Advancing in Reverse
Modern society today is arguably as close to a utopian society that human society has ever seen. Thanks to modern technological advancements nearly everything is simply one click of a mouse away. Unfortunately, this utopian lifestyle is only available to those that have the financial means to maintain such a lifestyle. Much like in the world of Fritz Langs Metropolis, where Joh Frederson has his modern tower of Babel built on the backs of the oppressed working class, our modern utopia is essentially a playground for the wealthy that is utilizing the general population as little more than concession workers. The connection between corporate and financial success, even the suggested concept of government being used a a corporate tool, is one that permeates throughout the world of utopian/dystopian fiction. In any type of class system, there will always be an element of discrimination, and technological advancements will only lead to new ways for people to discriminate against each other. Our modern technological advances also appear to be making it easier for those that are in power to control the general population. The governments have reduced the populace to numbers and demographics, highlighting the inherit corporate nature of government. Every member of society falls into a designated category, and once categorized the people are reduced to little more than percentages and numbers. Since these demographics are created for advertising purposes, it can easily be asserted that the line between government and big business has been whittled down to nothing. The modern world of today is populated by fancy technology that has been in a state of rapid advance since the mid-1950's. These technological advances, which at first glance may seem to create more opportunity for individuality amongst the masses, are actually tools designed to keep a more sturdy stranglehold on the populace. In fact, technology is the best possible way to keep the people in check. Modern technology allows for new methods of control, new methods of censorship, and allows governments to, in essence, 'digitally' burn our books. Cell phone conversations, electronic mail, and video chatting are becoming the main methods people use to communicate with each other. It can even be argued that the seeming existence of freedom and choice is the most invaluable tool that can be used to control the people. Every member of society falls into a designated category, and once categorized the people are reduced to little more than percentages and numbers. Since these demographics are created for advertising purposes, it can easily be asserted that the line between government and big business has been whittled down to nearly indistinguishable.
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
- Ray Bradbury
In January of 1776, a pamphlet titled Common Sense was written by Thomas Paine and published anonymously during the American revolution. This pamphlet made a convincing argument for American independence from British rule. The American revolution was bolstered by this writing and was able to create a patriotic fervor that allowed the American revolution to succeed. In the modern world of today, there would have been a digital watermark on the writing allowing the powerful British to not only discover who wrote the pamphlet and where, but the ability to squash any type of fervor that the writing may have created. We as Americans are also currently being bombarded by the urge to participate in what Theodore Adorno may have referred to as a capitalist, conformist consumerism that overpowers the urge to educate oneself as to the issues that are truly plaguing modern society. Advertisement has become so subliminal and effective that many times people are unaware that they are even being exposed to advertisement. Many films and television programs often place products within the story that are there for no reason other than advertising. Apple computers has a strong product placement campaign and its products are prominently displayed, so much so that in 2006 it was reported that “Apple iPods, Macs and other products have been featured 250 times on 38 different network prime time showsi” over a 4 month period.
Thanks to television, film, radio, video games, and now the internet, most people find book reading to be a slow, outdated method to take in information. “There's the television. It's all right there - all right there. Look, listen, kneel, pray. Commercials! We're not productive anymore. We don't make things anymore. It's all automated. What are we for then?”ii Modern devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, allow for the digital collection of novels. The problem with these digital copies of novels is that, since there is no static form of the writing, changes can be made at any time and censorship could occur with the reader being none the wiser. This type of control over digital information makes an institution such as the Ministry of Records a realistic possibility, a place populated with more lackeys more like Syne and less like Winston.
“You know the saying, 'Human see, human do.'”
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Human culture has always been one where people gravitate towards things they are more comfortable and familiar with and subconsciously fear the strange and unknown. This has caused many mistakes made in the past to be repeated again generation later. If a person is able to maintain individuality, they are more likely to question the actions of those before them and think more freely for themselves. When the government is able to keep the people in a mob mentality it makes them easier to influence and control. Thanks to various advertisements and technology people are given the impression that they are able control and magnify their individuality. Modern social networking websites – Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, World Of Warcraft, Second Life – allow people to create personalized web pages that are unique. These “unique” websites are little more than preprogrammed templates that simply appear to be customizable and individualized, when in actuality it simply creates an easier way to lump people together demographically. Even the websites are simply updated versions of the previous website (as in Friendster begat MySpace, MySpace begat Facebook, and so on). This illusory individuality is key to keeping people lumped together, since if you already believe yourself to be free there is no reason to continue to battle for your own individuality.
The value of intellectualism in our society is beginning to parallel that of its value in Fahrenheit 451 in that it is becoming unnecessary. “With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.” iii By making intellectuality something that people try to not achieve, maintaining control becomes simpler when the oppressed are not smart enough to stop it, or to even realize that they are being oppressed.
In Pierre Boulles novel Planet of the Apes, the various apes are free to follow their individual pursuits as long as they stay within the societally accepted guidelines that governs them. The chimpanzees are to remain as thinkers, orangutans stay as the believers, and the gorillas continue to be the military and muscle. The orangutans, the equivalent of religious leadership in the ape society, are responsible for perpetuating the status quo and making sure that each ape behaves only in the way they are supposed to. Within our modern society there are many people that rely on the maintenance of the status quo to perpetuate the life they lead, and will do nearly anything, regardless of morality, to make sure that things stay exactly the way they are. This type of actions will keep any particular group of people in check and under control, and categories of control range from race, gender, or sexual orientation.
I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.
In GATTACA, childbirth has become a science that allows parent and doctors to create a designer child that has all the positive traits they want and leaves little in the hands of uncontrollable factors such as chance and fate. This type of genetic control allows for more discrimination, and since the genetic changes occur prior to birth (in what must be a very expensive procedure) it appears that before genetic discrimination occurs, financial discrimination has already prevented those who cannot afford this procedure from even being considered.
As technology continues to advance, methods of discrimination will also be forced to advance. Unlike the success for everyone that the term Utopia seems to describe, it is more effective to create a solid dystopian framework that will allow the haves to stay ahead of the have-nots. Genetic testing has made discrimination possible on a molecular level, and, much like the world of GATTACA, makes the ability to discriminate all too simple. Science is, everyday, creating new ways for discrimination to exist and can begin discriminating within the womb.
The Tyrell Corporation, from Ridley Scotts highly regarded science fiction film-noir Blade Runner, has specialized in creating humanoid robots (known in the film as Replicants) to perform tasks that would be impossible for normal humans to undertake. These replicants are treated as little more than high priced and sophisticated tools, and they are given a short battery life to prevent them from maintaining anything that resembles a normal humans life. This is an interesting type of discrimination considering that the replicants are actually superior to the humans that created them. This actually echoes various other instances throughout our history where the physically superior specimens are being controlled by those that are physically inferior (the white slavers and the African slaves, for example). The “superior” people often try to control the “inferior” people through manipulation, and as technology advances so to will methods of manipulation.
This is your receipt for your husband... and this is my receipt for your receipt.
- Arresting Officer
Modern governments have become little more than massive, law-making corporations that focus on fiscal matters over those of personal human rights. Since people have been reduced to nothing more than numbers and demographics, the corporization of our modern government helps to keep the populace in check. It becomes easier to deny a person basic human rights when they are considered numbers (read dollars) and not people. Consider the effect of something as devastating and invasive as an IRS audit. If the auditor takes into account humane needs it becomes more difficult to simply treat the person being audited as a number. Associating human characteristics to the person being audited makes it difficult to take things away that are promised to American citizens within the constitution.
The chimpanzee scientists in Planet of the Apes behave in a similar method with the human subjects that they are performing tests on. By preventing them from having any basic human rights makes it easier to not only control the people, but to also perform heinous acts upon them. During a war, governments do their best to dehumanize the enemy (much like hate week in 1984) so that it is easier to rationalize committing violent acts against other people. Nearly any type of behavior becomes excusable when the opponent is not a person but a thing. The problematic issues arise when the government uses these methods on their own people, and certain laws passed over the last ten years (most specifically the Patriot Act) allow the government to decide on a whim that a contributing member of society can suddenly become a non-person.
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.
The best way to prevent getting into any kind of trouble is to simply avoid being in any situation that may leave a person in a situation that is out of their control. Just like Winston in 1984 the only place that we have that is truly our own is the few inches that exist between our ears. In great Britain, video surveillance of the general populace has been in effect since the 1970's, while there are “175 intersections in Los Angeles County and hundreds more across the United Statesiv” used for issuing tickets to people running red lights at busy intersections. We as a people must remain on our best behavior since we can never be aware if we are being watched at any particular moment. Following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, people began to watch their neighbors more closely and look for any reason to call the authorities. Fear is an effective tool for creating jingoistic patriotism and convincing certain people to follow orders. By instilling a fear of ones neighbor, the government was able to create an effective method of a self-policing that keeps the populace in check.
There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.
Essentially, the only way to prevent our world from falling into a downward spiral that leads directory to life in a totalitarian state is to continue to educate ourselves and always have a healthy sense of curiosity when it comes to taking orders from those that would seek to be in power. It is important to maintain an emotional connection between the metaphorical brain (the government) and metaphorical hand (the working class) so as not to dehumanize the people or create too large of a chasm between the two groups.
Dystopian fiction is an important tool for society that allows people to be informed of possible scenarios that could come to fruition if certain other action are not kept in check. We need to know why its important to promote reading and intellectualism; why it is essential question authority; why it is vital that we take the time to discover the inherent humanity that lies beneath the surface; and why it is crucial to look past the labels and titles that we ascribe to people. These novels and films help us to see the things that are happening right in front of our face, and change can only occur once the realization is made that change needs to happen.
It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.
A Clockwork Orange
i "The significance of Apples product placement," Edible Apple, 16 Dec. 2009
ii 12 Monkeys. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Perf. Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt. DVD. Universal Pictures, 1995.
iii Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451--the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns... (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988) pg. #53.
iv Rich Connell, "L.A. red light cameras clicking for safety or revenue?" Los Angeles Times 20 May 2008, 16 Dec. 2009
12 Monkeys. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Perf. Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt. DVD. Universal Pictures, 1995.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451 Fahrenheit 451--the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns ... New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
Connell, Rich. "L.A. red light cameras clicking for safety or revenue?" Los Angeles Times 20 May 2008. 16 Dec. 2009
"The significance of Apples product placement." Edible Apple. 16 Dec. 2009
Films Quoted Include: 1984 (1984), 12 Monkeys (1995), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Blade Runner (1982), Brazil (1985) GATTACA (1999), Metropolis (1927), Planet of the Apes (1968)