Hello-hello-hello and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast – the weekly English show where we speak about everything under the sun. The major goal of this show is to help you improve your English and of course learn something new. My name’s Katya, I’m your host, and today with me…
Dear listeners, you know, we here at BigAppleSchool believe that the sky’s the limit and we want to grow and become even better. And for this we need a little bit of your help – let us know what you think about our podcast. What you like or dislike.
Subscribe to our pages on Apple, Yandex, Google, Vk or any other platform where you listen to our podcast and let us know what you think! You may rate and review our podcast, so give us stars, leave comments, ask questions, or send your ideas about our next episodes. So we would really appreciate that! So and now, Gary, Maria, I haven’t seen you for quite a while.
Yeah, for a month or so or maybe more.
Yeah I think I haven’t seen you for quite a while, so what’s up? What’s new? How’s your life?
Nothing much, I mean, same old stuff. And no news is good news I guess. Yeah.
Working, sleeping, repeat.
So absolutely no news, okay. So it’s calm and…
Stable. Stability is good, you know.
Stability is the sign of mastery.
Wait what did he say? That stability is…
Stability is very good. In so many words. He lived it, he didn’t just say it, he lived it.
I would say the same, stable. Very stable, good, fine, okay.
I mean, of course every day I’m becoming a better version of myself.
I feel like becoming a slightly worse version of myself.
It’s been a long time, so you can imagine. Imagine what I once was. Use your imagination.
You know, it’s supposed to be the other way, like good wine, you know, becomes better.
I’m joking. Yeah, I hope so too.
What about me? Well, tomorrow, so today and well, I’m scared as hell because tomorrow I’m having a dental surgery, so yeah, dear listeners, support me with your likes and everything. Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna get an implant and lower wisdom tooth pulled out.
So that’s why I’m going to be on a sick leave for a week, for about a week. Fun times. But other than that it’s all cool, cause it’s April, it’s the month of my birthday.
And you will be able to read lots of utopias and dystopias.
I’ll be able to sleep maybe, you know. As you said, sleep, work, repeat, for me it’s gonna be sleep, take Ibuprofen, sleep, repeat. Alright, but other than that, you know, nothing much I guess, so yeah.
Well spring has come, which usually brings me some kind of new hope. Expectations and everything like that.
And puddles, and mud, and dirt.
Mostly hope and expectations.
So, speaking of hopes, expectations and everything – that’s kinda related to our topic today.
Oddly enough. Funny you should mention that.
Right, yes, speaking, oddly you should mention…
Cause today we’re gonna talk about dystopias. But I think before we actually talk about dystopias, it’s important to mention utopias. So what is a utopia? How do you understand that?
Well, it’s… I understand it in quite a simple way – it’s an ideally perfect place, a state or a country or just a place where people are not perfect maybe, but where the system is perfect in terms of customs, laws, political things and everything like that.
And what is dystopia then?
Then it’s a place where, like, all bad things were led to extremes. Like maybe exaggerated worst-case scenarios of how the things could be.
So basically we’re talking like… If we’re talking about society, then it’s most likely totalitarian, post…
But not necessarily, because dystopias are different, but they are aimed, I mean, authors criticize different aspects. Either totalitarianism, or maybe ignorance or maybe something else. Like for example, we are going to discuss I guess Aldous Huxley, he was criticizing the high-tech society.
Right, which we are now living in for sure. So utopias is u right, the thing at the beginning the U means ‘not, none’, but it’s an ideal, and this is bad. It’s a bad place. It’s interesting that there are always systems, it’s a system, right. It’s either ideal or the opposite, right.
So it’s, you know, when we think of utopia, at first, you know, people might think like oh, how old is this word? It must be something from like the 18th century, the 17th century? But then it’s funny…
Exactly. But then, so as, sorry, so as far as we know, the first person who actually used this term, who gave birth to the word itself was Thomas More in 1516 when he published the book in Latin which was called Utopia. Do you know anything about this book? About this…
I know about this book, but I haven’t read it. But I guess one century after this, at the beginning of the 17th century, it was Tommaso Campanella who wrote A city of the Sun.
I have never heard about it.
Or the Sun City, I don’t know how they call it in English. Well I started to read it, but I was bored, so …
Wait, what year you said it was?
Like 1613 or something like it.
A hundred years later. Well I happened to have read Utopia by Thomas More, because, as I was telling you before we started, I took a class, an elective class, which our school started to do in 9th grade, and the first reading was… Maybe the first reading was the Republic.
Yeah, something out of there.
Isn’t it a bit too serious for a ninth grade?
Yeah, I was going, I was just going to ask that.
It’s not impossible, it was okay. I mean Thomas More is not light reading, it’s okay. But I did read it, I didn’t remember. But I did listen, I have been listening to an audiobook. It’s epistolary philosophy.
And it recalled it what Thomas More was about and his view, you know, of what his ideal world would be. And of course oftentimes these ideals, either dystopia or utopias, they are commentary on the real world. There is a saying something about the world as it actually is.
Even though they’re talking about the world as it isn’t, they are coming around that way to talk about the world as it is. And so I just happened to have listened to this or otherwise I would remember any of this obviously. This was 50 years ago. In my official role as old guy, right, if you’re wondering.
Literally, it was literally 50 years ago. And 9th grade would be 1969 and that would mean I was 15 years old. That was 50 years ago. I obviously don’t remember anything or very little, but this island place, this Utopia place, called Utopia.
A traveler visits there and here is this wonderful society and I guess the main feature that jumps out is that it was totally collective. There was no private property. It was a communistic type of world, right. And equal, so everybody was equal, so they wore the same clothes. And you know, it was very egalitarian I would say and terrible.
Yeah, I mean, it was Utopia, it was supposed to be good, right.
But still, utopias and dystopias are maybe more closely connected than we might think because they are all criticizing the current affair in the society where the author lived. Because when the author decides to write a utopia, he criticizes the affairs of his or her country. And the same when he or she writes a dystopian piece of work.
So you could be safe in your criticism, like Thomas More I understand again, based on what I’ve just listened to, but they were very peaceful people, right, and they didn’t spend money on weapons, except for the minimum. And the democracy, everybody having the same property – that’s of course a commentary on the big differences in the society between the rich and the poor.
Right. Unlike the real. And the peacefulness, relatively anyway, there’s war possibility, but generally they’re not looking to get more territory or enlarge their kingdom or more money or whatever their… It’s not what motivates them, so, anyway.
And you have mentioned another example of Utopia – I mean, utopia as a piece of work, which was Republic by Plato.
Which is actually interesting, cause, well, Utopia by Thomas More was written in the 16th century, but Republic by Plato was written way before that.
Yeah, so it’s still, you know, kinda criticized the matters, the state of the government and everything. And but, wait, you said that you read it in your 9th grade.
I’m not sure, I’m not sure. Of course we read all, the entire Republic, align with all the works…
No, yeah, we didn’t. If we read anything and we may not have read anything.
It’s like Russian school children read War and Peace by Tolstoy, you know. We read, but we…
There’s parts that we could read, kings or something. We may have read some of it, but maybe the course started with Thomas More. That’ll be likely, but…
I remember hearing about it during my course of philosophy at university, but also to be honest, well, when we had philosophy in my second year at university, I was 17. I didn’t care about this. And now I wish I had. And although I think that I wouldn’t have understood much anyway at the age of 17, so and now I really want to kinda fill the gap in my knowledge.
Yeah, that’s when I tried to read this Tommaso Campanella’s work, when I was about 17 or 18, yeah.
Yeah, well, that would be…
Because one of my groupmates used to read it and I just wanted to be as smart as she is.
I don’t think that she came through it either.
Yeah, game… Inspired imitation. Anyway.
As far as I remember… Well, I read the description of Republic and, you know, just brief summary and Plato describes, you know, different, like, political systems. And he describes the perfect one, which in his opinion does not exist and did not exist at the time.
But it’s interesting cause he gives the description of political systems going from the best to the worst and he claims that the best of the existing ones, out of the existing ones are aristocracy and monarchy. Which I believe people will definitely not agree today.
No. He was a complete conservative and he was anti-individualistic, and so was the state, the city-state. You know, Athens, and so that was much above the individual, the value of the individual, right. It was another collectivist thing.
Yeah, cause he stated that the worst political systems were tyranny and then before that democracy. So one of the worst political systems possible is democracy in his opinion.
Not to be a pompous person here, but I also, the other book I’ve listened to is by a guy named Karl Popper and he is a philosopher guy himself and he wrote a book called the Open Society. It’s two volumes and volume one is about Plato.
And volume two is about totalitarian followers of Plato, so Popper takes, Plato is generally thought of in a very high, he’s idealized cause he’s had much influence on philosophy and thought. But in fact he was really a totalitarian mindset and that’s why he opened society and anyway.
So we wouldn’t call it ideal, we’ve seen, maybe we’ve seen some version of that, you know. But it’s elitist and it’s…
Do you think that utopia is possible to achieve? Ever?
No? And it comes from the word itself.
But I mean the word was originally the name of the island, but in general so you think that there’s no such thing as perfect system, perfect world?
It’s impossible. The same impossible as to find this perpetuum mobile for example, like something that works forever or something that works perfectly. Because the… I guess world is perfect because it’s imperfect.
Because we are all different.
Yeah that’s the perfection.
I think It’s impossible to have the perfect world which is perfect for everybody just because we are way too different, with different values, wishes.
Yeah, and also I guess people just would die in such a society because if everyone is the same and everything is the same, it goes to the decline.
It’s like against the human nature.
Right. But it’s interesting that these people when they think about what would make our system better, right, they make it more uniform instead of making it more varied, right. They make it more… Okay, if this is good, then let’s make it all that.
You know, I was recently… Well, later in a podcast we are going to talk about one of the tv shows which is The Handmaid’s Tale, which is also a dystopian tv show, and I still remember one of the phrases said over there. Which is you wanted to make the world better. And another person said yeah, but better doesn’t mean better for everybody.
Or, like George Orwell said in his Animal Farm, like, everybody is equal, but some are more equal than others.
Yes, yes, yes. This is why it’s not really…
It’s better for home. And it’s better for… Like, for Plato it was definitely better for this elite cast, right, it was really a cast, it was almost a cast-based, it sounds like India. Really, because there was even one culture at some level.
It’s similar culture and that’s why there is some similarities in religion also. So but yeah, it really is a cast thing. So it’s good for the top cast and everybody else is a slave or a guard, you know, they are just servants to the…
But for some reason they’re supposed to be happy.
I don’t think they’re even trying to be happy at that point. Later I think, later utopia thinking, like maybe the Sun King. What was it? The sun…
Sun City or the City of the Sun, because it was written in Latin, so I don’t know what’s the name of it in English.
I’ve heard the title anyway, but…
So, yeah. And in contrast with all that, with utopia, the perfect society, the well functioning society, we have dystopia which mostly is characterized by dehumanization, tyranny, environmental disasters very often if we look at different books.
Fear, suffering, control sometimes.
Yeah. No human dignity, no personality at all.
Which is interesting that there is some common elements there of utopia thinking and the dystopia, it’s sort of… Okay.
So and if dystopias… We’ve just mentioned all the characteristics, well, some of the characteristics of them and they sound, you know, dark and gloomy. But why are dystopian novels so appealing then?
Yeah, by all means. Don’t even hesitate to start. Right, just throw it out there.
First of all, they are interesting to read. And to me they are interesting because most of them are written by authors who are considered to be science fiction authors, and I am a big fan of science fiction, so that is why maybe.
And also when, for example, when we know what the world could be in its most negative way, maybe, maybe we can avoid having it in real life. That’s why we need to read such things just to be warned.
You know, since we are going to talk about different books anyway, why don’t we start with George Orwell’s 1984 and by saying, you know, ‘warn us’, I wanna start with George Orwell’s quote. So he wrote his dystopian book 1984 in 1949. So and later, while he was still alive, he said ‘I wrote this book as a warning, not a damn manual’. So he started to see his book coming to life. So.
He could see it already in some aspects, I mean… Right.
So, let’s talk about this book. Cause 1984, it has outsold all the rest, so all the other books in the genre put together, so which is what I think we need to, to give it credit and discuss it first.
Sure. Just to start with – it was the dystopian piece of work which impressed me most of all. And when I was reading it, I was about, like, 19 or something, I was working in a bookshop so I had an opportunity to read lots of books and this was the book that impressed me most of all. I remember I even cried and I was so shocked.
So can you remind us and tell/remind the listeners what the book is about.
It’s about a society which is, like, totalitarian society. It is set I guess in the distant future, maybe century 32 or something.
I mixed it up with some other piece of… And well, people after a big war I guess, and they live in a country with artificial language, with everything.
Yeah. Everything is banned, well, people are brainwashed. The society is brainwashed and they are prohibited to do pretty much everything and so we all know this phrase Big Brother is watching you or this phrase, like, the thought police.
So the society is controlled in everything and they can’t even have this freedom to love who they want, and they don’t need to.
Yeah, actually, George Orwell was the one who introduced these terms as Big Brother and thought police. And interestingly enough, so Orwell himself was a democratic socialist, so and he modelled this authoritarian world after Stalinist Russia. And you have mentioned Animal Farm, and that was also modelled after Russia. So.
And not only after Russia I guess. Also after Spanish totalitarian things, yeah. Because I read that George Orwell, it was his quote, he said that after 1936 he just couldn’t keep silence and it was the war in Spain.
Well yeah he had a lot of examples to base his books on, which is…
Quite sad, yes. So yeah, and so in this book we can see the thought police, the cult of personality, because this Big Brother is the leader of the cult, but no one is even sure that he exists. So because no one has ever seen him, you know, in real life, in personality.
And I remember, you know, when I was reading it, it was… It felt so odd to me to see these 2 minutes of hatred I think it was called. Something like, 2 minutes hate. So the daily public period of 2 minutes during which members of this party, so they must watch a film depicting, you know, the enemies of the party, the enemies of the society. And…
And every week or so the country was at war with someone else.
Yeah. So and to me it was just so weird to read, like oh come on, this is impossible, this is something so unreal, you know, the brainwash, the putting the news in such a way that today we are at war with this, tomorrow we are at war with another country. But now, you know, it’s not so… It doesn’t sound so unusual and so weird anymore. Somehow, I mean, not to that extent, but still.
When I first read it, which was the famous 50 years ago, it was Cold War times, and I’m sure this was part of the utopia, I mean, that was probably the main reading of the course, the one that also hit home hardest. It was maybe the best book you’d say as of the type.
And I mean there was a cultural war at a global conflict of ideas and I mean, there it is, there’s Soviet side of the story. And that’s probably part of why the utopia course and maybe we’re reading that and it’s not that we were brainwashed but it was an obvious thing to be looking at the time.
So we can say that the main idea in 1984 is that people will have mass surveillance, total control, including the thought control, so it’s all based on control.
And you know impressed me most of all is that interpersonal relationship is not important anymore and he, or they, well, he met a woman and they kinda fell in love with each other, but then, well, no spoilers, but maybe everybody knows, like, at the end he, the main character, he was thinking, like, he loved the Big Brother.
He started to love the Big Brother. That what was so shocking and terrible. He betrayed his, the woman he loved, and he refused and he was saying like take her, not me. That’s why I was so shocked because I think that no matter what society, no matter what political regime we are living in, we still need to be humans and like, interpersonal relationships. It’s what shouldn’t be under control at any time.
Well I believe this is what dystopias want to show, that, you know, even though it’s preferable that we stay humans, they show the world where we, well, where people don’t anymore. They don’t value the…
Well the old Pavlik Morozov problem, right. Turned his father in and gets an award, right. Becomes a byword, a hero. Sorry.
Yeah, that’s an interesting, you know…
Twist, yes. So and why don’t we then compare 1984 with another example, one bright example of dystopias, which is Brave New World. Many of us have heard this phrase, oh the brave new world, which comes from one of the poems by Shakespeare.
But more often than not it is referred to when we talk about dystopias. So what do you happen to know about the Brave New World by Aldous Huxley?
Well I read it after I had read 1984, so I wasn’t so impressed. It’s mostly about a very highly-developed society in terms of technology. And all children are cloned, all children are created kinda artificially. People, as far as I remember, people don’t have their children anymore, and they, like…
The quote that comes to my mind is everyone belongs to everyone else. It means that everything is kinda shared and you don’t have something which is personal.
I think by the way, back to Plato and the Republic, I think that was one of the things in the Republic was that children were taken from their families and they were like raised by the state.
This is exactly the idea, yes.
Children are not even born in a natural way, and all people are divided into classes again, like in India.
So it’s interesting that we see kind of parallels between utopia and Brave New World which is a classic example of dystopia.
Yeah, it all depends on the point of view.
So yeah, unlike 1984 which took place in the not so distant future at the time when George Orwell was writing it, so Brave New World takes place in a futuristic world. They say that it’s the year 632 AF which is After Ford.
Or the year 2540 in the Gregorian calendar. So and the citizens are engineered through artificial wombs and, you know, all that. And they have classes based on intelligence and labor. So we can see people… I think they were called beta people who were working, you know, who were bred, I’m sorry, for labor. So physical.
I think there were 5 classes or so, like alpha, beta. Epsilon was the lowest I guess.
Oh yeah, maybe the epsilon was the labor one. And then the alpha were the ones who were the most intelligent.
Alpha males. Yes, right, why not?
Also I remember that people used in this society, people took drugs a lot to kinda imitate being happy.
Exactly. Well, in general you know, this novel talks about technological advancement such as reproductive technology, sleep learning, so people learned in their sleep. So while they were sleeping they had these ideas that their classes have to…
And they should be proud of the class they were born into.
So then there were concepts of psychological manipulation and yes, and as you said, most people consumed a soothing, as they called it a happiness-producing drug called Soma.
And the main character, Bernard Marx, mind the last name, Bernard Marx, so he was working with this sleep learning devices. I mean he was the one responsible for them. He was not an alpha, but also in his class he was not the most outstanding representative.
So and working with this sleep learning devices, it helped him to understand and disapprove of the society’s methods of controlling people through that. So, you know, and the main role, the main goal of the society, of the government was to keep people peaceful. And that’s what he disliked.
And it’s interesting to see that difference. Well both Brave New World and 1984 are said to be the classics of dystopias, and yet they show absolutely different approaches. So if George Orwell believed that we are going to be, well, doomed because of the control and, you know, something we hate, something we disapprove of and mass surveillance,
then Aldous Huxley, you know, in contrast, believed that we are going to be controlled by something we like, by something we love. In this case that was the happiness-producing drugs and everything.
Exactly! And technically…
I like this! Oh you like that? Let’s give you giant shovel-loads of that!
Think about it! Doesn’t that remind you of something?
So we now, well, you know, as in Brave New World, the government’s goal is to keep people peaceful. So and if we look at our world now, people don’t want to, you know, rebel or change or whatever. They don’t want to think because we have so many opportunities for entertainment.
We have VR, virtual reality, which helps us to escape from the real world and see different worlds without leaving our home. We have so many tv shows, literally more than 500 tv shows come out every year. Just think about it. So we have so many things that help us not to… Not even think!
No thinking required. We recommend no thinking. Right. Around here we prefer no thinking at all.
That would be a bad sign for the BigAppleSchool, you know. If you come here and see ‘no thinking required’, it’s just gonna be like no thank you, that doesn’t sound right.
We just pump the knowledge into your brain directly.
While you sleep like in Brave New World.
While you’re awake, while you’re amazingly awake.
So yeah. So we can see the… Of course we can see kind of the elements of both Brave New World and 1984 in our real world which makes me quite sad.
Sad, anxious, depressed – you name it. You know.
And again, in 1984 for example, people were brainwashed and the main character was tormented and so on. But in the Brave New World, one of the main characters just committed suicide because he couldn’t live in this world.
I love it how you just, you know, no spoilers at all but you know what happens in the end?
I mean, can you spoil Romeo and Juliet or something like this? It’s just… Everyone knows it.
Yeah, what did happen in there? I know they were in love with each other but how did… I wonder how that ever turned out.
I’m pretty sure they lived happily ever after.
I bet that was gonna go great! I mean they were made for each other.
I guess it’s the same, it’s the same. And you know, even if you know the end, still these pieces of work are still interesting to read. I mean I will re-read. Because the ending it’s not what…
It’s not about the ending.
It’s not what is important, yeah. It’s not the crucial thing.
What part made you cry Maria? What was the…
When two people who were supposed… It was in 1984, I’m speaking about George Orwell. I don’t remember if I really cried, but I was so deeply shocked, I remember it. And when I reread it again, when I was like more mature, I still was shocked that people who were meant, who were supposed to love each other so easily betrayed each other. That’s what.
So yeah, these books, no matter what kind of utopia or dystopia we are talking about, most of these books tend to be very thought-provoking. So the ending is not what’s important.
And you know, it’s obvious from the beginning that it will not end well, I mean it’s a dystopia.
Well I wouldn’t say so, I mean there are still dystopias… Well that’s the thing though, there are still dystopias with a happy ending, but then you read and think yeah right it happened like that.
Yeah, that sounds suspicious. So and let’s talk about one more representative, it was Zamyatin, Evgeniy Zamyatin who wrote We.
I guess he was the first who…
He’s believed to be the first. And actually after the publication of We by Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley wrote his Brave New World and George Orwell accused him of plagiarism.
Yeah but as far as I know, Huxley denied reading We.
Yeah, he did. And an interesting fact. So We, it was written by Evgeniy Zamyatin, a Russian author, but it was first published in 1924 in English in New York city. And it was published in Russian only in 1954. So, why? You mind…
54, right a year after Stalin’s death?
Did the math on that one.
So yeah, so his book was published in Russian only after Stalin’s death when it was finally allowed.
But quite soon I must say.
Well he was like clock is ticking, clock is ticking. Yeah! Okay, now it has happened, I can finally publish my book in Russia. So but yeah. So what do we know about We?
I read it at school because…
Yeah, I was studying in a special class with lots of literature and it was, yeah, it was in our program. Maybe it was an election course, like Gary said for example. I don’t know. Or maybe it was in the program itself, but yeah, I guess it was the 11th grade or the 10th grade, yeah. We read it at school, absolutely, I’m very sure of it.
Yeah we had a lot of literature lessons about 6 a week.
I mean I did the same, but we never read anything like that, no dystopias.
Well, I’m a little bit older, maybe that’s why… Maybe the program changed. And well, it was pretty interesting, but I wouldn’t reread it, I don’t know why. Maybe the language, maybe I didn’t like the language or something. Basically people live in the world, I guess now it’s century 32.
Yes, yes, it’s in a distant future.
It’s in a distant future, you’re right.
And people don’t have even names, they just have numbers. And they live in houses with glass walls, so they can be observed by their government. It’s not the Big Brother, but something like this.
Yeah, they were called Bureau of Guardians.
Yeah, that was class, there was class I think in the Republic, the Guardians.
And this society is based on logic and not imagination. And when people started to use their imagination, they were considered sick. Like, you developed these symptoms, maybe it’s soul that you have.
Yeah, as far as I remember, imagination and dreams as well were considered to be a mental illness, so and the whole society lived by the laws of logic and math. And this math, you know, mathematic formulas were, of course, provided by the government. You know.
And of course everything was regulated by the government, even the private life, even the sexual life.
I remember reading it when I was like 22 and I was so, you know, shocked maybe. First of all, numbers. When I started reading and the sentence was D-503 went to work. I’m like the what now? Is it a robot we are talking about? Like, what?
And only then did I realize that D-503, I… What was her name? I-330 or something, so it was all numbers and letters and yeah. And people were assigned to each other for, like, weekly intercourse or something like that, but with no emotions, because the only purpose of that should be child bearing.
Again, everyone belongs to everyone else.
Yeah, but well, everyone is assigned to everyone else, you know. No emotions! So yeah, and I remember… Actually, I remember talking about it with my sister who’s a mathematician. So she loves logic and math, and she told me that oh you know what, I came across this book. I’m like oh yeah.
And I love it! I found this utopian novel, yes, right.
I think you’ll love it! It’s my dreamworld! I mean, people’s names are numbers. It’s awesome!
No emotions, no everything. So and then this main character, D-503 meets some kind of a rebel whose name is I-330 and, you know, this woman smokes and drinks and flirts, and all of these are illegal activities in their world.
Which is highly appealing for him.
Yes. I think they, like, fall in love, and then she tells him that she’s actually a part of a rebellious organization, so yeah, plotting to bring down the Senate or something like that. I do not remember how it ended though.
Would you like to spoil this?
We will leave no story unspoiled.
That’s why I’m here today.
I’m a witness here that Katya is actually like…
You try, but no, I’m unstoppable.
I mean, they kinda succeeded, but not completely. And again, as in any dystopian piece of work, the ending is predictable, but still open and thought-provoking. That’s why it doesn’t matter if they succeeded actually. And what she said, I don’t remember her number, I something.
A sister of a mathematician. So she said something like there can’t be such a thing as the last revolution.
Oh you even remember that.
Yeah. That’s like the message I guess.
I quite disagree about the thing that you said about ending being predictable in dystopias, cause there are so many of them with a different ending. So it’s not always an unhappy ending.
Give me some examples, because you can even spoil the ending, I’ll still read it.
Yeah we got the whole list of books to spoil.
Romeo and Juliet, other works by Shakespeare.
I mean, wasn’t…. Didn’t Divergent or the Hunger Games have a happy ending?
What about watching the films?
Okay, so listeners, those of you who have watched Divergent, the trilogy, and the Hunger Games – wasn’t there a happy ending? Cause I have a feeling that there was, even though I didn’t watch it till the end, cause I hate Jennifer Lawrence, but…
Again, happy ending for whom? For example, films with Bruce Willis, he saves the world and only he and the couple of people survived – so is it a happy ending?
Masha brings up, you know, very serious questions.
For Bruce Willis and a couple of other people, yes.
Well, since we’re talking about the classics of dystopias, I think we can’t but mention 451 Fahrenheit. Gary you must’ve read this one, you must know at least something about this one.
Well I don’t want you to feel, you know, left out…
He was an American author..
Just leave me out of it, it’s alright, I’ll deal with the feelings.
Just leave me out of all this!
So, what do we know about 451 Fahrenheit?
Well I’ll tell you everything I know.
Please do. And then Maria will spoil the ending. That’s how…
Paper burns at 451 degrees, so it’s about book burns.
I’m figuring out of how not to spoil the ending.
I’ve shut the bolt as they say in England.
But you know, in this novel the ending is really open, so I just can’t spoil it.
That’s true. But what’s the plot?
Because nothing happens in the end kind of.
Okay, let’s talk about what happens in the beginning and in the middle.
This guy whose name is Montag.
Yeah, guy Guy Montag. He works in a fire brigade, right, as a firefighter. But in this world firefighters do not stop fires, they make fires.
Yeah. Burn books and so it’s basically the world where people, again, as maybe in the Brave New World, people are constantly entertained by something. For example, by tv. I guess they have these walls with screens in their houses and they can put on their headphones and, like, dive into the world of entertainment.
But they don’t read books. It means that they have no imagination, no critical thinking and, like, the society that lacks the cultural basis. That’s what I would say. Okay, and now no spoilers.
So yeah, and Guy Montag, at some point he… Well there was a story where he got into a house and there was a woman who didn’t agree to leave the house, so she preferred rather to burn alive with the books rather than leave them behind.
So and that made him think, you know, what is so important in books that people are ready to die for their sake. So and he quits his job, and, you know, he commits himself to the preservation of literary work.
Cause he meets people who tell him about the books and the stories in the books and he get… Well, shocked maybe, and he decides to commit his life to that, to preservation of that. But yeah, there are a lot of elements.
And also he is… I guess he started to keep books, to save books from fire. But he was unable to understand what these books contain, and he needed a person like kind of mediator who would help him understand the meaning.
He needs I-330 or is that another… His own I-330.
But not rebellious, just a prophet, like a wise man.
A Sherpa. Do you know the term Sherpa, yeah, a Sherpa? There is a guide…
Right. You got it. Anyway. I just wanted to stress my big moment. Sherpa. But you can forget about it.
A round of applause, please.
Yes, yes, give me applause. And then we’ll add some extra applause there.
So you know what’s interesting about 451 apart from the story itself is that…
Numbers are everywhere… So is that Ray Bradbury, when he was writing this book, and I think this was book was written in 1951…
So the end of the 40s, the beginning of the 50s I think. So he described the seashells, so he said like about one of the characters, like, and in her ears were little seashells that transmitted, like, music, electronic ocean of sound, talk and everything.
And at that time people laughed at Ray Bradbury for imagining in this. They said seashells in ears? Oh yeah right. So what do we have now? Wireless earbuds. So he was the one who predicted their invention.
At that time the headphones existed in a weird shape, not the one that we know right now, so yeah. And that’s why I think, so, Ray Bradbury has a whole series about Mars and colonizations of Mars. So and people laughed at him, but hmm…
This guy, Elon Musk, probably didn’t laugh at him.
Maybe that’s where he got the inspiration.
I mean science fiction authors were real prophets, that’s why I love them so much. They predicted so many things and they were so creative. I just admire them.
And of course, so these books that we have talked about, these are just the best, the classics, but obviously there are many-many-many-many-many more. Among Russian authors as well, so brothers Strugatsky, so they wrote dystopias.
I think in a way Stanislav Lem was the one. There were some books like Moscow is Speaking or Moscow 2043. So which are also examples of dystopias that, you know, might be interesting to read. But of course dystopias are not limited to books only. So nowadays we can see dystopias in the world of films and tv shows. Maybe you know some examples?
The one that had been mentioned before, the tales of… The Handmaid’s Tale, yeah.
I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to remember.
So yeah. Do you know anything about the Handmaid’s Tale?
Do you remember what it was about?
It is a bit different from other dystopian pieces of work because it’s mainly devoted to the feminists topics kind of, like, the position of a woman. And it was written by a woman, so it is different. It stands out.
It does. So I would love to talk about the Handmaid’s Tale, but not about the book but about the tv show. Because in the book in the end we find out that we do not know whether that… Yes-yes, I’m taking the role of spoiling things.
Are we gonna spoil that too?
But the thing is that the tv show… So only the first season is based on the book. But there are four seasons now, so they developed the story and the show in a different way. But what is the idea? And I remember how uncomfortable I felt when I was watching the show, because first of all the action takes place in our modern world in Boston area.
And in general in the US. And it is the world where due to an environmental pollution caused by some sort of a…. Well, environmental pollution and some disease caused by some kind of a virus, so the fertility rates have collapsed. So and then it all started…
So and the show started by showing that at some point women’s credit cards and, you know, all bank accounts were blocked, so they just couldn’t use their money. The next day all the women were fired from their workplaces and apparently…
So there were dome groups of people who massacred the government, took control of the country and stated, you know, the new world, where women have no control of money, they cannot have work, they should be dependent on their husbands or brothers or any kind of a male relative.
So and then the women, well the society started to be organized in different way. So this government was called the Gilead, so and women were given certain roles. So there were the elite, who were the wives of the commanders, so they were called the wives.
So the wives were women of power, well, initially, they were women of power, now they were merely wives. They were barren, so they couldn’t bear children. Then we had the Ritas as they were called. So they were women who have already got children, they were of middle age, so they could still work, so they were working for the commanders and their wives.
There were the Unpeople I think they were called. So they were women who are old, women who committed some kind of crimes, homosexuals, the heretics, and they were sold to sort out some chemical waste and later die. So they were sent some kind of jobs where they didn’t survive.
And there were the Handmaids. So and these Handmaids, so they were bearing the children for the commanders and their families. So this was their only purpose. So in this tv show, in the book, the main character, Offred, so because Handmaids were not…
Were no longer given names, I mean, they did not have their own names. Their name was the name of the commander they were serving + the prefix Of. So Offred was the main character, so she belonged to the commander Fred.
So she finds out that there is some kind of resistance and she tries to help other handmaids to escape. She tried to escape. Because at that time, so it was in the US, so and some people tried to escape to Canada to seek asylum if they could.
If they couldn’t, they were either killed or sent to the colonies to clear the nuclear waste. So and that was very uncomfortable to read and I felt really weird because first of all it happened in the place where I was living at the moment. Second, let’s think about it.
So a certain virus, which later, you know, had some consequences. Then, women had no longer access to their bank accounts and that at that point… Well it was explained in the story that cash was banned as, you know…
And some people later understood that it was the first step towards it, because, you know, the money like the credit cards, cards, all these non-cash, they are easier to control by the government.
And we were talking with some of the friends and we were like wait so when this covid started, cash was not allowed in Massachusetts. So it literally, lots of shops said no cash allowed because they believed that you know, you could..
Yeah, touch the bills and get the virus. And we were like oh, look, it kinda, you know, there are some elements of it.
Because when you read about like the century 32, it’s kinda distant.
Yeah, but when you read about the city you live in and when I was watching I was like oh wait, this is the place I know, this is the place I know. Of course there are some inaccuracies in the tv show, but still. So, yes. That was a little bit scary to watch but, you know.
Alright. So I would actually advise to watch. So I mean, I would myself rate it like 7 out of 10 because 4 seasons, come on, you could’ve ended at two. But still.
Is that tv show as depressing as the book? Because I found the book quite depressing.
I think it’s more depressing than the book. I have read the book. Because…
Well I mean the book is limited by your imagination, and you know, when I read books like that, like, you know, hard books to read, like The Boy in a Striped Pajama, or the Shawshank Redemption. It’s emotionally hard. But if I watch the movie, I just cannot bear, so I just turn it off.
So the Handmaid’s Tale was a little bit more difficult to watch rather than read. So yeah. Because you see the violence, you see this, and it’s, you know, it’s inevitably more difficult to handle. But it’s very thought-provoking. So I think people should watch it just for the sake of thinking.
Yeah. For me I think, I wouldn’t maybe watch it, because the book was already quite hard to read. And I just, maybe I find it too hard to read about such things where interpersonal relationships are limited. Because I want to be able to choose who I make friends with and who I love. But that’s what. And here it’s…
And dystopias are all about not being able to do that.
Most of them, yes, most of them. I mean, in Ray Bradbury’s 451 Fahrenheit it was not about this, that is why it was easier for me to read. But when relationships are regulated, I just can’t stand it.
And I would like to tell you about one more tv show, which I think everybody should watch, even though it’s not an easy watch. But this tv show is Black Mirror. I’m not sure if…
I’ve watched, I guess, couple of episodes or maybe 3, first episodes.
Oh if there is somebody who’s listening, if you want to watch it, never watch the first episode of the first season. Just trust me on this one! It’s disgusting! It’s not as such dystopian, but it’s legit disgusting! So.
I don’t remember what it is about, I just remember…
About the pig. I’ll just tell you this word – about a pig.
Okay, I don’t remember, nothing comes to my mind. I remember about guys who were cycling, it’s somewhere in the beginning, they were cycling and watching advertisement, something like this.
Okay. It might be the one. But yeah. But the reason why I like this show is that it examines modern society and in regard to the anticipated effects of technology advancement and new technologies.
And I love that each episode is a standalone, so it’s not connected to the previous episode or the next episode, so it’s like, you know, a separate story which is an alternative present or the near future.
And very often, you know, it has this dark humor. Sometimes it’s more, it’s lighter, sometimes it’s darker, but in general I just love them. So and there are several episodes which I advise watching, so…
How many of them are there all in all?
It’s five seasons, some seasons have 3 episodes, some seasons have 5 episodes.
Are they all directed by different people?
I think so, I think so. And there were some episodes that I liked. For example one of them was called The Entire History of You, about people who have device which is called the Grain in their brain which helps them to record everything that ever happened to them.
So they kinda can rewind to a certain scene, you know, to remember that. So and you know, that brings a lot of questions like would you like to have something like that or not. If you were in this position, would you agree to have that installed?
There are episodes about, let’s say, punishment, which is the episode called White Bear. So whether the capital punishment is something suitable or if it’s better to have something more cruel alternative, which it showed.
So there episodes like Be Right Back, about the possibility of bringing people’s mind back to life. Well, at least, you know, using the technology to do that, even though it wouldn’t be a real person. You know, things like that.
Episodes about our addiction to likes, and, you know, social media where everything is based on your personal rating. So and it’s, you know, these episodes very often have some humor in it. But they also make you think a lot. So I would definitely advise it.
Are they all pessimistic?
There are a couple of episodes, two, which are not, which are light and actually, you know, kind.
You might hit those, 2 out of 20. You got a shot.
Well it’s better than nothing.
That’s right. Mathematical situation.
So and what would you say are the elements of dystopias that we have now in real life?
Well I’ll tell ya, I would not like to live in China these days. Now to our many Chinese listeners, no offence, but I really would not like to live in China. Would you like to live in China? I mean they’ve got this thing where you are graded on your behavior and everything goes on on some kind of common record, and if you cross the street illegally….
Oh just kike in the episode of Black Mirror…
So we already have a dystopian country. Let’s… But at the same time they have very low level of crime, incredibly low level of crime.
You know, it has its goods and its bads. What other elements of dystopias can you think of?
We are under surveillance.
Yeah, mass surveillance, yes.
That’s also too real, right.
It’s hard to speak about it, it’s difficult to speak because it’s difficult to admit that we have a lot of elements.
I love it how you are elements, elements… I’m sorry but I’m sure that we are living in a dystopia. If you read any of those, especially, you know, the Brave New World and Animal Farm, it’s like reading about the current state of affairs, so you know, and I read the theory about why people love reading dystopias.
And one of the theories was that people love imagining what they would do should they live in this world. I’m like we are already living in a light version of such a world. So.
Yeah. Well it’s a light version of it, but the elements are there.
But who knows what’s gonna happen next. Whether we are going to have a not as light version or not. I’m sorry I’m a little bit pessimistic about all that, but.
I would still keep to the point that I believe in the human race.
Oh my sweet summer child.
No we won’t. Gary we won’t.
No we’re not gonna, we’re given up on it.
I mean we have survived through the history and we will.
It was a pretty good experiment but complete fail. Right, yes.
So what is going to be your main takeaway from this episode? And a question, special question to Gary – Gary, what have you learned from this episode?
You’re gonna try this again.
Oh I’m gonna do this every single time.
Oh my goodness. Alright. And you’re gonna regret it every single time.
No you won’t, okay. So what do I, what did I learn? Well I learned hearing some of those books that I haven’t read or that I have read long ago and thinking about some of these other things that I have to think about…
The collective elements and the propagandizing and the elite and masses and all of these… Some of these common elements of utopias and dystopias, right, that they kind of meet and so I just thought about that.
Maria what would be your main takeaway from this episode?
I’m going to reread some of the dystopian novels, but I’m definitely not going to read any of utopias. So just I became stronger about this idea. I wasn’t going and I’m still not going to. So, no, I’m not going to read Plato or Thomas More. Yeah.
Okay, okay. Alright. There is a takeaway, I’m not going to read Thomas More’s Utopia.
Because, well, I have learned…
Life-changing encounter here.
I’ve learned that they are not so different, I mean utopias and dystopias.
They’re closely interconnected.
Yeah, it doesn’t sound like… Which is what Karl Popper was saying about Plato is that this is not really, you know, an ideal society.
And, well, I would probably watch… I will give The Black Mirror one more chance. Because I don’t remember why I stopped watching it, but I think I will.
I would say that you need to take breaks in it. You know, watch a couple of episodes, then just forget about it for a week-two-three-month, a month. Because otherwise it will be way too hard to watch all of them in one go. Okay. And I think…
While preparing and while talking I’ve realized that I would like to look more into the theory of political systems cause I have realized that while reading the summary of Plato’s work I’ve realized that I’m so shockingly ignorant of so many things.
So I would like to change that a little bit, to know a little bit more about the concepts of utopia and different other political systems, so. You know, learning. Alright, so thank you so much. That was the BigAppleSchool podcast and today we discussed utopias and dystopias.
So thank you for listening dear listeners! And remember, if you struggle to understand our conversation, you are always welcome to our website, which is BigAppleSchool.com/podcast, so you can find full scripts of each episode there.
So you can listen and read. And those scripts are very user friendly if you’re using your mobile phone. If you want to get more content which will help you learn English, you can follow us on any social media be that Instagram, Vk, Telegram, just search our name, which is, again, BigAppleSchool. So that was Katya, and my guests for today were…
Stay tuned and we’ll see you around.