Posted in Literature

Top Ten Dystopias Based on Where I’d Be Kind of Okay with Living

There’s been a definite trend over the past ten years or so. Dystopian literature is making a comeback, in a big way. From the dawning of The Hunger Gameseveryone and their preteen has been eating up this stories, without spoons, like some sort of wayward wanderers on a bleak hellscape, while Big Brother plots their impending …

You get the picture.

So many people have rated these books in so many ways. I’m not going to make a dent in that. I’m also not going to tell you which books are best, because let’s fact it, that subject has been essentially exhausted.

But I will tell you which ones I prefer based on entirely selfish and subjective reasons.

And before you ask me, no, there are no YA dystopias on this list, for several reasons. First of all, because there’s too many to name. Secondly, because they inevitably turn into love stories, and there are no happy endings here. And thirdly, because I don’t want to.

But I do want to tell you where I would want to live, given the choice, between alternative dystopias. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up in one of these scenarios before we know it.

10. 1984 by George Orwell

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Totalitarian government? Check. Creepy government watch program? Double-check. Weird, media-related brainwashing techniques? Boy, don’t even get me started.

Here’s the thing about 1984: it’s the quintessential dystopia. Frankly, it’s the platform that almost every YA dystopia is built upon. But there’s nothing fun about it. There are no clever twists, minus the world-building aspects of the book.

So while I love the book, I’m going to pass on this one. I like my freedom too much, especially when it comes to writing and media. Give me my Twitter feed or give me death.

9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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Another classic example of a weirdly sexualized dystopia.

This one has a few more perks than the future of 1984. We’ve got some Shakespeare books and differing views on society. In fact, instead of prison cells, we’ve got fancy islands where we exile the more irregular members of society.

Though whether or not that scenario turns into Lord of the Flies at some point is anyone’s guess.

I’ll take my chances somewhere else, thank you.

8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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Wait a minute, didn’t we already cover this one?

Though Murakami’s title mirrors Orwell’s, he shows a world vastly different from the previous novel. Alternate realities. Cults. Ghostwriters. Little People. Plus, I’m a sucker for a story that’s set in Japan.

If you like weird sci-fi, I highly recommend this book.

I just wouldn’t want to live there.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that jumping in and out of parallel universes would feel pretty jarring. Though I prefer other worlds to totalitarian regimes, I’ll still with my reality for right now, thank you.

7. Anthem by Ayn Rand

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Here’s the thing about Ayn Rand: either you love her, or you love to hate her.

She’s a bit of a one-note writer(communism = BAD), but I’ve always been a fan of this, her shortest work. With simple characters and an even simpler plot, it’s about one man’s quest to return to the concept of individualism in an oppressive and communal society.

Not a bad way to live, necessarily. Except that even when the main character frees himself from the mantle of big government, his only option is to go into hermitage, with or without a viable mate. Plus, there’s the added bonus of realization that once he has children, he will no longer be in a solely individualist society. Two generations down, he’ll have created civilization.

I don’t really feel like waiting that long to get a coffee to go(the truest mark of civilization).

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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The only reason this book is halfway up the list is because I think I’d be lucky enough to avoid becoming a handmaid.

If you haven’t heard of this novel(by the way, what’s the name of that rock you’ve been living under?), it’s a dystopian set in a society where, similar to the story of Abram and Hagar in the Bible, rich men use additional means to add to their family in a time of low fertility.

Here’s what works for me in this world: the people who are oppressed are the ones who are already judged in our current system. Rich white men are free to do whatever they like while the rest of the world suffers. Like I said, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be in danger in this world since I feel pretty comfortable in the one I already live in.

Seems pretty similar, doesn’t it?

But I’m all about solidarity. So if everybody else is suffering, then I’m going to have to pass, whether it affects me in the same way or not.

5. The Children of Men by P.D. James

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Don’t even talk to me about the movie.

We’re following a common theme here in dystopias written by female authors featuring infertility. Set in the year 2021, themes include theology, generational dynamics, and lots and lots of guilt.

In theory, it’s not all that different from The Handmaid’s Tale. But I’d rather live in James’s world because at least everybody is miserable in the fairly same way together. It’s less about systemic injustice and more about the faults of humanity in general, which is just fine by me.

Plus, I really like babies.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Probably my all-time favorite dystopian in terms of storyline alone.

One man’s disillusionment with his seemingly idyllic life leads to a new discovery in the written word. Plus, it’s literally a huge metaphor for Plato’s allegory of the cave.

This is one case where I wouldn’t mind being acting as a part of a rebellious faction, especially when it involves books. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one that I think I would be able to live with, as long as I have access to a good library.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Maybe this whole blog post was just a subtle brag about reading the entirety of Infinite Jest all along.

To be honest, it’s hard to critique the setting of a novel like this because it’s just so huge. I don’t even know which part of the storyline to touch on: government coups? Tennis academies? The detriments of eating mold as a child?

So the only part of the story I wanted to focus on in this arbitrary rating system is the fact that the world stopped numbering years and started letting them be sponsored by outside companies.

Please join me in celebrating the Year of the Funko Pop.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Hello again, my Nobel-prize winning friend. Made anyone cry recently?

In a rare turn of events for someone like me, I actually saw the movie adaptation before I read the book. I highly recommend both. In fact, my favorite thing about the plot is how you can’t even tell you’re in a dystopian future until near the end of the story. That kind of subtlety gives me metaphorical chills.

I love it so much that I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that only a very few select group of people have to suffer at all, and enjoy a fairly normal, even idyllic, life before their time on earth ends.

And even then, it’s not really…like I said, it’s hard to explain. But rest assured, there is not the same level of systemic oppression here as in The Handmaid’s Tale. The morality is a little fuzzy, but as the only version of me, I’d be fine. Actually, I’d be more than fine, with all of their medical advances, so this one is definitely preferable.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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And here’s our number one choice(that will catch only a few people by surprise.) And maybe it’s a little bit of a cop-out, because most of the novel occurs in more of a utopia than a dystopia, but all of the elements are there.

Most of the story takes place after an epidemic destroys most of society and life as people know it. The plot follows several characters in different living situations featuring an airport, a cult, and a troupe of Shakespearian actors.

Now if you know anything about me at all, you’d know which one I’d choose(WARNING, WARNING: theatre nerd alert). But what makes this my number one is simple: choice.

That’s the whole point of this exercise, really. In an actual, realistic dystopia, nobody has a choice. Everything is dictated by their particular surroundings. To be even giving the choice between worst-case scenarios is not something to be taken lightly.

Remember that next time you don’t know which coffee to order, which movie to see, or which book to buy.

 

Posted in Television and Film

Soft Around the Edges: When You Can’t Take the Dark Stuff Anymore

It took me almost two months to finish watching Netflix’s The Punisher.

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Which is characteristically unlike me. Not that I’m constantly binging shows now that I’m an official adult or whatever, but when it’s a good show, especially a “dark” one, I used to be able to polish that stuff off in a week with a couple of episodes a night.

But then something changed.

Or, more importantly, I changed.

My “big girl” job has a tendency to play out every week like a daytime marathon of Law & Order. It leaves me sad, drained, and like all I want to do is roll myself up in a little burrito blanket until I wake up the next day at 5:30 am, ready to do it all again.

So forgive me if it takes me a few days to get through an episode or two.

And the thing is, I still love dark shows. Criminal Minds, Mindhunter, Westworld, Black Mirror, I dig it all. On top of that, I believe these stories are necessary to build culture because LIFE IS DARK.

No amount of Disney movies can combat that.

But I can’t stay in a burrito all day, especially when Netflix is just a mouse-click away. Here’s what I’ve been watching to lift my spirits after a long day, and a long existence, of being General Buzzkill(which is what I call myself because I’m just a buzzkill, you know, “in general”).

Sitcoms

Laughter is and always has been the best medicine.

The first of my absolute favorites of the moment is The Good Place, which if you haven’t been watching, you need to go do right now. The plot is simple: Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, dies and ends up in a generic “good place” afterlife; the only problem is, she wasn’t really that good.

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Next up is Superstore, because there aren’t enough shows that truly show the absurdity that is working retail. Basically, this show is about a group of people who work at the equivalent of Wal-Mart; besides being hilarious, it features a diverse cast and finds ways to talk about ethnicity that don’t include crass jokes about skin color or eye shape.

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The last of this perfection trifecta is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, another one that’s pretty simple to explain: Saturday Night Live with cops. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

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What earns these three sitcoms a special place in my heart is the fact that almost every character really likes each other. There’s no one person who is teased or tricked or duped every episode; no Kramer, Dwight, or Joey that feels humiliated every week. Everyone is supportive and friendly even when they make mistakes.

Comedy Specials

In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I really like comedy specials.

Here’s a quick recap for anyone who’s still in the dark: they’re easy to follow, easy to pick up, and usually shorter than your average movie.

Unless, of course, you’re watching a episode of Big Fat Quiz of the Year/Everything. This special trivia show from across the pond only ever features comedians as its contestants, and they almost never care about winning. They are genuinely just there “for a laugh.” My personal favorite contestants include Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, and Jack Whitehall.

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And speaking of Jack Whitehall, this isn’t technically a comedy special so much as it is an episodic series of specials. Jack Whitehall: Adventures with My Father features comedian Jack Whitehall finally getting to experience a gap year with his stuffy old father. Also, there’s an anthropomorphic doll.

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And finally, Fred Armisen of SNL and Portlandia fame has a new special out: Standup for Drummers. This delightful hour features the comedian doing a surprisingly sweet routine with lots of(you guessed it) random drumming. Honestly, I had no idea that Fred Armisen was so talented; plus, it’s rated TV-PG, so if you’re looking for clean comedy, this is the one for you.

Reality Shows

More than anything, I have recently dived back into my love of B-level reality shows.

Let me clear about one thing: any reality show I watch has to have a prize at the very end so that there’s a new cast the next season. I’m not here to watch people live in Alaska; I’m here to watch people get mad.

First up: America’s Next Top Model. Tyra’s back! There’s no more age limits! You could literally look like Jabba the Hutt, but if you took a good picture, you still might be model-material. I love the tears, I love the drama, and I love how many weird people always end up auditioning. What a gift to humanity.

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Next comes Project Runway and its teeny-bopper child, Project Runway Junior. My favorite thing about every season has to be the in-depth look at the creative process and how different people find inspiration. It’s entirely fascinating, and when it goes well, it’s amazing; when it goes bad, frankly, it gets even better.

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And finally, the jewel in my crown, what sometimes consumes my every waking thought.

Survivor.

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Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Most reasonable people stopped watching this show back in 2003. But trust me, it’s still going strong.

To be honest, I’ll probably have to write a full post in the future about just how and why I came to love Survivor so much. For now, let it suffice to say that the lengths the production team goes to produce captivating stories from a bunch of bums on a beach astounds me(plus, everyone is BEAUTIFUL? I am in awe).

The newest season started up a few weeks ago, and it’s actually been pretty good right off the bat, even with the weird Ghost Island gimmick. If you’re looking for something mindless, I highly suggest this season as a good place to start.

Once my brain is turned to mush, maybe I’ll watch something good again. Until then, catch me ten seasons of Survivor deep in my blanket burrito every night at 7pm.

Posted in Modern Mythos, Pop Culture

“Ain’t” Valentine’s Day, AKA The Best I Could Do

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about Ireland’s favorite saint, good ole Patty, for a certain spring holiday.

So this year, I thought I would cover another figure full of holiday cheer(plus, living like an adult has pretty much zapped me out of ideas so: reduce, reuse, recycle): St. Valentine.

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Ah yes, the man who is literally at the heart of the Hallmark movie channel’s second-favorite holiday(right behind Christmas, of course). St. Val might be capitalism’s favorite saint, as he gives millions of people excuses to buy items for their significant others(or discount candy for the lonely ones on February 15).

Everyone and their little brother hears the story of St. Valentine when they’re in elementary school. Imprisoned for his faith(which may or may not have included performing wedding ceremonies), he heals the blind daughter of his jailer to show the power of God. Though St. Valentine is martyred anyway, he leaves the girl he healed a note, signed “Your Valentine.”

Not really the romantic comedy of the year, cinematically-speaking.

So where did we get a holiday full of naked baby angels from a tale of martyrdom?

Honestly, scholars are as stumped as a Brazilian rainforest. But there are a few theories.

  1. Will the Real St. Valentine Please Stand Up?

Similarly to St. Patrick, historians aren’t too sure about which Valentine to whom all of these stories refer. In fact, there are eleven total saints named Valentine in the Roman Catholic Church, three of whom have strong connections with the date February 14. Though the story of St. Valentine supposedly takes place in Roman, records are few and far between to support these statements.

So you can see where some of this confusion lies.

2. Even to the Feast of These

According to documented church history, the feast of St. Valentine was set in place by Pope Gelasius I around 496 AD. Concerning Valentine, he supposedly included him in a list of church martyrs “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

Nice words, to be sure. But Gelasius may have had an ulterior motive.

You see, there was another festival in Rome that took place on February 15 named Lupercalia. For anyone who didn’t take Latin in middle school, or has no concept of J.K. Rowling’s wordplay in the Harry Potter series, “luper” connects to the word “wolf,” although even earlier sources connect the festival to the word “februa,” meaning “to purge,” from which we get(you guessed it) our word for February. So what’s up with the wolf festival?

I am SO glad you asked; this is what I live for.

Based on the Roman empire’s favorite founding fable, the festival of Lupercalia took place in the cave where Rome’s founder Romulus and his twin Remus grew up, mothered by a she-wolf all the way into adulthood. It also featured the worship of everybody’s favorite goat god, Pan, in exactly the way you’d expect.

Running through the streets naked, hitting women and children with whips as they passed.

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Move over, Fifty Shades; there’s a new circus in town.

The “purpose” behind Lupercalia was not simply worship-based, either. The purging of Rome took place in the form of driving out evil spirits and restoring the health of its inhabitants. End result? Fertility. Lots and lots of babies.

Needless to say, Pope Gelasius was not a fan of such orgies. So, as the story goes, he established a church holiday, the feast of St. Valentine, to replace Lupercalia in Rome and throughout the empire.

Now, to be fair, scholars seem to have largely discredited Pope Gelasius as the founder of St. Valentine’s feast, but you’ve got to admit, there’s a lot of similarities between the Lupercalia of ancient Rome and the Valentine’s Day of the present.

But wait! There’s more!

3. Seynt Volantynys Day

The first piece of historical evidence that we have to credit for the romanticizing of Valentine’s Day comes from everyone’s favorite Middle English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.

As Chaucer wrote in Parlement of Foules:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

Translation for those of us who know how to use autocorrect:

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to chase his mate.”

This poem was written to commemorate the first anniversary of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. And there’s only one glaring problem with connecting it to the romance of our modern holiday.

Valentine’s Day is February 14; the anniversary in question isn’t until May 2.

Plus, birds aren’t mating in England in the middle of February; it’s hard to shake a tailfeather when it’s still snowing outside.

Turns out, there’s ANOTHER feast of St. Valentine, this time of Genoa, that generally took place on May 3.

This is one of the issues we come across when we try to dissect oral traditions; the whole truth of this holiday probably lies somewhere between the pretty stories we’re told as children and the mass confusion of scholars everywhere.

But do pretty stories even affect the spirit of the holiday? Even with a “holy” founder like St. Valentine, this upcoming holiday mirrors the Lupercalia of ancient Rome more than one of Chaucer’s feast days. Do we hold all myths as myths, or do we reject them outright, bound to celebrate as the rest of humanity does whether its origins are true or not?

Whatever, just don’t run naked through the streets this month, that’s all I ask. Not in Michigan, at least, it’s way too cold.

Happy Valentine’s Day. ❤