dystopia or Dystopia?

October 13, 2018

Dystopia or not to dystopia, and what is the difference? Dystopia with a capital D departs from reality: The Living Dead for instance.(Stop me if I'm wrong: Isn't the living dead a contradiction in terms, describing mutually exclusive states?) Capital D dystopia is popular stuff.


A small d dystopia is another matter.


A small d dystopia is as close as a one-way ticket to Aleppo. A beach vacation in Hamas controlled Gaza may be harder to reach, but it's there. Capital D Dystopia requires a zombie, an alien invasion, any magical twist will do. But dystopia in the lower case is in plain view: the Saudi war on Yemen, for instance. Spend a week in Aden and you'll get the idea. Dystopia with small d is full of horror and bloodshed, but you've got to be there. Sarin gas is far more deadly than a pack of reeking zombies. In a small d dystopia like Somalia, you've got it all: hunger, lawlessness, violence, fear, monsters dressed as humans, all the generalized chaos that sets real life on fire. And Somolia promises real life sightings of war lords and pirates, just like Star Wars. 


That's the distinction between upper and lower case dystopia: credible versus incredible. One breeds fear, the other spills ink in The New York Times. Somehow, the incredible lights us up more than the possible/credible. Or think of it this way: Is it credible that an Ebola pandemic would rival a marching band of Zombies? You bet. But would a pageant of Zombies amount to a triumph of Vudu? In your dreams, which is a frightening thought. It's not reality we fear but its simulacrum, that incredible phantom between your ears we call imagination. And it's the incredible we fear. But what's really out there, stays there. It's the door we know we'll never open. Reality.  


That's the irony. We go to the movies or turn on TV to be terrified by zombies and their ilk, a single well heeled wearwolf will do. (And with vampires, true love is just this side of eternity.) The thrill! A Zombie right behind the door you were told not to open. Oh, no! Don't do it! But real fear, real danger, a blind date with a zealot from Boku Haram, no worries. Can't happen. Hell on earth is somehow far less frightening than you might imagine, but what you might imagine is far more chilling, and spelled with a upper case D.

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