Utopia: Dreams and Nightmares

Issue section: 

Steve Smith's otherwise interesting article on dystopia in film (September SR) was ruined by his casual definition of dystopia.

The use of dystopia has a very specific place within art--to comment on modern society in an entirely different context.

Artists extrapolate the worst aspects of their present day society to create a future totalitarian state, such as in George Orwell's '1984', Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We' or the film 'The Matrix', where things cannot get much worse. The likelihood of even challenging the system is seen as remote, and beating it almost impossible.

Steve categorises films like 'Kes', 'Brassed Off' and 'Billy Elliot' as modern day dystopias. To me this is a limiting of art. These films are realistic--based on the recognisable existence of ordinary people struggling to survive within the system. They may face repression from the state, as the miners in 'Billy Elliot' do for example, or pressure from authoritarian figures, but they still have the freedom to struggle and resist that does not exist in the totalitarianism of a dystopia.

If we took Steve's definitions, films, novels and TV programmes showing an extreme view of modern society, like 'Eastenders' or the recent TV drama 'Stretford Wives', would be dystopias along with the films 'Metropolis' and 'AI'. Art should not be categorised with so little regard to the nature and the purpose of a genre.

Matthew Cookson