isn’t it? After all, we are talking about first steps towards dystopian futures… Isn’t this the first step towards a dystopian future where Countries and Corporation fight a war?
“Diversify your portfolio” is one of the best practices in business. It helps lower risks and increase revenue streams. But how fare did the biggest Corporation go with this mantra? As said, Samsung deals with basically everything. Google is not that different, getting their hand on medical, food, infrastructures. Isn’t this a first step towards a dystopian future where a bunch of Corporations own and control every aspect of our lives?
6. Oil and Water, please
Mad Max, Waterworld, Hokuto no Ken. Any dystopian future where the main two resources of fossil fuels and water are scarce. We love them and they terrify us, because like in any other post-apocalyptic story, humanity devolved into a cruel and violent version of itself. Are we safe from something like that? It’s fair to say no.
If we combine two elements: the scientific uber proven fact that is the global warming and climate change crisis and the uber proven fact that fossil fuels are a limited resource, we know we are walking towards Mad Max Chapter 5. It may be in 2080, it may be in 2100. But it’s likely to happen. Maybe we won’t devolve so horribly like in those stories or maybe we’ll find better alternatives and escape the horror altogether. But the opposite is also absolutely possible.
Come, we have more. Including zombies.
If you think about this incredible fascination we all seem to have for zombies, it’s nothing more than interest about the wondering question “how are we going to react, as a society, if a game-changing event would happen“?
Some dystopian futures are very similar to The Walking Dead, just to quote one out of the many thousands examples.
Maybe we are so curious about how we will react on a situation like that, because we collectively feel that something is changing for the worse. Maybe we feel that a big change is coming and we are subconsciously scared.
I mean, we can find in our present society the seeds of many other dystopian futures. V for Vendetta and 1984 are, clearly, very relatable, due to the lack of trust in politics and the government tendencies of scraping individual rights for security reasons. I mean… “Big Brother is already here“. Sounds pretty true, especially if you live in London and you see CCTV everywhere. Which is creepy but you want it to feel safe.
In conclusion, there are many things that if looked with an hollywood screenwriter perspective could be interpreted as the first steps towards a less than bright future. What do you think? Did I miss anything big? Please share your comments below!