Thomas More’s Utopia became more than just a figment of his imagination. His vision of an ideal society although not ideal to everyone has survived hundreds of years and continues to be used as a tool to discuss an infinite number of possible utopias. An entire division of research and studies are based on his vision. Faitima Vieira in a special edition of the Journal of Utopian Studies highlights Lynman Sargent thoughts on the building upon the field of study “The creation of the Society for Utopian Studies, in 1975, and of the Utopian Studies journal, in 1990, provided North American scholars with a floor for the discussion of questions pertinent to the field of utopian studies, and they have thus contributed to the shaping of the field. (Vieira, p2) Today Utopian Studies is an expansive field of research studied globally and includes all forms of media and modes of communication. More’s ideas of what is ideal and acceptable may have more significant implications as his perfect society embraced slavery. Discrimination was framed as acceptable and expected for those less fortunate.
A theme that appears within the Utopia and Dystopia literature is that of discrimination and it’s what role it plays in that fictional society. As a reader connecting elements from the materials I read I compare them to past and current events and circumstances within society today. It is clear that discrimination whether it’s gender based or focused on race always seems to a pivotal factor in the storyline. In attending the New York College of Technology Science Fiction Symposium held virtually this year , it theme being race . It’s speakers discussed how characters in Utopian and Dystopian fiction were described as not being quite human. Characters were either victims of slaves or hybrids not quite worthy of being considered a living being. It sounded to me to be a new way to discriminate in addition to either race or gender. I found it interesting how bias in regard to race , gender or just being deemed unworthy were prevalent in this genre. I intend to explore the role of this theme in Utopian and Dystopian literature.
When thinking of what Is considered “Art” the definition can be expanded into a million directions. Dance, and painting are just a few ways we can express ourselves. Literature is another one. We can express our thoughts and creativity through any medium, but for many literature is their choice. For many they express their preference through whatever genre they choose to read and for others it’s what genre they choose to write. Science fiction and It’s connection to Utopian and Dystopian ideals have intermingled over many years and often reflect the events of that time. Peter Fitting in “A Short History of Utopian Studies.” suggest Utopian studies like Utopia itself found a new life with the revival of Utopian writing was in many ways made possible by science fiction, for as non imagined worlds and futures, science fiction provided a way to imagine and describe alternatives to an inadequate present.
For many Utopian and Dystopian fiction i a way to express an ideal world or a hellish one. Interpretation of art like many other things is a matter of perspective. Based on their perspective a writer can choose to celebrate or suppress its characters based on various factors, gender could be one and race is definitely another. Like many things in our society Utopian and Dystopian literature can represent the perspective of someone who is white.
This perspective can appear to drive themes that reflect the hellish historical background for people of color and suppress or diminish the importance of racial injustice within a text. These thoughts are discussed in “The Future of Racial Classifications: Exploring Race in the Critical Dystopia.” by Meghan Hartnett. Hartnett writes “science fiction as a genre has been dominated by white male writers, it is no surprise that racial distinctions have ultimately been ignored or made insignificant in their texts. In these futures where race no longer holds hierarchical significance, racial minorities become irrelevant.” (Hartnett 3) The privileged perspective of an author who is white could be seen in how race is depicted and how much respect and weight it is given in the text. This is supported by Hartnett “It is necessary to criticize the science fiction genre for its erasure of racial classifications and racism because it is true that the subject of race is too deeply engrained in American society and culture to be overlooked. Racial classifications, and the hierarchies which result, have caused centuries of oppression, violence, and hatred in America and throughout the world; to simply eliminate their existence and imagine a world that transcends race is naïve and unimaginable.”(Hartnett)
Many authors explore how race plays a role in society and how it reflects history and the lives of people of color. This is not necessarily easy for black authors in a society traditionally driven negatively by race. In “African Literature and the World System: Dystopian Fiction, Collective Experience, and the Postcolonial Condition” by M. Keith Booker reflects on race and the difficulty in dystopian fiction. Booker writes “The difficulties faced by African writers of dystopian fiction are representative of those faced by African novelists in general, who must often strain against the generic characteristics of the fundamentally bourgeois form within which they write”(Booker 58). The historical racial dynamics that set the expectations of Utopian and Dystopian fiction and literature in general for that matter were challenged by writers that didn’t fit the traditional definition of an author. Octavia Butler was just such an author. Her ability to expand on her ideas regarding race and gender were considered unconventional even under science fiction standards. In the publication “ Necessary Interventions in theFace of Very Curious Compulsions “Octavia Butler’s Naturalist Science Fiction by Mary E. Papke the sociopolitical aspects of Octavia Butlers’ writing reflecting Butlers’ thoughts. “readers and critics are masterfully adept in misunderstanding her work by reading into it what they want and thus, ironically, rendering it know able and therefore safe. That is, critics fail to recognize the basic questions raised by her fiction when they allow issues of race or gender to trump consideration of issues of symbiosis, interdependence, and interrelation ality, and they therefore miss her call for dialectical thinking in order to stave off imminent cataclysm.”( Papke 81)
African American authors like Octavia Butler have tested the previously established parameters set by white male authors of Utopian and Dystopian literature by incorporating plots that revolve around interracial relationships and slavery from the perspective of the black character. In “Kindred” Butler’s depiction of the life changing and life threatening challenges the main characters Dana faces depicts the horrible legacy of slavery and racism. This is done through the obstacles faced in her interracial marriage in the seventies and her time travel back in time into a life of slavery in the 1800’s and how the legacy of slavery lives is manifested in black people today.
Systemic racism that permeates all levels of society is also woven into the subconscious of its’ people. So much so that the slightest implication of of a mixed race relationship can spur a negative reaction. Isaiah Lavender references this on how a modern day television script indicating that a black man would be able to direct the actions taken by a white woman such inferences was nearly cancelled due to in his estimation “an inherent yet unconscious audience discomfort caused by the perceived taboo of miscegenation or race mixing .” (Lavender 3). Even under the umbrella of science fiction on television intermingling is not allowed.
Papke, Mary E. “Necessary Interventions in the Face of Very Curious Compulsions: Octavia Butler’s Naturalist Science Fiction.” Studies in American Naturalism, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013, pp. 79–92. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26300822. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
Booker, M. Keith. “African Literature and the World System: Dystopian Fiction, Collective Experience, and the Postcolonial Condition.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 26, no. 4, 1995, pp. 58–75. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3820227. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
Hartnett, Meghan. (2018). The Future of Racial Classifications: Exploring Race in the Critical Dystopia. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 283. Available at: http://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/283
Fitting, Peter. “A Short History of Utopian Studies.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2009, pp. 121–131. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25475211. Accessed 8 Dec. 2020.
LavenderIII, Isiah. Race in American Science Fiction. Indiana University Press, 2011. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/book/1915
Vieira, Fátima. “Introduction to the Special Issue.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 2, 2016, pp. 193–196. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/utopianstudies.27.2.0193. Accessed 15 Dec. 2020.