Monday, May 27, 2013

Our Next Dystopia Is the Suburbs


Everybody knows that dystopias are always cities—Metropolis, 1984, Brazil; city, city, city. Pretty much on down the line, our speculative fiction imagines human on top of miserable human, toiling away in the soot and factory smoke, packed in like sardines in grey hopeless boxes. Those early dystopias, like Fritz Lang's prototype, were critiques of industrial capitalism; they feared the gears of progress would crush the poor, pollute the world, and elevate just the rich. 

Later iterations, like Orwell's Airstrip One, imagined bureaucracy run amok in a decaying city. Blade Runner's Los Angeles was dark and hacked and home to rampant danger in the neon mists. Soylent Green had the cities so packed we were literally eating corpse-food to survive.

Note the common themes, and you've got the most enduring conception of the dystopia today: a crumbling, threatening, and overpopulated metropolis. Certainly some of these sinister crime factories imagined in the latter half of the century corresponded with white flight here in the U.S.—the middle class building highways and moving on out to Levittown. That was echoed in the films, too—escape was often symbolized by a bucolic homestead, like it was in Brazil.

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