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Themyscira, Wonder Woman (2017)

Building a better utopia, from Star Trek to Wonder Woman

Contributed by
Jan 21, 2020

Dystopias have been a part of our cultural lexicon for decades, with books, movies, and TV shows breaking down the ideas, characteristics, and building blocks of a dystopian society. These stories cover things we are struggling with within our current society, tackling everything from climate change to police brutality and a government surveillance state to the loss of fundamental human rights.

George Orwell's 1984 was the first dystopian novel to become famous, and then Lois Lowry popularized the conceit in young adult fiction with her book The Giver. With hits like The Hunger Games, Watchmen, and The Handmaid's Tale taking over both the box office and the small screen in recent years, it's clear dystopias aren't going anywhere.

Credit: Lionsgate

While dystopias offer a fascinating look at the dangers we could face and help give people a way to verbalize their frustrations, we've reached a point where it starts to mirror real life a bit too closely. When our reality begins to resemble a dystopian landscape, it's clear many of us need a different type of escape when we turn to fiction. That's why it's time to inject a shot of good old-fashioned, pure utopianism right into genre fiction's bloodstream.

Utopias are few and far between in genre (with Star Trek being the most famous example) as they can often be perceived as too perfect, leading to them labeled by many as too dull to provide entertainment. Dystopians derive much of their popularity from watching a group of people fighting back against all the odds and in the face of overwhelming adversity. It gives you something to root for.

But what comes after the victories achieved by those who fight back against the system is just as important. The utopian society created through perseverance, determination, and change is what shows us that we can and will be better, that such a world can and should exist. This is the world we want to aspire to, and if our fiction reflects that drive, it can help us achieve the dream.

Credit: NBC

After all, Star Trek was created as a way to dream of a future where humans resolved our conflicts and banded together, enabling us to move beyond our planet, to explore new worlds, seek out new civilizations, and to "boldly go where no man has gone before." The characters of Star Trek are far from perfect; they get into fights, make wrong choices, and even hurt or kill, but what makes theirs a utopian society is that they always learn from their mistakes. They always do better the next time around and work together to strive to create a better society as best they can.

In the more than 50 years Star Trek has been around, other genre shows have dabbled in utopians, but never fully committed. Avatar: The Last Airbender, while not entirely a utopia, highlights a group of people who are working together to build an improved future and create a better world to live in. TV shows like Doctor Who and Sliders provide glimpses of utopias, but they're almost always an alternative reality or end up having a sinister underbelly.

Both Black Panther and Wonder Woman gave us peeks at utopian societies that have been hidden away from the rest of the world. Wakanda is a technological marvel full of cool gadgets and advanced medical knowledge, a place where innovation is celebrated. In contrast, the Amazonian paradise of Themyscira is something out of Greek mythology, an island where information and ideas flowed freely, and the female inhabitants had time to perfect their skills as artisans, warriors, and intellectuals. Both societies were thriving and gave us something to aspire to but were heavily contrasted by the poverty, oppression, and wars taking place just outside their borders.

Credit: Marvel Studios

However, despite the flaws, these brief glimpses were enough to give audiences something to yearn for, a place where people can be whatever they want and do whatever they can dream. They demonstrated that people want to see more stories where utopias like this exist and give their inhabitants benefits, resources, and skills to keep moving towards a better future for our world.

And most importantly, the way these stories resonated with audiences indicates that we do need more utopias in fiction. We need to see that hope on screen; we need to have something that inspires us to be better in our day-to-day lives. Give us more worlds like Wakanda, Themyscira, and the final frontier in Star Trek: places where people are celebrated and safe.

Utopian worlds give us the ability to imagine a happy ending and an optimistic future for humanity in a time when it may seem childish or even impossible. At the heart of any utopia is the idea that humanity can come together to create something more than what we have now, possibly even something amazing. And while it may seem like a fairy tale, having more utopias in genre gives us something to hope for and work towards. A utopia worth striving for.

After all, if we aren't able to craft and imagine a better fictional future, how can we be expected to create a real one?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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