An ideal state, place, or condition in terms of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.


A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control is maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian means. An exaggerated worst-case scenario serves as a criticism of a current trend, societal norm, or political system in dystopias.

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Dystopian Society
Dystopian Society

Characteristics of a Dystopian Society

  • The purpose of propaganda is to control the citizens of a society.
  • Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted.
  • The citizens of society worship a figurehead or concept.
  • They are perceived as being constantly monitored.
  • They are afraid of the outside world.
  • Citizens live in a dehumanized state.
  • The natural world is banished and distrusted.
  • Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad.
  • Society is an illusion of a perfect utopia.

Types of Dystopian Controls

According to most dystopian works, oppressive social control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained by one or more of the following means:

Types of controls

Control by corporations: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or media. A few examples are Minority Report and Running Man.

Bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by a bureaucracy that is tangled in red tape, endless regulations, and incompetent government officials. Examples in the film include Brazil.

Technology controls society-through computers, robots, and/or scientific methods. The Matrix, The Terminator, and I, Robot are examples.

Philosophical/religious control: Society is ruled by philosophical or religious ideology, often through dictatorship or theocracy.

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The Dystopian Protagonist

  • Feels trapped and struggles to escape.
  • The existing social and political systems are questioned.
  • Is convinced that something is terribly wrong with the society in which he or she lives.
  • Provides the audience with an understanding of the negative aspects of through therefrom their perspective.

Characteristics of Dystopia

Books or stories within the genre of dystopian fiction usually share several of the same characteristics:

  • An extremely strong governing body with little to no checks or balances. Dystopian fiction depicts a government that has complete control and portrays itself as beloved by using extensive propaganda and silencing any opposition as necessary.
  • A governing body that controls the religious, political, and economic elements of society and the punishment for not following the rules associated with these elements. Religion and worship are not allowed in these societies as that would directly challenge the authority of the government. There are no political parties because that would imply that all citizens support the ruling party. Additionally, the government is in charge of all economic policy and information in order to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly. It is usually a select few that hoard the resources and leave the rest of society in poverty.
  • Typically, the entire society in a dystopia is corrupt or failing, but there is often a single figurehead who symbolizes the values of that society. To maintain an image of complete control, the figurehead must appear infallible and act swiftly and without mercy in the face of opposition. Control is often sold to the public as a price for “peace.”
  • Extreme propaganda that is considered the norm in society is oftentimes so pervasive that citizens do not realize they are being oppressed. The purpose of this propaganda is to make citizens believe that the government is working for them. They are living in total equality with all other citizens, and there is no better way to live.
  • Individuality has been viewed as an aberration and a danger to society. Citizens are taught to shame anyone who does not follow the societal norms and not to associate with people who speak out against the government or any single policy because they are a “danger” to the peace and order of their environment.
  • Citizens are made to put on a “show” of sorts in order to comply with dystopian societal norms. Members of the society are praised and given superficial rewards for falling in line and exemplifying the “right” way to live and being role models for others. This encourages overt displays of compliance.
  • In dystopian societies, the government conceals environmental damage and decay to maintain perceived perfection. Essentially, this is a smokescreen to make citizens think they live in a wonderful place, but environmental stewardship is not a priority.
  • Dystopian characters usually see no escape from government control, and they are even too afraid to think about or discuss it. This goes along with the rewarded compliance. Members of society train themselves so well to stay within the lines in order to avoid the punishment that it would seem strange to question how things are done.

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