Dystopia Now!

From politics to pop culture, the present feels more like a grim sci-fi version of reality than ever before. Welcome to Dystopia Now!, a collection of stories about our darkest timelines.

Universal Pictures
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Warner Bros.
Alloy Entertainment/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
TriStar Pictures
MGM Television
American Empirical Pictures
From politics to pop culture, the present feels more like a grim sci-fi version of reality than ever before. Welcome to Dystopia Now!, a collection of stories about our darkest timelines.
Universal Pictures
How Pop-Culture Dystopias Can Help Us Understand Our Current Moment
Welcome to Dystopia Week.

It's tempting to say we live in a dystopia already. Actually, it's tempting to say we live in all the dystopias already. Donald Trump's persona manages to fuse so many classically dystopian insights that there's very little in the genre that doesn't seem, in one way or another, to predict him. He projects 1984's sense of the big lie and the power of huge heads on screens; Brave New World's sense that the real desire of modern society is not freedom but entertainment; The Hunger Games's sense that a repressive order can be maintained through the purgative spectacle of reality TV; It Can't Happen Here's sense that populism is really the sheep's craving for stronger wolves; Fahrenheit 451's sense that free expression is the most dangerous enemy of social control; The Time Machine's sense that upper-dwelling pale people are at risk of being eaten by lower-dwelling brown people; The Handmaid's Tale's sense that misogyny is still a dominant cultural force; and Planet of the Apes's sense that it would be cool to bury the Statue of Liberty under thousands of tons of sand. Then there's the whole strain of dystopian movies — call it the Mel Gibson, Leather Hamlet subgenre — that want you to think the best hope for a fallen Earth is one lone savior-badass paving the road to the future with the corpses of his enemies. Trump's got that down, too. ...

Embassy Pictures
To Donald Trump, the American City Will Always Be A Dystopic, ‘Eighties Movies’ New York
Now that Trump is president, could the Old Future New York of film be upon us?

John Carpenter's seedy dystopian action flick, Escape From New York, was released in 1981. Its premise was simple: By the end of the decade, crime would get so bad that the island of Manhattan would be walled off and turned into a penal colony. America's worst convicts would be given a choice: euthanasia and cremation, or permanent exile in New York City. “There are no guards inside the prison,” read the intertitles near the beginning of the film, “only the prisoners and the worlds they have made.”

The future New York of Escape is a chaotic, bombed-out wasteland roamed by unhinged weirdos and ruled by brutal psychos. An eye-patched Kurt Russell, playing cynical, mercenary antihero Snake Plissken, makes his way through the derelict city on a do-or-die mission: find the president of the United States, whose plane has been brought down over the city, and get him out. ...

Getty Images
The Walls We’ll Need
Trump says he hates coastal elites. Is he using climate change to drown them?

There is no indication, at first, that climate change has affected the world of The Private Eye. Brian K. Vaughan’s brilliant 2015 comic series first mentions a “Great Flood” not in the context of the rising oceans, but the internet. The story begins in 2076, when cars levitate but there is no World Wide Web. Way back in ‘16, we are told, the digital cloud burst wide open, spilling out all those deleted party photos, angry DMs, late-night “U up?” texts, and embarrassing web searches to the entire world. Since everything about every identity was exposed, people hide their faces in public. Anyone leaving the house wears some type of disguise — whether holographic camouflage reserved for those willing to pay top dollar, a false epidermis, or simply a shoddy mask smelling of three-day-old sweat. Think cosplay, every day.

Vaughan's story is set in a futuristic Los Angeles, so no matter what they’re wearing, it has to be hot outside. Very hot. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicted five years ago that by 2100, it’ll be between 2 and 9.7 degrees warmer worldwide than it is today — and we’re already breaking temperature records every year. But there is no sign that the characters in The Private Eye are living in a noticeably warmer climate. That is, until about halfway through, when we finally see the “Wonderwall.” ...

Afro American Newspapers/ Gado/ Getty Images
Fascism Has Already Come To America
For generations of black Americans, the United States between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, was a dystopic state

In 1893, in Paris, Texas, a young black man accused of molesting a small white child was burned at the stake in front of 10,000 people, many of whom carried away pieces of his body as souvenirs afterwards. A journalist from the New York Sun described the scene:

"The negro was placed upon a carnival float in mockery of a king upon his throne, and, followed by an immense crowd, was escorted through the city so that all might see the most inhuman monster known in current history ...Here Smith was placed upon a scaffold, six feet square and ten feet high, securely bound, within the view of all beholders. Here the victim was tortured for fifty minutes by red-hot iron brands thrust against his quivering body. Commencing at the feet the brands were placed against him inch by inch until they were thrust against the face. Then, being apparently dead, kerosene was poured upon him, cottonseed hulls placed beneath him and set on fire. In less time than it takes to relate it, the tortured man was wafted beyond the grave to another fire, hotter and more terrible than the one just experienced." ...

Diana Ong/ Getty Images
Mother Peril
How America endangered and profited from black motherhood

Last year, having consolidated their individual trauma into a political goal, eight women embarked on a national tour of maternal grief. They had been gathered first by fatal police or gun violence, and then in November 2015, by the Clinton presidential campaign, at the behest of the candidate herself.

By now, it is a ghastly custom for the mother of a slain black child to assign herself custodian of the cause of dead children: speaking when they cannot. The women, who are Gwen Carr, Sybrina Fulton, Maria Hamilton, Wanda Johnson, Lucia McBath, Lezley McSpadden, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, and Geneva Reed-Veal, made their endorsement of Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last July. Their year had been spent “appearing with Mrs. Clinton in churches and barbershops from Ohio to South Carolina.” McBath's son, Jordan Davis, was murdered by Michael Dunn in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2012. “His life ended the day he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job didn't,” McBath said at the DNC.

McBath and the women with whom she has forged a sorority find ways to continue nurturing the idea of their children now that their physical presence has been obliterated, ways that will never stand in for the physical thing: the texts, the errands, the buying and then exchanging of clothes. In the first-world arenas of scientific advance and enlightenment feminism, the right to have an abortion presents a crisis at the same time that it provides a chic channel to express political identity. The preservation of the right to mother is an equally prolonged emergency that beckons no lifestyle trend. ...

Culture Club/ Getty Images
Death By Paradise
No dystopia is built without a utopia in mind

Failed paradises crosshatch America. Look and you’ll find them: in the precise gridding of cities, in the plaques nailed to former agricultural communes, in the way we’ve named our national parks. No dystopia is built without a utopia in mind, and no utopia has ever unshackled itself from the dystopia needed to sustain it. Whether couched in nostalgia or envisioned on the horizons of Mars, this country’s pet dream of perfect safety and uninhibited growth is dreamed at the expense of those it kills.

In a famous scene from the Wachowski sisters’ 1999 film The Matrix, an artificial intelligence called Smith describes a deadly paradise. He explains while torturing Morpheus, a freedom fighter bent on breaking the human race out of its slumbering prison where millions of bodies are plugged into a network of supercomputers, powering them with biochemical energy, dreaming of earth at the turn of the millennium — naked batteries sealed in amniotic goo.

"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy?" Smith asks. "It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from." ...

Simone Joyner/ WireImage
Janelle Monáe’s Android Rebellion
The oppression she fights in her musical science fiction is grounded in reality

On January 21, Janelle Monáe wore chains and shrugged them off. At the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., the performer approached the microphone in a black peacoat with broad, embellished shoulders, her epaulets dripping with pearls and chrome links. When she spoke, her arms rested on the lucite podium.

“HELLO, FUTURE!” she crowed, and cheers of greeting volleyed back from the pink-speckled sea of pussy-hat–wearing, sign-hoisting women. “I am so proud to stand here as a woman, an African-American woman. My grandmother was a sharecropper. She picked cotton in Aberdeen, Mississippi. My mother was a janitor. I am a descendant of them. I am here in their honor to help us move forward and fem the future.”

She unzipped her coat and invoked the names of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Jesus, saying that these men were “given” to humanity by women. The crowd voiced its approval as she reached the end of each thought centered on female strength. She said that she was there to “march against the abuse of power,” and she extended a word of welcome to those in its crosshairs. ...

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The Red Pill Theory
We can choose to read The Matrix, and the red pill/blue pill choice within, as either the Wachowski sisters’ queer utopia or a fascist guidebook

If our grandparents had Westerns, our parents had buddy-cop comedies, our babysitters had rom-coms, and our favorite seniors-when-we-were-freshmen had superhero movies, the genre that will define this particular microgeneration seems destined to be the dystopia. Though dystopian movies date back to the release of the cyborgian nightmare Metropolis, what was once a trickle of industrial ooze in the grand scheme of our cultural landscape is now a swamp.

Dystopian teen movies made household names out of Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley, and stories like The Giver and Ender's Game, once considered unfilmable, have made their way into theaters. Expanding beyond the horror and science fiction stories that have usually contained the genre, now there are dystopian romantic comedies — you can take your pick between love in a Hollywood zombie-meet-cute or at a European neutral-dystopia hotel. Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most hotly anticipated projects of the year ahead. And Atwood’s isn't the only old nightmare to seem new again: 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road was a critical and financial smash, and Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner have a remake and a sequel, respectively, looming on the horizon. ...

Darcie Wilder/ Getty Images
Cat Eyes For A Catastrophe
In a postapocalyptic future, the revolution will be moisturized

I was raised to believe you could only reschedule an event three times maximum. So I was pretty bummed when I heard they were, yet again, rescheduling the apocalypse to make room for a dystopia. As both a mover and a shaker, I had moves and shakes to reschedule and/or cancel altogether. Ugh — I just HATE when huge, global catastrophes affect my day-to-day plans.

One of the first changes was in my medicine cabinet, both because the dystopia brings about health care changes for all, but also because that's where I keep my makeup when it's not loose in my backpack, leaking because the top fell off.

The first thing that had to change was my eyeliner. Although I've been doing this winged liquid liner look for years, I had to switch products for our new hellish reality. Don't get me wrong — Palladio had a real killer pigment and applicator, but would smudge before the end of the day (often before the end of the hour). More recently I have been really digging Club Clio, which has a precise application and never smudges, but isn't as dark and bold. ...

Warner Bros.
The Great Dictators
A list of six movies with six fictional oppressors — most of whom we’d take over Trump any day

Elections, as long as America is fortunate enough to have them, only happen every four years. From campaign to inauguration, it can take half a decade to depose a despot. Luckily, Hollywood works a little faster — and it's dreamed up creative ways to kick out the creeps. Before we’re forced to hail Immortan Cheeto, let's see what we can learn from six fictional oppressors who got kneecapped by screenwriters before they could ruin the world.

In Love Actually, Billy Bob Thornton's nameless commander-in-chief — let's call him President Leer — seems happy that his wife would rather stay home than join him on his sweet private plane. Time for some locker-room talk with Prime Minister Hugh Grant, who, it must be said, is the first to make things sexual by calling his American pal "sickeningly handsome." After the PM's assistant Natalie walks by, this Yankee silver fox does a cartoon-wolf double-take. "Did you see those pipes?" elbows Billy Bob. Yeah, Hugh did. And he's the only one who can sexually harass Natalie by forcing her to switch jobs because she raised his Union Jack. Billy Bob can bully him on foreign policy, but when he's caught stroking Natalie's hair with a bizarre crab hand — an affront that takes him literally 17 seconds of alone time — the British leader breaks up with the United States on live TV. "I fear that this has become a bad relationship, a relationship based on the president taking exactly what he wants," scolds Hugh. Prime-y grabs back. ...

Alloy Entertainment/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
YA Is More Than Just A Genre, It’s A Resource
MTV News spoke with YA authors about their responsibility in a world that mirrors the dystopian ones they write about

In the months following Donald Trump’s presidential win, teenagers have been among some of the country's most vocal activists. From organizing school walkouts to running for office, young people are adjusting to the dystopian world they’ve inherited in different ways. That includes turning to books for comfort. Young adult authors — who are also learning to navigate life under a Trump administration — feel the weight of this responsibility.

Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places; Holding Up the Universe) and Nicola Yoon (Everything, Everything; The Sun Is Also a Star), both Los Angeles–based writers whose best-selling books are currently being made into films, understand the magnitude behind their words, especially during a time when their readers feel confused, scared, and oftentimes voiceless. Whether it’s offering answers to questions about growing up or providing a brief escape from reality, the world of YA is more than just a genre — it’s a resource for young people. (The No. 1 YA book in the country right now was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.) Teaching ways to cope while living in the Trump era, for example, is one way in which YA literature helps. ...

TriStar Pictures
Apocalypse, Now: Bad ’80s Flicks That Predicted These End-Of-Days Times
Here’s what dystopian hell awaits us, according to these ’80s movies and straight-to-video gems

In 2017, the United States was in the middle of the Second Civil War, and everyone was desperate to escape to Canada. Our leaders acted suspiciously like Nazis. At least one woman was willing to do anything to never be called “babe” by a stranger ever again. After the past few months, this backdrop all seems within the realm of possibility. But if it sounds familiar to you, it might be because these are plot details from Barb Wire, a 1996 film starring Pamela Anderson. It is, as you probably already deduced, loosely based on the Academy Award–winning film Casablanca. The protagonist, named Barb Wire, calls 2017 “the worst year of my life.” Despite the fact that Ms. Wire's saga currently has a 28 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, she's definitely onto something.

Humanity's hunger for hellscapes comes in cycles. And right now, our stomachs are grumbling for some dystopian comparison shopping. Since Donald Trump's presidency began, Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale has lurked on the New York Times best seller list. You can find clickbait like “What is George Orwell’s 1984 about, why have sales soared since Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway referred to ‘alternative facts,’ and what’s happening on April 4?” ...

MGM Television
The Thin Red Line Between ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ And Reality
Liz Raiss looks at the fashion of "The Handmaid's Tale," which can be seen as both a symbol and as a warning.

In the past, March 8 was International Women’s Day. In 2017, it became A Day Without a Woman. Women everywhere were encouraged to take a day off from work in order to protest (if privilege and possibility allowed) their rights being threatened under Trump’s administration. Participants were asked to wear red in solidarity, and the resulting marches looked like crimson waves through city streets.

The scene recalled an ongoing Canadian art installation by Jaime Black. The REDress Project has collected hundreds of red dresses as an “aesthetic response to the more than 1,000 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.” These empty garments, lit dramatically in the confines of a gallery or hanging forlornly from a tree branch, are a powerful evocation of loss. The recontextualized commercial objects are haunting in their literal and symbolic emptiness. ...

American Empirical Pictures
During The Apocalypse, Is A Nancy Meyers Kitchen Still White?
We present you with several typically cheery directors and the nightmare films they could be making

Dystopian films have long been the playground for a very specific type of director: white, male, depressive, fascinated by his own depths. It's a niche, occasionally repetitive corner of the filmmaking world, one that you can pretty easily avoid if you'd rather not know that babies taste best. But as our reality inches ever closer to those imagined by the likes of Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang and Michael Anderson and Mike Judge and John Carpenter and Terry Gilliam (... you guys get it), it's possible that all films, by nature of reflecting the world we live in, will begin to verge on the dystopian.

Imagine, if you will, a film industry that exclusively churns out interminably grim nightmarescapes — where every rom-com is Equals, where buddy comedies become buddy bomb-edies (I'm so sorry), where A Dog's Purpose is to eat insubordinate citizens. Imagine a Hollywood in which Nancy Meyers can no longer create kitchen erotica, Wes Anderson is forced to stop making everything fucking adorable, and Garry Marshall's ghost cannot group a bunch of thin and disparate nonsense under the umbrella of "holiday." But what will they make instead? ...

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Creative Director: Rich Sancho