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Dystopia: Why the End of the World Fascinates Us

Dystopian societies aren’t good places. They’re the end of society as we know it; possibly because a killer virus is wiping out most of the population, we as a population deplete the planet of all of the resources due to greed or overpopulation, or there’s a nuclear annihilation. And as a result, society is rebuilt or not, and what’s left is markedly different than anything we knew before.

The scenarios are probable. You need to simply watch the news for stories about deadly diseases, countries on the brink of war and climate change. All the educated theories, gives ample material to the writer to explore the results of humanity’s mistakes and with it, yank the reader into a dystopian society from a safe place on the couch. We buy into the experience and enjoy these depressing, oppressive, perilous, terrifying places, so foreign and unknown.

I could talk about The Walking Dead, where which a deadly virus is released. It kills the human and leaves the infected dead to stalk the earth, biting and each more. I watch with fascination as a society crumbles so quickly and so completely. Could that really happen to us? And could I survive?

My family and I discuss The Walking Dead as if it’s a college class. We discuss the implications of actions characters take under extreme situations. Like Carol telling Lizzie to “look at the flowers” before she shoots the young psychopath to death. The girl believes the walkers are real people and killed her sister to prove it. We debate why in this world, our rules and laws don’t apply anymore and why Carol needed to remove Lizzie from the group. It’s no longer about having the most or best things, these alternate universes are about the simple, most basic needs for survival; finding food, water, shelter and keeping the group safe. And when one of your group can’t be trusted or commits any crime, big or small, what are the new rules and what do you do with the disruptive individual?
I’ve been watching dystopian television this week and as a result, stumbled across a show called The 100. After nuclear annihilation, survivors are moved to a large space station. With resources limited, there is a low tolerance for breaking the rules as this new society tries to survive. Violators, if caught before the age of 18, are detained and killed on their birthday. Adults killed immediately.

After 97 years, the space station running out of resources, barely able to sustain itself, it’s decided that 100 juveniles under the age of 18, locked away for various crimes, will be sent back to Earth to see if it’s inhabitable. There’s a clear division early on, between good and bad, as a small group goes off to find supplies while the other group, quickly descends into anarchy, reminding me of The Lord of the Flies.

What draws me back to the show for episode two is the Earth and how it survived and changed; where the forest glows in the dark, the elk grow second heads, and the 100 aren’t the only humans. I wonder who was left behind.

On Terra Nova, overpopulation chokes our resources and sickens the citizens. Rules dictate a family consists of only four people and being discovered with more is a six year sentence. The world is dirty, you need air masks to leave your house. To solve the problem, authorities discovered a rip in time and send people back, 85 million years to start over. As much as I love science fiction/ fantasy, this premise leaves me scratching my head, though as with all dystopia stories, I’m still drawn to the symptoms of the problem and sheer will of those with power, to find a solution to the problem.

As dark and troubling as these worlds are, we continue to respond to them. Is it the hope that the world can grow and change and we can overcome and triumph over the seemingly impossible?

 

The 100 returns this fall on the CW.

The Walking Dead returns on AMC in October 2015

 

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