Dystopian fiction and radical politics


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why dystopia?

If you go to the movies, watch TV or read books, you have encountered tales of dystopia, fantastic visions of a future world gone terribly wrong. But you probably don't know how profoundly the genre has changed our world.
Latest article: ISIS and the Dystopian Spectacle
Dystopia has fueled and reflected radical politics, from the Tea Party to Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. It has shaped our language, from doublespeak to ultraviolence to cyberspace. It has inspired murders, rapes, riots, and atrocities, from the Oklahoma City bombing to English street gangs to a church massacre in Charleston. It set the stage for the Civil War and for World War II.

Dystopia is the word for a society that has been poisoned to its core – corrupt, misguided, ineffectual, immoral, tyrannical, uncontrollable, or all of the above. Dystopias are cautionary tales and worst-case scenarios. They are warnings, and they are calls to action. They are fascinating, frightening, wildly popular, and even – paradoxically – fun to read and watch.

People are thinking about dystopia a lot these days, amid acrimonious elections in the United States and Europe, as a wave of war and chaos threatens to engulf the globe. Fear and anxiety are leading audiences to the genre in ever-increasing numbers. The Hunger Games series alone has sold nearly $3 billion in books, movies and merchandise, and that’s just the tip of a worldwide iceberg.

But while dystopian stories entertain millions, they also predict and sometimes provoke dramatic political change. Dystopias have inspired mass murders, including the single biggest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. They played a key role setting the stage for the Civil War and paving the way for the rise of the Third Reich. But they also prepare us to deal with the modern world, providing language and tools to understand concepts such as mass surveillance, predictive policing, and the spectacle violence of brutal groups like ISIS.

Created by some of the world’s greatest writers and filmmakers, these powerful works range from the infamous to the obscure. Few would contest the influence of 1984 and Atlas Shrugged on mainstream politics. But lesser known tales such as The Turner Diaries, The Third Reich in the Year 2000, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, and Anticipations of the Future have fueled bigotry, nationalism, paranoia, fear and violence in ways that are more dangerous and less obvious.

World Gone Wrong will explore these issues, opportunistically following the news, but also methodically, with a series of longer research-driven pieces that will unfold over time.




Books/short stories read: 95

Films and TV series watched: 124


The Turner Diaries, the infamous racist dystopian novel by neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, has inspired more than 200 murders since its publication in 1978, including the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing.

The book is arguably the most important single work of white nationalist propaganda in the English language, but it is not a singular artifact. The Turner Diaries is part of a genre of racist dystopian propaganda dating back to the U.S. Civil War. A new paper from J.M. Berger documents the books that directly and indirectly inspired Turner and examine the extensive violence that the novel has inspired.



New Article, New Blog


J.M. Berger is an author, consultant and analyst studying extremism. He is an associate fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism -- The Hague and a fellow with George Washington University's Program on Extremism. For more about Berger, click here.


"...smart, granular analysis..."

ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post

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    Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
    "At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

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