Dystopia Arrives

The dystopia genre has enjoyed a lot of attention the last decade with hits like The Hunger Games, Blade Runner 2049, and Automata as a few examples. To me, a dystopian film is set in the near future with a focus on society more than technology. In my late teens and early 20s I loved reading the cyberpunk genre which often was a dystopian view but also focused on technology as a carrier of the film, like the more recent Ready Player One does. So dystopian and cyberpunk often blend to me and is more about the focus and story that may set them apart.

One thing common in dystopian movies is the breakdown of society, typically at the hands of a tyrannical government that does not see all citizens as equal. In The Hunger Games, society was segregated into districts that enjoyed more or less comfort. Soldiers from the capitol enforced the rules and made sure that impoverished districts stayed that way while demanding their citizens provide resources and play in games to the death, for the entertainment of the wealthy. Even the trip to the capitol in a train showed the gap with extensive platters of food, the likes of which some contestants had never seen in their life. Their homes were in a district surrounded by fences with the penalty of death for escaping. Medical care was basically non-existent in some districts and there was no way to challenge the system as democracy and voting were a thing of the past.

Similar elements can be seen in many movies including Equilibrium, Divergent, Elysium, Code 8, and the classic Fahrenheit 451 which was recently remade. We see aspects of these fictional societies in our own and it makes the movies more compelling.

We see governments becoming more authoritarian, the wealth gap widen, and millions of people being left behind. Little bits here and there keep adding up and we don’t notice the slow boil until it is too late. But I have to wonder, when does our own society reach the point that it can be considered dystopian?

I think dystopia has arrived.


During the last year, the political climate has reached critical levels as tens of millions have become disenfranchised in one manner or another. With COVID-19 devastating the entire world, even so-called “first-world” countries like the United States have seen record levels of unemployment, over-burdened food banks, over-populated prisons rocked by the pandemic, disenfranchised voters waiting half a day to vote, hospitals over capacity and turning away patients, freezer trucks used as temporary morgues due to overflow, and record levels of eviction and unhoused families. I can’t think of a book or movie that portrays it, but the “homeless sweeps” enacted in many cities are straight out of a dystopian nightmare.

The rapidly growing ad-hoc homeless encampments we see in cities are growing steadily which can increase risk to residents and businesses. Home-owners perceive their risk of becoming a victim of crime increasing and lobby to have them removed from their neighborhood. As the homeless are forced to live in tents set up in the right-of-way in front of half a million dollar homes, resentment grows. If this continues we will see a boiling point happen and there might be a homeless uprising. What do they have to lose? Jail or prison isn’t ideal by any means but it does give them shelter and food which are jeopardized every day.

Protests rocked the United States leading many cities to have government buildings and businesses boarding up windows, hiring security, while many are going out of business as the uncontrolled pandemic ravages communities. We’ve seen more fences going up in protest areas, around public space, and even around police stations.

The central element to dystopian literature and film is the tyrannical government that looks out for the upper class and has little to no concern for the rest of society. That can certainly be increasingly seen in U.S. politics the last decade and even now, congress is arguing about giving citizens a $2000 stimulus after struggling to pass a $600 payment. Meanwhile the bills are bundled with other legislation and proposals that do everything but help citizens. As certain elements of the government seek to consolidate power the level of resentment and protest increases significantly, as we saw. This has led to stand-offs and clashes between angry tax-payers and disreputable police.

This becomes cyclical as protesters become more organized and police become more militarized. The methods of law enforcement began blending with military tactics long ago and in many cases local police have become almost indistinguishable from soldiers. Police departments have been purchasing military equipment for years, giving them both offensive and defensive gear including vehicles that are overkill.

Even without gear that is considerably overpowered, police departments have the outward appearance of not taking their oaths to heart. Thousands of videos of incidents in which police used excessive force on protesters and journalists flooded Twitter in 2020. The disproportionate and indiscriminate killing of minorities have added a level of anger and contempt we haven’t seen before. Demands range from simple reform to accountability changes to the total abolition of police departments.

Think about your favorite dystopian book or movie and what aspects of that society make it dystopian in the first place. Compare those same attributes to what we have seen in the United States in the last twelve months. When you do, you might reach the same conclusion that our society has crossed the line and we live in the dystopia we have paid to enjoy through fiction until now.

So again, I think dystopia has arrived.

When Reality TV Rears Its Ugly Head

I really do love the show COPS. I’ve seen 99% of the episodes over 28 seasons, and there are ~ 25+ episodes per season. The show is absolutely real, but they certainly cherry pick the scenes, and the officers they follow. Further, the TV show is built on a premise of formula of one violent takedown, 1 drug bust, 1 family domestic (if memory serves, and is based on material that is heavily criticized). So tonight, watching the latest episode… cop in the car says: “There was an anonymous caller that just uh… told us there was a warrant suspect in the back yard… he’s known to run from us, he’s alluded capture before so.. we’re going to see if we can uh… take him into custody here…”

Yep, stop there. This is where the TV show, shows its hand so to speak, and demonstrates how it is not objective at all. Nothing about that one minute intro makes any logical sense. The responding officer wouldn’t say “anonymous caller”, as 911 dispatch takes the calls and knows who they are speaking to (even if anonymous, they know the address and name registered to a line with few exceptions). How many people stop to read the most-wanted posters that the local post office? You do? Great, they don’t show local warrant suspects. Those aren’t posted anywhere that I have seen, ever. Known to run from police? The cop knows exactly who they are dealing with then, which is a positive ID. Escaped before? Why… rare case the police stop pursuit during a chase… so, moving on!

The more compelling reason to watch this show? It is reality TV that demonstrates why no unarmed person should EVER be shot by a police officer, no exception. This show actually broadcasts cases where the officer screws up, does something that is against policy, or against training. But there is a struggle, and the outcome is beneficial to the public and police, so they air it. I generally don’t blame those officers one bit. They are a half-second too quick to use mace? Fine. But those are the scenes we see… the taser incidents we see, but rarely if ever in a position of dispute. So consider that police are a bit too eager to mace a suspect, or go hands-on (the real bit we should question), on national TV. Is it so wrong to consider that a police officer would step over the ethical line when no cameras around?

There is a movement to put body cameras on police, and I believe that should happen. If we had the budget, I’d want a COPS camera crew following every unit and publishing that material w/o police oversight. I think it would be very telling. Remember… this TV series shows us the BEST that police have to offer. It is filtered and approved at multiple levels, before it goes to TV.

Now, for your “meta” discussion… it’s 2015, and we’re still seeing violent take-downs of suspects over flakes of marijuana. They are offered deals in the field to admit to their crime, or arrested for having personal-use volumes (by Colorado law), which are illegal in other states. Why is the TV show COPS still showing us these ‘dramatic’ scenes where police officers use physical force over the presence of personal-use levels of marijuana, and someone that is nervous in the face of police, especially when they are minority?

This episode? The suspect says they won’t answer questions until they get an attorney. The cop keeps asking questions… ON NATIONAL TV. Was the officer not trained on Miranda? I’d say YES, since the same cop was reading the Miranda warning from a card they kept in their pocket. If a cop pulled a card to read me my rights? Part of me would appreciate it, as they are doing it to make sure they are read correctly. Part of me would be scared, because they are a professional LEO supposedly… and haven’t memorized the relatively short Miranda warning. If they can’t remember those few sentences, why are they enforcing the law?

Again, I am a fan of the show in many ways. It reminds our society that police activity is not safe, and that law enforcement puts themselves into situations that endangers their lives every single day. But when a heavily edited TV show that has served as propaganda since seasons one, shows police clearly stepping over the lines? The producers need to consider what the fuck they are broadcasting to the world. They are either proper journalists (no..), or sloppy (yes..), and need to quit their jobs.