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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures

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Peter Fitting

Edited By Brian Greenspan

This collection brings together for the first time Peter Fitting’s writings about the utopian impulse as expressed in science fiction, fantasy, cinema, architecture, and cultural theory. These wide-ranging essays trace the constant reconsideration of the utopian project itself over the past four decades, from its mid-twentieth century period of decline to its revival in counter-cultural science fiction of the 1960s and ‘70s, its second decline with the «dystopian turn» in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in the 1980s.

These pages reveal what popular utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives tell us about today’s most pressing political issues, including gender equity, education reform, technological change, capitalist excess, state-sanctioned violence, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Through analyses of various popular genres and media, the author demonstrates how utopian visions written from particular political perspectives transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future, teaching us how to become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

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CHAPTER 15: What Is Utopian Film? An Introductory Taxonomy

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What is a utopian film? Unlike the musical or the western, or the science fiction film, there is no accepted body of utopian films and no accepted definition. In fact, few films come to mind when the subject is raised. Accordingly I will not concentrate on defining the utopian genre (but see Shelton 1993), for definitions are made on the basis of an already existing body of work on the basis of which one could then determine the common features (semantic and syntactical) of the genre. Instead, by analogy with the project of the Society of Utopian Studies, which links scholars and researchers working in such diverse fields as literary studies, political science, history, and architecture, I will propose a number of ways and perspectives by which scholars might begin to discuss the issue of utopian film. Without specifically invoking a utopian film genre, I will begin this examination with Lyman Sargent’s “the three basic forms of utopianism”: “utopian literature, communitarianism and utopian social theory” (Sargent 1988: 3). More specifically, the literary utopia, which seems the most fruitful for an investigation of the possibilities of utopian ←269 | 270→film (and with which I shall begin), is defined as a “non-existent society described in considerable detail” (Sargent 1988: 4).2

There are of course utopian films, as everyone who has seen the H.G. Wells/Cameron Menzies/Alex Korda collaboration Things to Come (1936) would agree. However, there are not really any other similar examples of utopian film, except for those films...

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