Monday, February 27, 2017

The Cozy Book Corner No. 12: Dystopian Fiction and Its Current Relevance, Part I

Welcome to my Monday 
bookish feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

The disastrous, pernicious effects of the 2016 election results are being felt by everyone in this country, although some refuse to acknowledge them as being, in fact, just that: pernicious. 

Donald J. Trump, who so obviously and thoroughly used to enjoy telling his reality show participants, "You're fired!" (yes, the glee was evident on his face) is now the president of this great country. From "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice" to the White insane is that?! However, Trump has always shown his true colors. He's a classic narcissist who loves power and control. Now, unfortunately, he has it. Totally. I say "totally" because it's very evident that few in the GOP are opposing him. Perhaps, and hopefully, that situation will soon change, especially if solid proof emerges of Trump's ties with Putin. 

Unbelievably, this country is now being led by a man who has a personality disorder, a man who tolerates no opposition, a man who attacks the media simply because they are reporting the truth about his own "fake news", his own "alternative facts".

I am totally amazed that these things are happening in these United States of America. 

In the wake of the sweeping chaos created by "The Trump Tsunami", I've discovered that the popularity of dystopian novels such as Brave New World and 1984 has soared. Indeed, this has been pointed out in several articles on the Web, such as the one by Madeline Raynor at EW, published on January 31, 2017. In this article, titled "Classic dystopian novels' popularity surges in Trump's America", Raynor names the novels that are selling out on Amazon, as a result of the madness we're seeing coming from the White House.

The Number One spot is held by George Orwell's 1984. While this novel is a satirical look at socialist, and not fascist, totalitarianism, the main theme is that "Big Brother is watching you", and thus, one cannot express one's views freely. This is a salient feature of all dictatorships, be they of the Left or the Right. Views opposing those of the reigning regime are stifled, silenced. 

We have certainly seen the stifling of opposition by the Trump administration, and very recently, too. Respected journalistic entities such as CNN and "The New York Times" were recently banned by Trump sycophant Sean Spicer from an informal White House briefing, known as a "gaggle". Trump considers CNN and "The New York Times", as well as other so-called "liberal" (translation: objective) news media, to be purveyors of "fake news", for the simple reason that they criticize his policies. In his paranoid egotism however, he perceives them as merely being personally  "antagonistic" toward him. Conservative news media were, however, invited to attend the briefing, precisely because they support his policies, whether or not they are unfair and cruel. This points to a stifling of opposing views, and an endorsement of those views that line up with the Trump administration's take on reality. 

The second book mentioned in the Raynor article is It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, which I have just purchased from Amazon. The Goodreads synopsis reads, in part, as follows: "A cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press. Called “a message to thinking Americans” by the Springfield Republican when it was published in 1935, It Can’t Happen Here is a shockingly prescient novel that remains as fresh and contemporary as today’s news."

From the quote above, it seems chillingly evident that Lewis actually wrote a prophetic novel, as his main character bears a frightening, and very close resemblance, to Donald Trump. Indeed, one reviewer on Goodreads, Michael Finocchiaro, pointed out, in his review of Lewis's novel, that " all the bookshops there had Roth's The Plot Against America and It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis." (He's referring to bookstores in London.) You can check out his entire review in the link below.

What strikes me the most about the Goodreads synopsis is this part of the quote: "....with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press." This sounds too similar to Trump's agenda for comfort. While Trump has not concentrated his so-called "reforms" on sex, the other parts of this quote do indeed sound eerily like some of his campaign promises. He, too, wants to get rid of "welfare cheats", as well as "crime" (in the person of illegal immigrants), and "a liberal press." Bingo! Lewis must have had a crystal ball hidden somewhere in his closet.

Here's another incredibly prescient, highly relevant quote, this one directly from Lewis's novel: "I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne. Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.”

I got chills up my spine as I read this. It sounds remarkably like Trump's attacks on the American press. The tone of paranoia and even contempt is very much the same. This is truly amazing, as this novel was first published in 1935. Yet, here we are, in 2017, seeing it become a reality!

In third place on Raynor's list is Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. First published in 1932, this novel envisions a world in which there are no nations, but a World State in which everyone is "happy", due to the use of drugs, brainwashing, and genetic engineering. The year in which the events in the novel take place is 2540 AD. I don't think, however, that such a dire situation would actually become a reality in this country, at least, with Trump at the helm. He's just too much of a nationalist for this scenario to actually become real. Future presidents, though, could bring us closer to this horrible future. But at present, perhaps this book doesn't represent much of a prophetic warning to Americans.

In fourth place in Raynor's article is The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Ashwood. In this novel, which I have been wanting to read for some time now, there's a totalitarian state that actually assigns certain fertile women -- known as "handmaids" to certain men, for the express purpose of having children with them, as fertility rates are very low in this future society.

Although the above scenario sounds like a nightmare, as sex is totally divorced from love and family, and engaged in only as "a duty to humanity", I really don't see this as ever happening in this country, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. First of all, something would have to cause fertility rates to fall. Then, the whole structure of our society would have to be drastically modified in order to force fertile women to have sex with men they neither love nor wish to commit to. What kind of something could have such an effect on world fertility rates? Besides, we Americans have always been averse to theocracies such as the one depicted in this novel. Surely our constitution would ensure that this type of government never took hold here. Right? Right? On the other hand, I don't know.... The Alt-Right now seems to have come into its own, alarmingly enough. And Christian Fundamentalism is unfortunately pretty much aligned with the extreme right-wing values of this group, as well as those of the Tea Party. So one does have to wonder.....

Of the four novels mentioned above, I think the one that most closely predicts, and mirrors, our present situation is It Can't Happen Here. In light of current events, this title is also most ironic, because, sadly, it IS happening here. Raynor even references a Salon article by Malcolm Harris, published on September 29, 2015, and titled, "It really can happen here: The novel that foreshadowed Trump's authoritarian appeal". There's a very telling quote from this article in Raynor's own. In it, Harris states: “With his careful mix of plainspoken honesty and reactionary delusion, Trump is following an old rhetorical playbook, one defined and employed successfully in the 1936 presidential campaign of Senator Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip.” Indeed!

There's another dystopian novel I'd like to point out, although perhaps it doesn't completely mimic what's currently going on in the chaotic tangle that is the Trump White House. It's Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. In this incredibly powerful novel, which I've read and reviewed (I have not read the ones mentioned above), books are completely forbidden, in the interests of keeping the masses happy and numbed to anything that would create dissension. There are firemen in the book, but their task, instead of saving lives, is that of rooting out hidden book collections, for the purpose of burning them.

Given Trump's penchant for attacking those who disagree with him, who knows but that this might actually happen in the not-so-distant future, except not quite in the way envisioned by Bradbury. In fact, this unbalanced man might go as far as to seize total control of the Internet, as well as of all publications, whether magazines, newspapers, printed books, and ebooks. It sounds like a totally nightmarish scenario, but we thought someone like Trump would only remain a fictional character in a novel written back in the 1930s by one Sinclair Lewis.....

As this is a topic of high current relevance, I will have to continue exploring it in a subsequent post next week. I hope to bring up more dystopian novels that contain totalitarian elements, and thus, are currently MUST READS.

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What are your thoughts 
on this topic?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!


Brian Joseph said...

Superb and important post Maria.

So many people are turning to these books in this dark time for Democracy. I remember reading many of them. I always had the thought that however unlikely, some of these things could come to be. What I did not imagine was that we would turn to the actual books during this time, perhaps as an aid to resist Totalitarianism.

In a way, I feel that these books have prepared us for the current crises. I still think that we may stave off the worst of it. Ironically, these books are a tool that people are using to resist.

I do not think that any one book could have predicted exactly how things are playing out. That is why it is important to read many of them.

I think that s It Can't Happen Here is the only major book of this type that I have not read.

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

Thanks for the compliment!! :)

I think that, psychologically speaking, it's very interesting, as well as unprecedented, that people are turning to these books in order to somehow attempt to understand what's going on. I think they're also, in a way, trying to reassure themselves that they're not overreacting to Trump's rampant demagoguery. And, of course, as you have pointed out, these books are also a way for people to resist what's happening.

As you have also pointed out in your comment, this reaction from people has been totally unexpected. It demonstrates the power of books to keep the light of democratic ideals burning in our society.

Yesterday I retweeted a tweet that included a poll: should the election be nullified if it turns out that Trump and Putin did collude? So far, 84% of the respondents have voted "Yes". I was, of course, one of them.

Unfortunately, I haven't read any of the books I mentioned in my post, except for "Fahrenheit 451". And I am indebted to Madeline Raynor for pointing out the connection between the current spike in sales of these books, and Trump's recent actions.

I do think, though, that the novel "It Can't Happen Here" strongly mirrors what's going on right now. The main character, Senator Berzelius ("Buzz") Windrip (ironically, he's a Democrat) bears a VERY strong resemblance to Trump. As I have recently added this novel to my home library, I'm thinking I should start reading it soon. However, I am a bit busy at my other blog, so I might not be able to start it right away.

Thanks for the supportive comment!! Hope you're having a super nice day!! :) :) :)

Verushka Byrow said...

i still cannot believe this happened. Sighs. i keep waiting for someone to tell me there's a punchline coming, bit there isn't. Excellent post Maria. EXCELLENT

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Verushka!

You know, that's EXACTLY how I feel! I STILL can't believe this guy actually got elected. After all, he was the guy featured in "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice"!!! This is TOTALLY INSANE!!!!

I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my post!! And THANK YOU SO MUCH for the very nice compliment!!

I would like to start reading "It Can't Happen Here" pretty soon! Crossing my

Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment!! <3 <3 :) :)