The Portrayal of Societal Fears in Popular Culture

The Portrayal of Societal Fears in Popular Culture

-Begin Transmission-

We are from The Future, where the apocalypse has come…and gone. Our world is now overrun with telepathic mutants, artificial intelligence, unregistered superheroes – and controlled by a single company: Buy’N’Large.  The articles before you are written by a group of our university scholars, and they all analyse how popular culture has encoded societal anxieties regarding the future. On hindsight, they contain hints on how the apocalypse has occurred and how to prevent yet another apocalypse…   

Fears of Capitalism and MNCs

In the post-apocalyptic world of WALL-E, the conglomerate Buy’N’Large (BNL) is omnipresent, replacing any form of political authority, and dictating the lives of the human population. The conglomerate is the sole and final victor of capitalist markets, becoming a monopoly of all goods and services in the economy. An analysis of the portrayal of BNL in the film shows that it encodes societal fears regarding the capitalist ideology and the rise of large multi-national conglomerates (MNCs). More specifically, these two anxieties are reflected in WALL-E through BNL: the fear of MNCs undermining personal autonomy, and the fear of MNCs’ increasing influence in the political sphere.

Fears of Artificial Intelligence & the post 9-11 world

Considering the time period Avengers: Age of Ultron (AOU) was released in, there are two main contexts which the film should be viewed in. Firstly, amid the context of the current booming era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it is clear that when considering AOU’s unique portrayal of AI’s dual capabilities alongside societal attitudes towards AI in reality, the film encodes an underlying ambivalent anxiety society has towards AI. This is evident through an analysis of the main characters, Vision and Ultron. Yet, that is not all the film reveals. In further considering the roles of Vision and Ultron in the context of the post-9/11 era, AI in AOU becomes a metaphor for America’s relationship with terrorism, which reveals a different kind of anxiety people face.

Fears of Government Regulation in a post-911 world

The Marvel Comics’ Civil War series, which pits two groups of superheroes against one another, has seen a lot of success with all kinds of audiences. Most notably, it forms the basis for the highest grossing film of 2016, Captain America: Civil War. Examining the reasons for the success of Civil War, it can be said that the success can be attributed to the storyline’s relatability in a post-9/11 world, as many parallels can be drawn from the storyline to the real world. In particular, the storyline is a reflection and portrayal of our post-9/11 fears and anxieties, particularly with respect to the role of the government and government intervention.      

Fears of Intolerance

The Chrysalids is set in a post-apocalyptic world and begins with a rural society in Labrador, called Waknuk. It adheres to strict religious beliefs, reminiscent of Christian fundamentalism. An extensive eugenics policy is pursued in Waknuk. They are highly intolerant of differences in physical appearances and this eugenics policy applies to animals, crops and human beings alike. The protagonist, David Strorm, is not physically mutated, but possesses telepathic abilities and they can be perceived to be a threat to the existing social order. Subsequently, they establish contact with the Sealand society, who appear to be extremely tolerant and similar to liberal societies in the real world as telepathic mutants are accepted and even celebrated in their society. However, the Sealanders are finally revealed to subscribe to social Darwinism and are intolerant of others whom they perceive to be inferior. This alludes to the paradox of tolerance in modern societies – where liberal societies are only tolerant of those who are liberal like them.

These articles ultimately address the representation of societal fears in the popular culture of your time. The significance of this theme lies in the need to understand the things we fear most, and through that, better understand how you can prevent an impending apocalypse.

Science fiction is “essentially a human genre that reflects human nightmares, sounding warnings regarding the consequences of our actions in the hopes those consequences never become reality”[1]

Help us, help you. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

-End Transmission-


[1] Heather Urbanski, Plagues, apocalypses and bug-eyed monsters: how speculative fiction shows us our nightmares (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2007), 12.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *