I read this io9 piece by Charlie Jane Anders called “This Year’s Biggest Superhero Movies Are All About America’s Descent into Fascism”. Well worth your time if you’re at all interested in the upcoming Captain America movie or Batman -vs- Superman
…or in who will be the next President of the United States.
Our spiral into some type of fascist dystopia seems inevitable, doesn’t it? Rather than waste our energies on applying the brakes – which are not working, despite furious pumping – why not put those energies into choosing the means of our oppression? Here is a collection of literary visions of oppressive systems, not with any real strict definition of “fascist” or “dystopia” but all more or less leaning in the direction of profound suckiness. You’ll have to do your own mix-n-match between these and whatever you think is the best/worst of the various cultural/presidential choices facing us. In other words, we’re not telling you how to vote. But we are telling you that Gozer is coming, and you can go with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or maybe The Great Orange Noggin or…? This choice could be the last we will ever make.
A Handmaid’s Tale – Here’s a dystopic option that seems really doable: control all the women. In Margaret Atwood’s novel, women, in a theocratic nation formerly known as the United States, are a commodity – slaves, really. Their entire lives are defined exclusively by their relationships with men, and therefore the state. I say doable, because though controlling an entire population would be pretty tough, maybe if it was only half the population? It could work. And if you use Religion, and twist it, it becomes so. stinkin. easy. Take any ideology, even Science, and twist it to explain things it’s not supposed to explain, and people will not be able to step back far enough to question or criticize it. Of course, by silencing and enslaving half of the citizenry, we’d also be cutting off half of our potential, half our thinking, half our creativity, half of – geez – everything. But that control would feel really nice, right? (Speaking to the men, here.) We’d only have two working tires on a four-wheeled car, so we might end up driving in tight little idiot donuts – if we can move at all – but at least we’d have the steering wheel, dammit. So, by just controlling the women we would be effectively controlling everything, in our half-dead, half-brained, half-assed…
– yeah, I don’t think this one is going to work. It feels… familiar, though, doesn’t it?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Okay, admittedly, controlling half the population would be pretty tough, but what if we just controlled those who were different from us? And if you’re thinking, “Yes, but who is really different from us? And who is us?” Well, that’s what’s so great: we can invent that difference and apply it at will. This is done literally in Philip K Dick’s novel, as androids are manufactured to do work for humans, then mercilessly annihilated as soon as they stop serving the purposes for which they were created. We need not be so literal. First, “manufacture” an enemy, using half-truths, labels and highly selective modeling. Make them scary, make them imminent, most importantly – make them seem not quite human. Next, simply task folks with the imperative of eliminating the “enemy” thru, you know, whatever means. It makes folks feel like they’re both being saved and doing great work. That illusion of security and that simple sense of purpose are really nice. Bonus: that us/them thing lends a sense of belonging. This one is tricky, though: rather than getting rid of the rat-cage-helmets, you’re actually introducing them to the system – fingers crossed it never becomes your turn. Though this is not really a fascist novel, it’s hard to resist the idea. It is a nicely customizable system.
Come to think of it, this one feels familiar, too. Oh – I know what it is – it reminds me of those World War II movies. Tom Hanks and Matt Damon were on the other side, though – huh… weird. Yeah, let’s skip this one.
1984 – This might be the simplest oppressive system of all: control everything via language and storytelling. This can be called marketing or even just lying. There’s a lot that’s useful for our fascist dystopian purposes in George Orwell’s novel, but let’s just talk about history and “Newspeak”. History is reinvented as necessary, and narratives are designed (almost ex nihilo) to support and legitimize power. Eventually, it becomes “true”. (Uh… hm… which ends up being a funny concept in this system.) Ditto “Newspeak”, the invented language of the book, which is void of any rebellious words, any nuance, specificity, or even, like abstraction. Since it’s hard to think things that you don’t have words for, you will never even think to oppose a system where words of opposition simply do not exist. Further, if there is no tradition of argument – meaning, point and counterpoint – and no sense of true-vs-false things, it is futile to contradict the “party line”. It’s like throwing rocks at a giant marshmallow.
Yeah, you know… we’re already here. I mean, people just say shit, and there’s no effective “Hey – wait – that is not true.” Wow – how did this happen?
See also and especially Fahrenheit 451, wherein it is a crime to read books. (Never mind that I would be out of a job. Honestly, I’m looking at the big picture.)
Brave New World – This is the winning fascist dystopia, right here – control thru incessant sensual stimulation. This is the best-worst, because it appears to give you everything you want while only taking away “bad” things. We can label as “bad” anything that is difficult: work, relationships, any kind of struggle, thinking, effort, initiative. And to create “good”, just like in the book, we can use anything from chemicals to entertainment to sexual pleasure to, eventually, straight-up genetic manipulation. This would be effective for several aspects of a person, both physical and emotional, and if you can lock those down, the mental and spiritual parts will just shrivel up. All we need is some way for folks to self-administer dopamine at will (e.g. 24/7 entertainment, some kind of portable device that offers tiny dollops of soothing/thrilling validation, etc.), and BAM – addictive as hell. Like in Infinite Jest, folks will lose the will to do anything but keep hitting that lever. Eventually, the idea of resistance or fighting or just standing on one’s own two feet – doing anything but taking a shot of ecstasy thru one’s loins – will just sound really terribly pointless and even ludicrous.
This is clearly the way to go. In conjunction with the language/storytelling system, this sensual stimulation program is enough to reduce all of us to illiterate, empty-headed Eloi drones/batterypacks/cannonfodder. I mean, it sounds terrible, but maybe it’s painless. At least for a while.
Wow – thinking about these books is like jumping into an icy river.
Ok – hang on.
Clearly, they point towards things we’ve either survived or are currently experiencing, yet – we’re still kicking. Maybe the game’s not up. There might be hope. Maybe I was wrong to despair. Maybe Atwood, Orwell, Dick, Bradbury and Huxley are like trench-coated Orpheuses, with those sweet shades, hand outstretched, giving us a choice. The blue pill promises to give us what we want, but we know it can’t deliver. The red pill makes no promises besides the truth.
And dammit – we already took the red pill, didn’t we?