Skepticism Squared: Western Postmodernist Dystopias
If dystopian fiction is centrally informed by a skepticism toward utopian ideals, one might say that postmodernist dystopian fiction is informed by the same skepticism, but also by an additional doubt that this skepticism can be truly effective. One thinks here of the Woody Allen film Sleeper, which spoofs a science fiction trip to a future totalitarian society. Sleeper includes, but mocks, numerous traditional elements of the dystopian genre, though its comic orientation veils an almost nihilistic skepticism that dystopian cautionary tales can prevent an undesirable future from unfolding. The film's Wellsian premise has protagonist Miles Monroe (played by Allen himself) being frozen in 1973 and awakening two hundred years later in a high-tech dystopian America ruled by the despotic Leader. When Miles arrives, however, the Leader has been killed by a rebel bomb that leaves only his nose intact. The Leader's followers are attempting to clone a replacement from the nose, but the bumbling Miles (essentially accidentally) manages to destroy the nose and save the day. Despite the happy ending, however, the film carries dark undertones, with Miles maintaining a strong disbelief that traditional realms of hope like science, religion, and politics can never solve the problems of modern society. He believes, he says "only in sex and death--two things that come once in a lifetime. But at least after death you're not nauseous."
The mixture of seriousness and silliness that informs Sleeper is typical of many postmodernist works, which often seek to make political statements while questioning their own ability effectively to