Dark but not Dystopian

I have a great love of the darker genres when it comes to films and books. I love gothic stories, and I am partial to the more psychological and monstery ends of the horror genre – relentless violence doesn’t do it for me unless it’s funny. However, I really don’t like dystopian stories and I’ve been thinking a lot about why that’s the case.

Gothic and horror stories are personal – it’s about the individuals involved. The monstrosity is personal, the horrors are perpetrated by individual people or entities or groups. This also means that the scope for overcoming the terrible things is both personal and possible, or you die trying. Stories in which there is a last girl standing, or in which someone thwarts the horror – even if they die in the process – are actually uplifting and cathartic in their own way. Stories in which people have to come to terms with the darkness comfort me in all sorts of ways.

Dystopian fiction has an impersonal quality to it. The problems are systemic and go way beyond the individual. Granted, sometimes you get stories about dystopian systems that the individual is able to take down, but for me that’s a differently shaped story. Really dystopian fiction may offer escape or reprieve to the protagonists, but the system itself remains. The surface of the story looks like a win, but nothing really changes.

There’s an additional problem here that dystopias often depend on taking something akin to the oppression suffered currently or historically by the global majority and asking what would happen if someone did that to white people.

I’m not convinced we do ourselves much good with stories in which winning is impossible and the system will crush or corrupt you. It’s something that bothers me greatly about the Aliens films, for example. A few people might survive a fight with the monsters, but the system that relentlessly brings them into contact with people while trying to capture and weaponise them, remains. At least with most monster films, there’s a point where they run out of desire to reboot and the monster stays dead.

There is of course a certain kind of comfort in dystopian stories. They tell us that it is ok not to resist, because resistance is futile. It’s ok to do nothing and accept what is done to you because fighting back changes nothing. This is a story shape that worries me.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Dark but not Dystopian

  • Stuart Jeffery

    Ha! I won’t ask you to review the one I’ve just published then!!! 😉

  • jswhite

    I like dark stories for much the same reasons, though I do argue that the Alien films (which I adore…Ripley was my hero as a kid) are as much cerebral sort of movies as they are horror or dystopian ones.

    They always make me wonder why we think humans are so special as opposed to other life in the universe. Why should we always survive in a vast universe filled with life of unimaginable diversity and uniqueness? Why do we always root for the people to win and not the aliens (which are not evil, but being true to their hive nature, as much as ants or bees)?

    That’s a dark, dangerous thought in itself. Not one easily or happily entertained, but one needed sometimes for perspective I think. In this time of ecological dilemma, humans might need to stop placing themselves so far above the other species on the planet, realize that we’re the ones who act against nature, not the other way around. Maybe by rooting for other species, we can better preserve a place for ourselves.

    Or I may be full of it, lol. 😅 But it’s an interesting way of looking at the Alien movies anyway.

    Great post! They make me think as always.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: