Monday, May 19, 2014

Finding New Perspectives on Dystopia

Years ago, in a poetry class, I had an interesting lesson about looking at things from a new perspective that I've never forgotten. The lesson was really about titles. The professor arbitrarily wrote a few lines from a poem that he made up on the spot:

"The green light of the oppressor's boot
Bend your neck to the chopping block..."

Just with that much, he told us to throw out titles for the poem. Naturally people came up with words like "Slavery," "Fascism," "Revolution," "Freedom," and plenty of other negatively-charged political words. Then the professor posed a question. 

"What if the title was..."Romance?" Or "Unconditional Love?" 

I remember a collective "ahhh" going up from the class. After which, the class clown smugly offered, "What if it was called, "Filibuster?" (Can you guess what was going on in the news that week?"

But the point is, it was a valuable lesson about how you can use outside information about a piece of art, whether a picture, story, character, or poem, to give it new meaning. The title, after all, is still outside of the text itself right?

So, I decided to apply that to a picture exercise today. The picture below seems beautiful and peaceful on the surface, but what if I told you it took place in a dystopian world. 

Tell me what makes it dystopian? What aspects of the world can you draw out of the picture? How do these aspects affect the people, and why would it make a great story? (Draw from clothing, background images, etc. if necessary.)

Mother and Child by the Sea by Johan Christian Dahl (1840) Source

Where dystopia is becoming a saturated genre, perhaps the key to coming up with new things is to make dystopian worlds as much like our own as possible, changing only details that are so subtle, they can almost be missed. After all, the smallest details can make the biggest difference.

What did you come up with?


  1. I can see a dystopian-steampunk story in that image.

    1. Yeah, that'd be cool! Thanks Alex! :D

  2. Hmm I'm not sure I understand this very well. I could call this pic "the beautiful killer" maybe. Amazing scenery but the environment is so polluted this mother and child could literally die from standing there too long.

    1. That's a cool idea, Scotty! That would be a super-interesting world! Thanks for commenting on my blog! :D

  3. In our lives there are many things we love and are beautiful but at the same time they can kill us physically emotionally spiritually. Maybe this pic describes someone's hardest temptation

    1. Yeah, I really like the idea of this representing an emotional turmoil as well as a physical one. Like it could be a representation of where they are in their mind or something. It'd be like the Robert Frost poem, Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening. :D Love ya, Bud!