10 Dystopian Predictions That Actually Came True

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October 24th, 2010

Though obviously speculative by nature, dystopian films, literature, music and other media can strike some eerily relatable chords with contemporary audiences. Some even manage to envision facets of the future that eventually grow ingrained into the present. Like Nostradamus, this phenomenon has nothing to do with any sort of supernatural or otherworldly talents — these creators merely possess a sophisticated eye for human behavior and technology, vigilantly dissecting probabilities, possibilities and potentials based on patterns past. Obviously, not all of these predictions came to pass in the exact same manner as they were predicted. But many do share some eerie parallels to later developments.

  1. Anti-Rape Condoms: Neal Stephenson’s 1992 dystopian cyberpunk novel Snow Crash makes mention of character YT’s "dentata" device, meant to deter potential rapists by clamping down on their penises with sharp, toothlike constructs that cannot come off without a doctor’s assistance. In 2005, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers developed an extremely similar mechanism after personally experiencing and working with victims of rape and sexual assault. Currently only available in South Africa, Rape-aXe functions in essentially the same manner as Stephen’s hypothetical construct. Unsurprisingly, controversy surrounds its availability. Though Ehlers intends to empower women by granting them sexual autonomy and alleviating their fear of attack, many feminists protest the anti-rape condom because they fear escalation. A monster enraged after meeting the razor-sharp business end of a Rape-aXe can still kill or further abuse his victim. It is a legitimate concern, and educating the populace on equality and tolerance remains the only way society can truly eliminate the deplorable acts of sexual violence.

  2. Classical Music as a Control Mechanism: One of the most memorable scenes in A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess’ chilling 1962 exploration of desensitization, involves the antihero’s Pavlovian reprogramming. The fictional Ludavico Technique intended to break him of his sexually violent, murderous ways by infamously using Alex’s favorite classical pieces juxtaposed with horrific imagery. West Park School in Derby similarly uses Bach, Verdi, Mozart and other composers as a means of calming the disruptive denizens of detention. Of course, the effect on them is the exact opposite of Burgess’ genuinely frightening character, who ends up loathing the classical music he once adored. But the general concept behind utilizing the genre as a form of social control remains the same. Brian Walker, the school’s head, requires students on their third offense to stay after class on Fridays and listen to an hours’ worth of classical. Educational videos also accompany the music, and Walker believes that such gentle regimens inspire calm and productivity rather than rage against the educational machine.

  3. Second Life: Obviously, not every work of cyberpunk literature contains dystopian elements. But plenty of them, most especially William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and the aforementioned Snow Crash explored the darker corners of where technology could take humanity. The internet existed in a nascent state during the height of the science fiction subgenre, and many of the writers made accurate predictions of its eventual all-consuming popularity. But one of the more detailed predictions involved the establishment of virtual worlds where individuals can become whomever they please and interact with other participants. In reality they do not require the biological uplink featured in Neuromancer, of course, but both novels certainly foresaw constructs similar to Second Life and massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). The former allows a far higher degree of customization than the latter, but both provide incredibly immersive digital universes ripe for exploration and interaction. Users create avatars (occasionally called "toons") and create their own shops, attend university courses, dance to live music performances and many other social and/or cultural events – limited only by the imagination. The first Metaverse scene in Snow Crash involves a pub and a passing mention of a giant walking penis, both of which make appearances in Second Life.

  4. Sex Robots: Building robots specifically for relieving sexual tension was not a prediction so much as an inevitability. After all, the whole dating process overflows with abuse, anxiety, backstabbing, cheating, lying and other lovely dehumanizing experiences. And on top of that, society’s definition of attractiveness only embraces a painfully tiny number of physical characteristics, rending plenty of perfectly wonderful individuals feeling dejected and rejected because they cannot live up to such unrealistic ideals. People are too picky, too "imperfect," or both. So it makes sense that there would be demand for highly realistic sex robots. While not as sophisticated or free-spirited as the punk Replicant Pris from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (and its 1982 film adaptation Blade Runner), Roxxxy and Rocky certainly bring science fiction into the realm of reality. Known as "True Companions," consumers purchase silicone androids or gynoids with seven preprogrammed personalities, multiple orifices and almost entirely customizable faces, hairstyles, skin colors, makeup and wardrobes. Rocky sports an extremely buff exterior and Roxxxy is 38"-30"-37", which really does absolutely nothing to help the nation’s collective body image issues. But considering the base price of $6,495, they probably won’t be phasing out baseline humans in the near future. Sorry, lonely hearts. You’ll just have to settle for the old standbys when the organic options prove just too real to handle.

  5. Water Wars: With clean, fresh water such a valuable commodity in most of the world — an issue many in developed nations take for granted — the prediction of fights and socioeconomic marginalization breaking out for want of a drink was extremely logical. Such themes run amok in dystopian and speculative fiction, but none points out that none hit so tragically close to reality as Sekhar Kapur’s Paani. Currently in development and slated for a 2011 release, the director has been keeping a blog with some observations of parallels between reality and his grim fantasy. In India, he notes, the scarcity of viable water sources has created a depressing class divide. Only the wealthiest, most influential individuals in certain areas are afforded the luxury of plumbing and sanitization, with the rest of society unfairly cast into the margins. Kapur sites Bijapur as one particularly ravaged region, with the poorer peoples lashing out over the disparity. The pictures of the squalor such hoarding causes incites nausea in the director — and anyone else who isn’t a complete monster. Sadly, many thought him foolish to create a film on "water wars," believing such things as trifling fantasies rather than a legitimately terrifying reality. Excessive violence seems to have not yet materialized, though bottling up anger over the denial of a basic human need can quite easily erupt into something dreadful someday.

  6. Hybrid Animals: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells only features a dystopian society based in the eponymous location – the rest of the world flits through life in blissful ignorance of the not-so-good doctor’s exploits. Given its publication date of 1896, Dr. Moreau utilized vivisection to create his terrifying animal hybrids. Dog-men, leopard-men, and hyena-pigs call the island home, even forming their own rituals and strict code of behaviors. Today, scientists use gene splicing when mixing animalistic traits — and they never use human DNA in their projects. Genetically modified livestock frolic about on farms, bred specifically to fight off diseases and live healthier, stronger existences. In the realm of the truly bizarre, proteins found in jellyfish have been spliced into rabbits, pigs and other species for both research and artistic purposes. When exposed to ultraviolet light, bits of the altered animals glow a faint green — the most famous of which was the controversial Alba the Bunny. Fortunately for the world, none of these creations have yet to lash out and assault or kill their masters, establish their own eerily humanlike civilizations or any of the other brutish behaviors outlined in the book. Only the spirit of Wells’ prediction remains the same, but not the science or (thankfully) the fatal consequences.

  7. Excessive Automation: By the time Kurt Vonnegut published his satirical Player Piano in 1952, a few careers — generally labor-oriented — had slowly been consumed by machinery. The book, of course, posits a future where full-blown automation robs life of meaning and instills a sense of boredom in the general public. Society has yet to reach that point, but today’s technologies have certainly left a far greater impact on the job market than they did in Vonnegut’s time. One need only look at the state of customer service and telephone operation to note how computers have edged out their human counterparts. The Education Resources Information Center features an article on the relationship between automation and labor jobs based on data spanning from 1963 to 2000. Based on patterns, they estimate that machinery will take 10% less time to complete specific tasks than manual labor. Considering Vonnegut’s strong opinions on the negative elements of capitalism, it makes sense that he would express concern over how the drive for productivity and profit could result in the loss of job opportunities. This is a case of a dystopian prediction that apparently gravitates more and more towards truth, though it has not yet become absolute reality.

  8. Interactive Books: Running a quick search for "interactive books" on Google turns up publications by Scholastic and Disney, among many others. A staple of science fiction — most especially in Douglas Adams’ hilarious, classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series — immersive literature notably turned up as a major plot device in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. However, knowledge proved power in his dystopian "phyles," so the interactive book at the novel’s center changed society for the better rather than signify its demise. He does, however, use it to analyze the role of personal interaction in pedagogy and child development and communication breakdown when technology entirely overrides human guidance. Published in 1995, the author channeled swelling public enthusiasm for the internet into a logical prediction that eventually came to pass. The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, protagonist Nell’s indispensible educational guide, shares many parallels with today’s smartphones, iPads, eBooks and other portable, interactive media. Obviously, the science fiction construct sports some appealing features not yet available in reality — but the latter consistently inches closer and closer to the former! Devices such as the iPad literally bring the world to users’ fingertips, providing them with immediate access to almost anything they could possibly need. Even without internet access, plenty of academic institutions offer applications for educations on the go — if they don’t hand out the gadgets themselves!

  9. Prolific Drugs Killing Sexual Desire: Before he sent audiences to a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas wrote and directed the dystopian film THX 1138. One of the more discomforting elements of the fictional world involves the consumption of drugs in order to render the populace utterly devoid of emotions, with the suppression of libido playing an integral role in the plot. Only the tinfoil hat crowd would believe that today’s governments are mind controlling the populace through chemicals and pills, of course, but at least one kernel of truth eventually emerged from the 1971 movie. The first antidepressant available to the general public, Prozac, was first made available to Americans in 1987. Prior to that, psychiatric medications were confined strictly to mental health facilities. One of the main criticisms of the drug (and its inevitable successors) involves the way it renders patients feeling blank rather than happy — and sexual desire especially takes a hit. With antidepressants the most prescribed medications in America, that means 118 million people face a heightened risk of losing their mojo. Johns Hopkins University estimates that between 30% and 70% of patients will experience negative sexual side effects as a direct result of their drugs. There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with having a low sex drive, of course, but such a drastic change can cause emotional issues between intimate partners when disparities widen. By contrast, some medications used to treat Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy and other neurological ailments incite hypersexuality in patients. Unsurprisingly, antidepressants (usually SSRIs) and the rare antipsychotic are usually prescribed to counteract the effects.

  10. Alternating Wars with Eastasia and Eurasia: The names may be different, but Americans may find the seemingly overnight switch in enmity from George Orwell’s seminal 1984 disconcertingly familiar

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