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How Dystopias Act as Cautionary Tales

In this excellent Ted-Ed video that’s just under 6 minutes, Alex Gendler goes into how the genre of Dystopia emerged. He looks at how dystopian novels — such as Gulliver’s TravelsAnimal Farm, and Brave New World — don’t just come with warnings about governments and technology, the take-away message is that humanity cannot be molded into an exact shape.

What does it take to create a perfect world? (Image via TedED YouTube/Screenshot)
What does it take to create a perfect world? (Image: TedED YouTube/Screenshot)

Many people have imagined an ideal world without war, poverty, or crime. Writer Thomas Moore in 1516 gave this concept a name in his book called Utopia, which means in Greek: no place.

The name suggests Utopia is impossible, but with technological advancements, governments, time after time, have tried to make real this dream that becomes a nightmare ending in war, famine, and oppression.

Utopian thinking was questioned by artists and from this, the genre “Dystopia” was born.

Dystopia is Greek for “The not good place.”

Here is a list of Dystopian books that the video explores:

After the Second World War, we began to see Dystopian science fiction in films, comics, and games.

V for Vendetta and The Handmaid's Tale show how easily our rights could disappear in a crisis. (Image via TedED YouTube/Screenshot)
‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ show how easily our rights could disappear in a crisis. (Image: TedED YouTube/Screenshot)

The video ends by getting us to think back to the perfect world we imagined, and think about what it would take to achieve — how would you make people cooperate? How would you make sure it lasted?

Alex Gendler leaves us with the final thought:

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  • Jessica grew up in the tropics of North Australia. She writes about films, and occasionally gets to write and direct them.

    She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel." However, on some real travels she spotted a polar bear while visiting the Arctic, and has enjoyed the view of the Mongolian plains on a train from Russia to China.

    Her favorite fruit is pomegranate and her most memorable gift is a Super 8 camera from her husband, which she is keen to shoot some footage of Antarctic icebergs on one day.


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