In today's divisive political climate, it often feels like there are only two types of people in the world: those who think political discussions are taboo and those who use them as an opportunity to shame people with differing beliefs. This disparaging political climate is the result of society, including our president, turning to social media as a knee-jerk reaction to contention. The instinctive reaction to publicize an opinion, often in 140 characters or less, leads to unnecessarily hostile conversations in the comment sections. Frustration with this method of discourse has sent people running back to an age old coping mechanism: the dystopian novel.
With sales of dystopian works like 1984 skyrocketing post-election, it is clear that people are turning to this genre of fiction to make sense of the current political climate. Dystopian novels imagine extreme, worst-case scenario versions of society that offer a cathartic effect to the many of us who are pessimistic about our nation’s future. In the same way that 20th century readers used Brave New World to make sense of an increasingly technological society, people are turning to political dystopias like Orwell's 1984 to make sense of a Donald Trump presidency. Having a more private outlet to turn to is extremely important, considering our society increasingly relies on the comment sections of social media to voice grievances.
If more people, including Trump himself, didn’t turn to social media as a knee-jerk reaction to political controversy, perhaps the conversations would be more thoughtful and productive. Taking time to step back and reflect is a good way to avoid getting caught up in hostile, often misinformed political discourse.
Perhaps that’s why dystopian novels are such good outlets for the politically frustrated. They are able to tap into the fears readers have for the future while also putting things into perspective. By creating realities just far-fetched enough from our own, the writers allow us to feel a twinge of thankfulness for our own society. Novels such as 1984 serve as a reminder that while the election results weren’t ideal, things could definitely be worse.
Dystopian writers do not want readers to despair; rather, they want to incite change and force readers to broaden their perspectives.
Allotting time to gain perspective before instinctively turning to social media could make political conversations significantly less brutalizing and more productive. Indulging in dystopian visions of society is just one way people thoughtfully explore political ideas; such works remind us that even the most pessimistic visions of society can give us reason to be hopeful.