Holiday in dystopia: what would you pack?

Today’s post involves a hypothetical. (Not quite sure where this is going, but bear with me. Just close your eyes and go with it.) OK, that’s not going to work. Open them now. This post is going to be a little all over the place. Just so you know.

Right, so imagine it’s no longer 2013. We don’t have to worry about Jules OR Tony anymore. It’s 1984 (figuratively speaking). Let’s say it’s 2084. Some apocalyptic event has occurred, and now we’re monitored, controlled, and regulated, by some serious nut jobs. (Not to take anything away from TA, of course. He’s still a contender.) We wear bland uniforms… all the time. The government has dictated which poems, songs and artworks are allowed to be read, heard, and viewed, but nothing new is created. We can’t write. (For some reason we can read, but not write… Anyway, stay with me.) Society dictates our jobs, and how we spend our spare time. It determines who we marry. We are euthanised at eighty, and we don’t question it. (In fact, we’re more than a little stupid – we think people just happen to die at eighty, of natural causes.) The past has been erased from memory, from education. We don’t know our history. The government provides us with mind-altering drugs and determines when we take them.

It all sounds pretty familiar; your typical dystopian holiday destination. Huxley’s Bernard Marx would feel right at home here. He’d live next door to Winston Smith. There aren’t any rats, though, as far as I can tell, apart from those in power.

But here you can keep one remnant from the past – an object, a piece of literature, artwork, music or film – to pass to your descendants. One piece of history. One aesthetic connection to time gone by.

What would you choose?

Yesterday I asked my Year 7 students this question.

matchedWe’re studying a novel called Matched and I have pretty much described it above. It’s your entry-level Young Adult sort of dystopian science fiction, centred around a teenage female protagonist who slowly awakens to the sinister nature of her society, with the help of her soon-to-be-deceased grandfather, her intense emo boyfriend Ky, and Dylan Thomas‘ poetry. Importantly, there’s a love triangle: boy next door, versus brooding outsider. Basically, take your two boys and one girl tangled relationship plot from popular teen fiction (Twilight and The Hunger Games spring to mind), add a dash of Brave New World (without the orgies), and you have Matched. Derivative? It is the very definition of the word, but I enjoyed it in a read-in-a-few-hours kind of way (not a bad type of read for mums of preschoolers), and it examines some big ideas that we can get stuck into in the classroom, about the role of government, and the power of the individual, in a form that the students are familiar with. Sci-Fi Romance – does it get any better? Added to this, the writing is not bad.

In the novel, our heroine Cassia inherits a golden compact from her grandfather (her deceased grandmother’s), which has no practical use, given that no one wears make-up, but serves as a tangible emotional connection to her grandparents, and a link to history – her own and society’s. It is what is inside the compact, however, that is the catalyst that leads Cassia to question the Society’s control over its citizens. Her grandfather has hidden Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” inside:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A banned poem, it serves to awaken a spirit of subversion within Cassia, and she and Ky memorise and recite the poem as their relationship develops (outside the control of the Society – Cassia has already been ‘matched’ with her next-door-neighbour/best friend Xander), interpreting her grandfather’s message to mean a need to “not go gentle” in life, to rage against the machine, as it were.

So, I asked my Year 7 students what artefacts they would preserve for a new society – or a future society that knows nothing of our own – to tell them about us, and what is important to us today. Each student had to contribute an item (an object, song, book, poem, artwork, or film), and justify their choice. It was tough (choosing just one item). This is what they came up with:

Artefacts Collage

You can also view it on Glogster here:

Some notable inclusions:

  • Taylor Lautner poster (specifically with shirt off) – apparently people of the future are going to need this. Young Master Lautner is famed for playing the role of a werewolf in the Twilight films. Frankly, I have to agree with the choice. Men of the future need to be aware that eight packs are possible. Women of the future need to be able to see eight packs;
  • Oliver! the film – It’s a nod to Dickens, if not an embrace. They are Year 7, after all. I suppose that it was inevitable that someone would choose a musical. There’s always one. Despite its genre, its themes are timeless. I also like that it has an exclamation mark in the title. Classy;
  • One Direction CD – Now, I’m not overly familiar with One Direction, thankfully. I did call them One Dimension one day in class, which was met with much hilarity. I don’t listen to radio stations that play One Direction, and therefore I can’t really comment on the artistic merit of the work. I do, however, know that one of them looks a lot like Rizzo from Grease, which is funny;


  • There are some cricket stumps without a bat and ball. I think this is pretty clever, as they can double as weapons, without having to add a weapon. Possibly the people of the future could invent a new game involving a soccer ball, tennis racquet and stumps. Or the nerf gun! Nerf tennis? Nicket? It’s all coming together;
  • I like the addition of Green Day’s “American Idiot”. I like Green Day. Can’t say the same for Bruno Mars, Jessie J or Ed Sheeran. I have taste. Possibly, more accurately, I’m old;
  • There are a piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and violin. Music will be had, which is a relief. Notably absent are the drums. There is, however, a paintbrush without paint, so that could possibly be used as a drumstick? It could beat upon the TV, the piano, or the Marvel Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection – or we could make a drum kit from all of the above? Either that or the tap shoes (on someone’s feet) could form the rhythm section;
  • The dictionary – saves the hassle of having to write it all over again. That’s a relief!
  • The bubbles are clever – people of the future are, of course, going to have toddlers. Bubbles are a necessity; and
  • Bubble wrap – genius! For when the bubbles run out.

I love it! It was tough for twelve-year-olds to select a single item to preserve for the future, and I think they did a pretty good job. They chose things that are meaningful to them, and justified why people in the future should and would appreciate them (which was the important part).

This all got me thinking: what would I choose? What would I want to say through my choice?

I started with literature: Atwood, Coelho, Orwell, Winton… poetry – where to start!? I thought about great speeches: MLK, Churchill, Tony Abbott on 7:30. Thinking about Tony led me to more low-brow examples: Muse songs, Lennon-McCartney, Whedon series, Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, not Gladiator), Luhrmann films (just joking about Luhrmann, but still better than TA speeches). Here’s a little funny I found:


(Look, I’ve had this blog for six weeks or so – I think I’ve done pretty well not to mention Mr Smugglers a la Budgie until now.)

Then it hit me. What work presents a biting satire on the materialism of modern society, the xenophobia of the suburbs (it’s ok, I live in suburbia, I can say that), the limitations of traditional gender roles, the dangers of conformity, and the beauty of creativity and individualism? Exploring social isolation and self-discovery, it’s the work of a directorial genius, mixing German Expressionism, gothic horror, and the Grimm Fairytale, with allusion to Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. It boasts a beautiful Elfman score, and is a story told visually through metaphor, but so simply, and sweetly, with sadness and humour. And Johnny Depp. Future peeps need Johnny Depp.

You’ve probably guessed I’m time-capsuling Edward Scissorhands for the future. It’s Burton and Depp at their best (sans Bonham-Carter). It’s beautiful, and it’s ugly, and isn’t that what we (humanity) are all about?

What would you choose to preserve for future generations that speaks of you and your world? Please share! I might even create another Glogster collage.

8 thoughts on “Holiday in dystopia: what would you pack?

  1. Rizzo! that cracked me up, and the Tony Abbot one left me in stitches, very amusing post…you can tell Im an oldie, I would preserve a recipe book of the best recipes ever, food is all we need for comfort sometimes and who knows how to bake an authentic sponge cake without the wrapping? Not me.

    • Mmmmmm yes food. Brilliance! However, I’d need someone to cook it for me. I’m just not that great in the kitchen. That Rizzo pic is hilarious, right? When I first saw it I didn’t know who the other one was and I really did think it was a girl! I’m going to show my class that pic on Monday. Too funny!

  2. Oh my GOD I love this post!!! PEEED myself laughing about saving Taylor Lautner’s abs for the future. And Rizzo Styles. Funny – I was thinking about Margaret Atwood the whole time I was reading the first para of your blog. Clearly the author of Matched is well-acquainted with the Handmaid’s Tale – one of my all-time favourite books. I’m a bit of a sick fan of dystopic sci-fi novels. Wish you were my year 7 teacher. YES muse songs, and the future also needs to see Donnie Darko. Have you seen it? You must.

    • Yep, Ally Condie could be the love child of a Huxley-Atwood-Orwell threesome… Sorry, that’s a bit ewwwww. Mmmmm, Donnie Darko. I remember a human-sized rabbit, and being quite confused. Actually, you’re right, it’s perfect for dystopia! That’ll freak ’em out!

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