Note that, while ``dystopia'' is generally considered an antonym of ``utopia'', this is not necessarily the case. Dystopias are often called ``negative utopias''; they are often contrasted with ``positive utopias'' (since ``eutopia'' is pronounced the same as ``utopia'', it is not commonly used).

Though it generally is taken in the positive sense, ``utopia'' does not have a necessary positive connotation. Etymologically speaking, ``utopia'' means ``nowhere'' or ``not a place''. The general positive connotation comes from Sir Thomas More's book. Thus ``negative utopia'' is not a contradictio in adjecto.

Dystopias in novels speak more about the era in which they were written than indicate what the future will become. These novels are useful indicators of the insecurities and world views held by authors in another period.

Consider that 1984 was written with George Orwell being acutely aware of propaganda, austerity and authoritarianism in wartime Britain, and given his experience of Britain's class system and exercise of power in Burma (and Eton) he didn't believe that that democracy was necessary going to be guaranteed in a benignly socialist welfare state.

Later, The Road to Serfdom presented the idea that Beveridge-styled socialism would lead to dictatorship, perhaps coloured by Friedrich Von Hayek's own unpleasant witness of Austria's fall to fascism. Fortunately we have the hindsight to know that the nationalisation of coal wasn't a footstep away from the gulag.

Another example was written by the economists Peter Jay and Andrew Steward in 1987. In the book Apocalypse 2000: Economic Breakdown and the Suicide of Society, by now the European Union, which has subsumed the sovereignty of its member states, is run by a neo-fascist movement which took power on the back of rising unemployment and ruinous interest rates, while a former televangelist rules a crime-ridden United States paralysed by the drug wars. In fact even before pastel colour schemes went out of fashion, weak monetary policy, Communism, street crime in America and the Moral Majority were already on their way out, and terrorist groups dedicated to European federalism never really took off.

With people afraid of a nuclear holocaust, several films and stories came out in the 1980s showing what kind of uncomfortable and brutish society would emerge from the radioactive ashes. Some like Terminator, Mad Max and Salute of the Jugger just use the backdrop of an apocalyptic society to ensure the script would be full of violent characters free from the confines of civil society, instead of boring people we typically associate with real life. But the scariest dystopia came in Barry Hindes portrayal of a nuclear devastated Britain in Threads, where we learn in clinical detail that the survivors in a post-apocalyptic world aren't likely to be brawny men on motorbikes, but sickly, starving Yorkies fighting over ratmeat. The sheer gritty realism of Threads, knowing that this was not science fiction but only 40 minutes away from science fact, was what gave a generation of young Brits nightmares.

Warday by James Kunetka and Whitley Strieber was set in a much less devastated America of 1993, where the only cities that were nuked in a limited nuclear exchange five years previously were New York, Washington DC and for some odd reason San Antonio. However the whole fabric of American society has changed, as a pair of explorers discovered. California for all intents and purposes has declared independence, and resembles some kind of large gated community.

On the other hand, others in the 1980s were more afraid of being red than dead. We had the images of a Soviet- occupied America in the television mini-series Amerika, where life in the mid west plains was even more bland and benign under the Russkie jackboot. Red Dawn was just a bloody mess in more ways than one when a teenage flick meets a war movie with a survivalist theme, juxtaposed (again) in the mid west. And the other notable genre to come out of the 1980s - the Role Playing Game - also explored post-apocalyptic themes, with Gamma World and The Price of Freedom.

Herge created the dystopic East European republic of Borduria for use in a few of his Tintin comics. In King Oktar's Sceptre, written before the Second World War, Borduria was some kind of fascist state similar to pre-war Romania or Hungary, run by the 'Iron Guard' (just like in Romania) which plotted to take over its neighbour, the democratic kingdom of Sylvania. Later Tintin visited Borduria in The Calculus Affair where like many Eastern European countries Borduria had became Communist, ruled by a Stalinesque tyrant whose moustache is used as an omnipresent symbol of power, sported on the country's flag, car radiators and other ridiculous places.

Even more ghastly Eastern European dystopias include Molvania, illustrated in a parody travel guide Molvania - A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry (see my write-up), and Elbonia, the mud-exporting former Soviet satellite that Dilbert's boss wants to do business with.

The Two Ronnies also contributed to this genre with a misogynistic slapstick bent, who shortly after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister made a mini-series about life in an England dominated by women called The Worm that Turned. Some may remember the dominatrix secret police, the state emblem consisting of a pair of Union Jack panties (called the Union Jill) and Ronnie Corbett mistaking a Welsh accent with a Pakistani one as he tries to flee to Wales.

But it can be fun, and comforting, to read stories of dystopias that failed to materialise.

I believe a case can be made to divide most Dystopian depictions into two major camps: Huxlerian Dystopias, named after Aldous Huxley, writer of Brave New World, and Orwellian Dystopias, after George Orwell, writer of 1984. Although both are based on an underlying fear of the all-powerful government, the manifestation of control is different in both cases.

Orwellian Dystopias are based upon deprivation of the public to prevent them from having the resources to fight the powers that be. Be they fascist or socialist in nature, control is enforced by treating the populace like rats in a skinner box, isolated and controlled. There is usually an elite "inner circle", such as the real-life Nomenklatura that existed in the Soviet Union. Such Dystopias channel people's energies into surviving daily life and avoiding trouble with the law.

A Huxlerian Dystopia is one in which creature comforts are abundant, and used to lull the populace into complacency. Bread and Circuses divert the populace's attention away from the mechanism of government. Such a society treats people like birds in gilded cages, pampered without the ability to influence the direction of their lives. Such Dystopias channel people's energies into experiencing as much hedonistic pleasure and acquiring material goods as possible to divert their attention from the fact that their lives are as limited in scope as those living in a concrete cubicle.

The common ground between the two (and every Dystopia) is that those in power are in complete control, keep the people ignorant about the true nature of their society, and punish those who divert from the norm severely.

I believe current American society is rapidly becoming a Huxlerian Dystopia. Our leaders (from both sides of the fence) lie blatantly to us, our "news" organizations force us to fixate on the ridiculous instead of the vital, and we are forced to focus more on our credit card interest rates and how big an SUV we can afford than on the state of our society.

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