I’ve started binge-watching The 100 on Netflix, which is obviously giving me serious flashbacks to 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Lord of the Flies, LOST, The Left Hand of Darkness, and all sorts of other dystopias-come-stranded-in-a-new-world-stories. Dystopias are super-duper depressing, but they give you all sorts of moral lessons about life and humanity and shit in unexpected ways, by putting people in situations where they have the remnants of their past society but no need to carry those remnants, rules, structures, or prejudices into the new one. That’s what I love about them. Do they carry them through? Which parts do the new societies decide to keep? How do they construct order? Who leads? How do they make decisions?
All these are such important questions because by running through these scenarios, us peasants can try to reverse-engineer how we came to the decisions and analyze the steps we used to get to where we are today. Why democracy? Why these wars? Why are certain types of people disenfranchised? Dystopias in popular culture often have a lot of hidden answers to these real life questions, if we know enough about enough small things about our own world.
While a lot of the older ones don’t take a lot of gender into account (another reason to read outside the old white male author canon), many of the newer ones do. Ursula K LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, while not super new, looks at a hermaphroditic world (where people can transition from one gender to the other based on their partner at the current moment), and The 100 definitely looks at women in a brave new way. Many of the leaders of the various clans are female: whether that’s Clarke, Anna, Abby, Lexa (the long-awaited and ruthless commander of the Grounders), or at least hugely important characters like Raven the mechanic and Octavia, who, after playing the part of princess, saves her love and earns the respect of his clan.
Dopeness. Pure dopeness. I don’t think I’ve seen this many female badasses since Xena, or Buffy (Katniss is great too, okay, okay, but she’s still so boy-focused). Problem is… despite the female-centric plot, there were so many unanswered questions left in my head while watching. Normal, human stuff. Maybe that’s a writing thing, where you just expect the small details to be taken care of, but as a viewer, I can’t get into your world if there are certain biological facts that are either ignored or ignored. And that’s just speaking from the female perspective.
Short story is this – if y’all are doing the deed, then the womens are going to bleed. With that in mind, here is my list of how to survive in a dystopia for realsies: no important moral lessons included. Promise.
- Do not be a fully functioning woman. Clearly, these women, all of them, fell from space with menstruation supplies that didn’t burn up on the way down. It was enough menstruation supplies to last them, discretely (because nobody can ever know that that is actually how your body works) for the rest of time. Nobody is walking around with blood stained pants. Nobody is hustling tampons for food. Nobody is talking about STIs or other issues (despite sleeping around). OR these women just don’t menstruate, though they can have children. This needs to be clarified. In many popular TV shows, this topic is ignored completely. How y’all gonna be having your monthlies without supplies? You stuffing guava leaves down there? What’s the solution? I would be as effing murderous as these women if I had to walk around with eucalyptus leaves down my dirty panties for a week a month too, so… I get it, but I would prefer it be addressed instead of concealed like a… well… pair of dirty panties.
- Do not be black. If you are black, you’re going to have negative roles/stereotypes thrust upon you regardless of whether they are played by upstanding actors and general amazing humans like Isaiah Washington (heart-eye-emoji here). Your children will probably die (by the hand of a little white girl) despite also being upstanding human beings. Your women will be nowhere to be seen except as ruthless, animalistic clan leaders. Similar to the whole medicine shaman voodoo woman who plays with bones. Infantilized even in a position of power. Being black in sci-fi seems to have the same rate of survival as being black in a horror movie. Let’s discuss.
- Do not be the “other”. (This is kind of 2.1 instead of 3.) While the show does a relatively decent attempt of “humanizing” the “savages” from other clans through the mindset and mental questioning of the main characters (seeing as how it is their story, after all), it doesn’t really do anything to treat them any better. Sure, Clarke wants to make peace. Sure, Finn wants to make peace, in the beginning. And sure, Octavia falls in love with the “other”, but what does Lincoln get for this relationship? He constantly attempts to save her and her people, shows empathy, bravery, and self-sacrifice, and yet he gets tortured over and over, both by Octavia’s people, his people, and finally, the mountain people. He gets a life of total shit by attempting to help and connect the two communities. And he’s too. damn. pretty. for that. Anna? Anna, while a little cray cray, I assume due to living a life in warfare on a radiation-soaked earth with limited supplies, gives Clarke respect and a promise to support a peace treaty, only to get shot and killed. She saves her life over and over, from the mountain, from everywhere, only to get shot and killed.
- Do not get speared by a rival clan (or maybe do, because clearly, a hot knife and fresh bandages can appear from thin air). This one is pretty self-explanatory. I get that the space station sent down these kids in equal proportions to their crimes and their skills. So, yes, Clarke is a healer because her mother was a doctor. But girl ain’t magic. Except she totally is, because where is she getting sterile dressings from? Why do they have to eat drug nuts for sustenance while having fresh bandages for 8+ victims x 5 changes per day!? Every time Clarke’s around a dying person, it’s “change his/her bandage, otherwise it’ll get infected”. Bitch, where you get dem sterile bandages? ANSWER ME.
- Be a dick. Whether that’s Finn’s transformation from peace-loving Clarke-supporter to murderous crazy man, or John Murphy’s full-on sociopathic tendencies (see: hanging, hanging, hanging). All these white men with relative sway survive. Always. Even the crazy John Murphy, who’s gotten tortured like 17 times, and has betrayed both sides 18 times, is alive. And better! Because helping people leads to death, and fucking people over leads to success and the forgiveness of your “adult” tribe.
DYSTOPIA LOGIC OR LIFE LESSONS?
You see these narratives over and over and over again in popular culture. I really dig how strong women are in this TV show, don’t get me wrong. But its treatment of POC is (yet again), shitty. It’s storylines always have them coming out as either evil or dead or dying. Women’s basic functions are ignored, and supplies magically appear (but not for women). So, on one hand, I’m super excited about the fact that women are the realness in this TV show, giving orders and leading tribes and being generally badass, but I’m just saying, not all is well in TV or otherwise, because our culture gets distilled in our entertainment.
It’s why the nemesises (sp?)… nemesi? of James Bond, during the early years were always Russian. Cold War, yo. Then they went all Middle Eastern, cause duh. And now it’s back to Russians! I’m a big proponent of reading real news, but I also find it fascinating to see how life is mirrored in art. And it’s definitely mirrored in dystopias, just… not always in the ways we expect. Not always in ways that are clear cut and satisfying (“We are so different! We are so much better! Life is so much better! We treat people nicely, always! We are not these savages these crazy writers write about!”) . Not always in ways that are easy to digest OUTSIDE of the TV show.
Like seriously, I was going to make this a joke post and stuff, but it’s hard to ignore this stuff. That being said, these kids were shot to earth with not a whole lot of forethought. Where did they get POTS from? HMM? POTS?! But no pads? WHO PLANNED THIS SHIT.