Dystopian cliches

Maybe Genius is really hitting it out of the park today (and by “today” I mean “the day I picked to catch up on my last month of feeds”). Here’s a handy list of dystopian tropes. I’m thinking about using it to create Dystopian Bingo. Would you play with me?

A couple of favorite bits:

The key to dystopia is some element of larger societal commentary. It’s not simply a ruined futuristic world. Some people miss this key point while writing what they believe to be a dystopia. What is your dystopian world trying to say?

(Though I’d say this is maybe more a problem of subgenre semantics. Nothing wrong with a good straightforward post-apocalypse, I say.)

Totalitarian government. ‘Nuff said. You will find the presence of an oppressive, totalitarian government in nearly every dystopia you come across. This naturally makes sense, as a dystopia portrays a society we would fear, and totalitarianism is certainly something most people fear. This makes it a common trope, but not necessarily cliché. It becomes cliché when the government is a one-dimensional bad guy that just likes to torture its people. As with any villain, it should be more nuanced than that – the government leaders should genuinely believe they are doing what’s best for their people. They may believe it in an incredibly twisted way, but they believe it. There’s also the option of going against the grain and creating a dystopia based on something other than an evil, overreaching government. There are other social avenues to explore.

I would love to see a novel about a hippie-run dystopia. (Although I guess that’s every story about failed communes?)

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5 Responses to Dystopian cliches

  1. Sam says:

    @maybe genius — Yay! I’m so glad.

  2. Sam says:

    @jfp, I think that’s true — the Big Brother thing is a default; that’s what we’ve decided dystopias look like. When I really think about what scares me now, though, it isn’t Big Bad Government controlling my every move. It’s corporations encouraging us to focus on immediate pleasure at the expense of the long-term, and government stepping back and giving them license to do basically whatever they want. This is very much a teen issue, as they are so heavily targeted by ads, but I haven’t seen as much YA sci-fi in this vein as I might expect.

  3. maybe genius says:

    Thanks so much for this post! It made me all happypants :) Dystopian Bingo sounds amazing.

  4. jfpbookworm says:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Dystopia has more, of course.

    Looking over the tropes at maybe genius, the impression I get is that they’re mostly borrowed from the most famous literary dystopias, particularly 1984. Which fits in with a conversation I had a while ago wherein it was posited that a lot of 20th-century-lit dystopias (especially the Twilight Zone episodes that sparked the discussion) were grounded in or at least influenced by Red Scares.

    These days, I suspect the Big Brother-type government is merely a default – the ones that actually focus on who’s in charge tend to be plutocracies as often as not.

  5. Ruthling says:

    LeGuin’s _The Dispossessed_ strikes a lot of people as a hippie-based dystopia.

    I’d love to play trope-bingo!

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