Hollywood's Uncritical Dystopias

By Mirrlees, Tanner | CineAction, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Hollywood's Uncritical Dystopias


Mirrlees, Tanner, CineAction


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Utopianism, Left to Right

Historical materialism aims to understand and change the world en route to the establishment of a different and better kind of society wherein people are free from the realm of necessity, substantively equal and able to fully participate in making the decisions that shape their lives. It is a method of hope and change that says "no!" to the same-old bad capitalist circumstances of the present, "yes!" to the different and possibly better post-capitalist situation that could lie ahead and "now!" to the formation of social movements that prefigure and move toward this future. In the mid-19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used the word "Communism" to describe this future in-becoming in the movements to transcend "the present state of things." (1)

From the Paris Commune of 1871 to the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in 2011, the "Communist" ideal inspired millions of people to struggle to change the world, and for the better. But the ideal has also been used and abused by regimes that did tremendous harm to humanity. (2) Throughout the 20th century, the practices of the Soviet Union and its satellite states turned "Communism" into a much loathed symbol of autocracy, repression and inefficiently administered hells on earth, Gulags, killing fields and all. At the same time, the governments and corporations of Fascist and "Fiberal" capitalist states further degraded Communism's appeal with coercion (the systematic repression of the "reds" and their allies) and moral suasion (anti-Communist propaganda campaigns). Communists have been monitored, harassed, jailed, beaten, smeared, censored and deprived of employment because of the presumable threat their ideals and actions posed to the "national security" of autocratic and liberal states while the Communist hypothesis has been routinely denounced as a Utopian ideology (an ideal of a perfect society that is impossible to achieve) that inevitably fosters a Dystopian reality (an actual type of society that is much worse than all others). (3) States protect and promote the reigning economy on behalf of the interests of those who rule it against the Other Big "C" using a mix of force and consent. (4)

In the early 21st century, Slavoj Zizek, Jodi Dean, Alain Badiou, Alberto Toscano and others (5) tried to enliven the Communist hypothesis, but the history of anti-Communism weighted upon their efforts to do so. In present-day capitalist societies, Communism remains a dirty word and "communist" is a risque subject-position. Those who speak of Communism as a possibility in positive terms are predictably caricaturized by defenders of the status quo as "Utopian" (i.e. people who suffer some kind of naive idealism about a good society) or worse, "Dystopian" (i.e. people who harbour tyrannical ideas that will instigate an inherently bad society). World Affairs' Alan Johnson, for example, says today's communist intellectuals suffer a "Utopian Delusion." (6) By defining the new communists negatively, journalists define those who hold a worldview that accords with the status quo in positive terms. The stereotype of the insane or evil-minded communist makes free-market ideologues appear to be rational and morally upright while the depiction of Communism as an un-realizable Utopia or an eventual Dystopia makes capitalism appear to be the most realistic and best system for humanity, now and forever.

We live in a time when the spectre of Communism haunts the capitalist system, even in the absence of visible mass opposition to it. In 2010, for example, Fox News' Glenn Beck tried to foment a new "Red Scare" with his frequent rants about Communism's evils and ludicrous mislabelling of Commander-in-Chief Obama as a socialist determined to take America down the road to serfdom. (7) The news media's pejorative framing of the Communist hypothesis and attacks on present-day communists are not surprising, nor are they the outcome of an independent thought process. …

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