When we encounter dystopian fiction, where a supposedly-improved, fictitious society starts to experience dysfunction, some may dissociate from these texts’ interpretations of how humans will be in a dystopian society, believing these are myths compared to how we understand humanity to be. After all, the societies presented within dystopian texts are far removed from our understanding of our own societies. Yet, as some of our articles will demonstrate, as we experience dystopian texts, we may still be able to recognise some familiar aspects of contemporary human nature, despite its fictitious settings. How can we understand the reflection of contemporary features of human nature within societies in dystopian fiction, that differ so greatly from the society that we currently know? This issue spans dystopian texts of diverse media, from novel to video games and film. Each article elucidates a specific aspect of contemporary human nature which is reflected in a dystopian setting and highlights the implications it has on a dystopian society. Ultimately, our articles collectively propose that dystopian texts can be a mirror for aspects of contemporary human nature as they demonstrate how humanity does not change under drastically different circumstances. In fact, human characteristics actually exert great influence in catalysing the societal conditions that give rise to the formation of a dystopia, due to their enduring fixation on themselves.
We will be exploring how human behaviour does not change under drastically different circumstances presented in dystopian settings through Hazel Tan’s and Ting Xiao’s articles. Subsequently, we will be examining the social implications of these enduring human characteristics and behaviour in Allison, Valerie and Sharlene’s article.
Firstly, Hazel Tan explores how human behaviour in a dystopia set in Autodale: The Animated Series by Dead Sound may seem like a myth in her article “More to Autodale Than Meets the Eye”. After all, the submissive populace in the short film collection contradicts our expectations about how revolutions would occur and prevail in the face of power discrepancy. However, she accounts for this by postulating that dystopia is a mirror that projects our reality that with excessive power discrepancy, there would be a lack of desire for change as it is accepted that revolutions would be insufficient to bridge the gap in power. This is what causes attempts at revolutions to fail.
Reiterating the argument about how dystopias within dystopian fiction can act as a mirror for contemporary human nature, Ting Xiao analyses the cyberpunk world of Mankind Divided and the discrimination portrayed within in “The Inconsistent Picture of Discrimination Painted by Deus Ex: Mankind Divided”. On the surface, the effects of the discrimination against transhumans appear similar to how Africans in South Africa during the apartheid and African-Americans in the United States have been treated. However, upon further analysis, he finds that the discrimination found in this cyberpunk world is actually rooted in a fear of terrorism, which is reflective of the rise in humanity’s Islamophobia after the September 11 attacks.
Allison Hoe’s article, “The Human Ethics of Care: A Leverage Over Superhumans in Uglies by Scott Westerfeld” then bridges our understanding of how intrinsic human characteristics can have implications on a dystopian society. She evaluates the presence of caring ethics, which is the human subjective tendency to feel deeply concerned when the wellbeing of their particular loved ones is endangered, but less so when it is the general societal good at stake, in the dystopian world of Westerfeld’s novel. Her argument presents an optimistic perspective of human nature, demonstrating how enacting caring ethics serves as the destabilising force of the protagonists’ dystopian society.
Conversely, in discussing how human characteristics shape the societal conditions that precipitate the formation of a dystopia, Valerie Tan and Sharlene Lim’s articles offer an alternative perspective on how human nature, as reflected in dystopian literature, can play an instrumental role in engendering a dystopia in the first place. Tan’s article “Mortal Engines: Is It the Ship or the Captain?” analyses how the film Mortal Engines seemingly portrays an anti-capitalist stance, where it criticises capitalism for its destructiveness within society. However, upon deeper inspection, she would uncover that the film’s underlying message seems to suggest that the unchanging human characteristic of greed for power has distorted the ideal implementation of capitalism. In doing so, Tan asserts that human greed is the primary cause for the destructiveness of capitalism, as represented in the film. Hence, the dystopian conditions that arise within the film actually do not stem from a systemic flaw, but rather the human who controls the system.
Similarly, Sharlene Lim’s article “Pointing Fingers at the Grain: An Examination of Human Responsibility in ‘The Entire History of You’” will also explicate the role that unchanging human characteristics play in shaping the societal conditions that bring about a dystopia. She brings us on a self-reflexive journey in her analysis of Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You”, as she asserts that the enduring human insecurity of not being omniscient, coupled with people’s access to transhuman technology, results in a destructive overreliance that leads to eventual dysfunction within a society, where the use of transhuman technology is ubiquitous. The article thereby concludes our issue’s exploration of how dystopian texts’ depiction of society is not quite as detached from our own reality as well as our revelation that the unchanging characteristics of humans can actually perpetuate the social conditions that give rise to a dystopia.
Through these five articles, we hope that readers can appreciate dystopian fiction, not as distant myth but as a mirror for imagining how humans would behave when placed such a fictitious setting, and to consider on a deeper level how the fundamental essence of what it means to be human remains or dissipates within a dystopian society. In the end, we earnestly hope that this would encourage readers to reflect on their intrinsically human behaviours and appreciate how human characteristics can have both a productive and damaging side in shaping social conditions with the emergence of various societies.