All throughout history, there have been attempts to create a more perfect society, or in other words, a utopia. History also reveals, however, that these attempts often result in the opposite, or a dystopia, where virtually all aspects of those societies become environmentally degraded and unpleasant. October of 1917 marked one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century. Led by the infamous Soviet revolutionary, Joseph Stalin, Russia took the first steps towards developing a utopia by creating a new legal framework that would establish a totalitarian equality, also known as communism. The attempts to create the perfect society is ultimately reflected in science fiction, as many of science fiction’s worlds can most often be situated somewhere on the continuum between the opposing poles of utopia and dystopia. These science fiction worlds most often reflect the characteristics of dystopian societies primarily due to the unanticipated effects of advanced technology or novum.
The opposing poles of utopia and dystopia in science fiction are ultimately echoed in the infamous British television series, Black Mirror. The series explores modern society, particularly with regard to unanticipated consequences driven by technology. For example, in the episode “Hated In The Nation,” a company named Granular developed something called an Autonomous Drone Insects, or ADI’s, which functioned as a replacement for the declining bee population. The Autonomous Drone Insects were a piece of technology that was created for good but ended up causing destruction. The episode starts off with the investigation of the mysterious death of a politician named Jo Powers which uncoincidentally occurred after the innumerable accounts of the hashtag, #DeathTo Jo Powers, was used on social media.
Not long after, the increased use of the social media hashtag, #DeathTo, seemingly led to even more deaths including a controversial rapper named Tusk. After further investigation, it was discovered that the cause of his death was due to a rogue Autonomous Drone Insect. While the ADI’s were intentionally created to stabilize the ecosystem, the technology was hacked by a former Granular employee named Garrett Scholes, and ended up killing people who simply used a social media hashtag. While the ADI’s at first glance seemed like a step towards utopia, the deaths of Jo Powers and Tusk ultimately shed light on how dystopian characteristics are often the product of the unanticipated effects of novum .
Novum is a term used by science fiction scholar Darko Suvin and others to describe the scientifically plausible innovations used by science fiction narratives. Suvin argues that the genre of Science Fiction is distinguished from Fantasy by the story being driven by a novum validated by logic he calls cognitive estrangement. This means that the hypothetical ‘new thing’ which the story is about can be imagined to exist by scientific means rather than by magic, by the factual reporting of fictions and by relating them in a plausible way to reality.
A particular scene from Black Mirror’s episode “Hated In The Nation” that shows the shift from a utopian ideology to a dystopian perspective comes shortly after an attempt to deactivate the ADI system. Granular eventually gains access to a disk drive from Garrett Scholes that appeared to provide a way shut down the ADI system, however, after attempting to deactivate the drones, the ADI’s come back online and begin to target everyone who ever used the #DeathTo hashtag. Masses of robotic bees that are so profuse in numbers that they block sunlight then begin to swarm cities, homes, and even schools. Shortly after, the aftermath is shown as a building filled with thousands of body bags is revealed, as the transition to a dystopian setting sinks in heavily with the viewer and the dark side of novum is shown.
History has proved from time and time again that attempts to create a utopia often result in the opposite, as shown by the communist revolution in Russia. This effect is also echoed in science fiction as the unanticipated effects of novum often become the root cause for dystopian characteristics of society. In Black Mirror’s “Hated In The Nation,”
- Netflix. (2016, November 12). Black Mirror: Hated In The Nation. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://www.netflix.com/title/70264888
- Grafton, S. (2015, August 13). The State of the Art in Science Fiction Theory: Novum. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/17/
- Sims, D. (2016, November 16). ‘Black Mirror Is Back’: ‘Hated in the Nation’ Considers Online Shaming. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/10/black-mirror-review