Dystopia Never Changes

Mr. Robot was the hottest, sexiest, most dystopic look at a high-tech future on the airwaves. Graced with exquisite talents like Rami Malek, Christian Slater, and Carly Chaikin, it was a tightly written example of how an unreliable narrator can change the way we view the world.

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So why didn’t we get to finish the story? The show developed a huge following. The masked visage of the show’s “villainous” fSociety (itself a riff on the Guy Fawkes mask from V) became synonymous in popular culture with real-life anonymous hacker cultures. For a high tech thriller it had managed that one impossible thing. It had gone beyond it’s base as a “genre” show and had been embraced by a broader, non-tech-savvy audience.

The problem, as I see it, is that dystopias inevitably get boring. Nobody wants to see the end of the story. Nobody wants to see an evolution of the world, either to something brighter or something darker. Dystopias are trapped in the realm of emotion and visual stylings and the characters, while they may themselves grow and change, are trapped in a world that is static. Most of these kinds of shows get taken off the air before we can come to a conclusion. In part this is because the audience usually thins out after two or three seasons. The thrill of the broken wears off when you finally have to face the fact that there’s no fix, the only way out is down.

But even when a show set firmly in a dystopia is allowed to tie everything up with a grimy asphalt colored bow, nobody’s ever happy with the ending. This is, in part, because a dystopia is an endgame into itself. It is an entropic state where the effort of maintaining a society is perfectly balanced against the depravity and self-centeredness of the people that live in it.

And I feel, in a weird way, that dystopic narratives are best served by this kind of abandonment. There’s an almost Lovecraftian sense of doom that hangs over the narrative, even when there’s a “happy ending” because that happiness is always individual. The world is still a dystopia, it hasn’t changed, it’s just that our heroes have found a way to live with/in it. And taking the narrative the other direction, watching the world finally destroy itself is far less satisfying than you might think.

Because, in the end, dystopias are all about the middle game. We enter them after they’ve had enough time to get interesting and we’re not actually interested in seeing where they go, what they turn into over time. They serve as a platter on which a drama is served, rather than being the real reason we are all there to watch.

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