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How to recognize a dystopia - Alex Gendler


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The genre of dystopia – the ‘not good place’– has captured the imaginations of artists and audiences alike for centuries. But why do we bother with all this pessimism? Alex Gendler explains how dystopias act as cautionary tales– not about some particular government or technology, but the very idea that humanity can be molded into an ideal shape.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Many of the books mentioned in the lesson are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free. For a more critical look, read about the political history of dystopia and its implications, or the role of nature in many dystopian scenarios. And if you’re wondering how past visions of dystopia hold up today, you can track which dystopian predictions from various works have come true.

Interested in reading some dystopian novels? Take a look at this list and see if anything interests you: The Best Dystopian Novels Everyone Should Read. Why is dystopian literature so appealing to young adults? Take a look at this publication and learn more.

Want to learn more about the original dystopia? Two exquisitely preserved, high-quality editions of Thomas More's Utopia, (a 1518 Latin edition and 1556 London edition) can be found here.
Political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, near the end of his life, reflected on the horrors of the 20th century with a vision of what the 21st century will bring.  Discussing the balance of often conflicting values that must be maintained in order to sustain a free society, he notes "we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals... The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs."  The quote above is certainly a grim outlook on the state of the world, but Berlin does end on a more optimistic note - see here for more!
It seems that a note of optimism infuses some of the darkest moments: in his afterward to the 1961 edition of Orwells 1984, Erich Fromm wrote "The mood of hopelessness about the future of man is in marked contrast to one of the most fundamental features of Western thought: the faith in human progress and in man's capacity to crete a world of justice and peace."

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Alex Gendler
  • Director Jeremiah Dickey
  • Composer Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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