WHY ATTEMPTS OF CREATION OF AN UTOPIAN DIMENSION HAVE ALWAYS TURNED INTO DISTOPIAN ONES?
At the beginning of this year, we have deeply analyzed and studied many distopian novels, we dealt with “1984” or “Animal Farm”, by George Orwell, “Brave new World” by Aldous Huxley, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, all these works present many attempts of building this new form of society of the future, ideal at the beginning, but that turn to become a clear dictatorship, where the world becomes a sort of prison, men and women are obliged to serve who their “savior” was, without really realizing it.
We have fictional examples such as the character of Big Brother in “1984”, or the figure of Mustafa Mond in “Brave New World”, or Napoleon in “Animal Farm”. As simple observer we understand the from the very beginning that something is going to be strange, that we are going to be trapped in a sort of vicious system that will lead us towards a new awareness, a new way of seeing the world and the society.
At this point the important question is: why do we always get so much involved in these stories, in these hypothetical future situations?
Maybe because we are, in a sense, used to them. We are used to dictatorship regimes, to injustices, and violation or lack of respect for human features. We saw single men killing and destroying people’s lives with brutality and intolerance, as if they had the right to, just because they feel to be superior. But then what happens? Men who think to be the saviors, who think the world needed their arrival, who think they are necessary to solve the sorts of the world we live in.
And here comes the key: arrogance and lack of humility are the first steps to create a dictatorship. When a single man wants to impose his own ideas on the others’ daily lives, nothing good can follow. Because democracy and discussion bring different ideas and proposes. Different opinions create the possibility to open everyone’s minds, activating our critical thinking, not just remaining passive spectators of what goes on around us.
I think that behind the idea of a dictatorship system, there simply is a lack of humanity, a lack of respect for the people. And the consequence of this aspect is a shift in the scale of values, that push people with strong selfish individual purposes to fight for this new utopian dimension, that fails, and becomes all the opposite of course.
And here pumps another question into my mind. Do we have to understand the reasons behind some particular anti-human actions, and try to justify them, giving the person some kind or help? Or do we just need to recognize them, and punish them?
I think that it could be considered all a matter of balance, trying to give some kind of lesson, followed by some kind of help. Because as human beings, we fail, we make mistakes, but sometimes we do not focus also on the consequences of our actions, that can worsen our position.
OSCAR WILDE- “The Picture of Dorian Gray". I really appreciate this work, although it is not considered Wilde's really masterpiece. First published complete in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. The magazine's editor claimed that the story was indecent, and he deleted five hundred words before publication, without telling Wilde. Despite that censorship, The Picture of Dorian Gray offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers, some of whom said that Oscar Wilde merited prosecution for violating the laws guarding the public morality. In response, Wilde aggressively defended his novel and art in correspondence with the British press, although he personally made excisions of some of the most controversial material when revising and lengthening the story for book publication the following year.
That particular aspect caught strongly my attention. Wilde investigates in the different minds of the special and particular human beings, endowed with strong inclinations, passions and opinions; but at the same time weak, fragile, naked. Really controversial: vulnerable in front of the feelings, but with a potential hidden spirit.
I wanted to make you reflect upon the character of Lord Henry.
Ben Barnes as Dorian Gray
and Colin Firth as Lord Henry Wotton ("The Picture of Dorian Gray", 2009)
Maybe a secondary figure, that could seem meaningless for the development of the story. His autocracy, his self-confidence, painted him at the beginning of the story as a solid man, full of certainties, that had tried all the forms of redundancy and escape from reality. But in the end, we find in his figure a fragile man, who needed to find some kind of balance in his life, trying to live in peace with himself and in harmony with the society.
As he met Dorian, he saw in him the possibility to make all these qualities reality, to create this sort of non-conformist hero, instilling in him all these new values that turned him into a sort of uncontrollable monster.
He is a sort of vehicle for Dorian, that plunges him into the hectic life of the society of the London of the Industrial Revolution, the great period of Queen Victoria, full of innovations and modernity, but also teeming with contradictions.
Society needs someone to admire, someone to create their own stories about, someone hidden under a thin veil of mystery, someone out of the lines, someone different. And that is what Lord Henry made He created what he needed. But he dismissed just one, fundamental, aspect; that he himself was a human being. He was flesh and feelings, he was not indifferent to the world, to the moral system behind the interaction between everyone and everything, he knew that there is something right and something wrong, something moral and something immoral, something correct and something incorrect.
He used Dorian for his own sake, just to accomplish this lack of courage, this insecurity that had prevented him from being himself that “Dandy”. He saw art in him, perfection and purity. He was spotless, his conscience was too, and he was jealous, of his beauty, of his youth, of this power he had that mesmerized everyone who by chance looked at him.
Would have Dorian reached that point if it had not been for Lord Henry? Was he just too fragile to defend himself and not to let be so deeply influenced by him? Was it all Lord Henry’s fault?
Because we do not always clearly see how much of “ourselves” is there in our thoughts or actions. How much are we influenced by the people who show interest in us, who we think that love us, who we love. And that does not mean we should trust no one, because we need to have faith on the human kind. Lord Henry really cared about Dorian, he was worried about his situation, what he was becoming, he loved him, as a father does with his child. That means that men become selfish, when there is ambition and jealousy involved, but there will always be the need to be good and to behave well, because as social animals we seek for a sort of communication with the other, that can enrich us.
Do you all know who this man is? I did not know anything about him before this last two months. So I decided to get somehow informed and discover more about his life, and his career.
James Nachtwey grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Dartmouth College, where he studied Art History and Political Science (1966-70). Images from the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights movement had a powerful effect on him and were instrumental in his decision to become a photographer. He has worked aboard ships in the Merchant Marine, and while teaching himself photography, he was an apprentice news film editor and a truck driver.
In 1976 he started work as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico, and in 1980, he moved to New York to begin a career as a freelance magazine photographer. His first foreign assignment was to cover civil strife in Northern Ireland in 1981 during the IRA hunger strike. Since then, Nachtwey has devoted himself to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues. He has worked on extensive photographic essays in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Russia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Romania, Brazil and the United States.
“There is a job to be done…to record the truth. I want to wake people up!” -James Nachtwey-
He is not just an eye-witness of the war. He is a soldier, he fights his own battle, trying to transmit the horrors and paradoxes of the war to our society, more and more indifferent and uninformed. Because it is easier to avoid obstacles, rather than facing it, and if you have at least a scrap of humanity, as you reach awareness, you cannot just remain an observer anymore.
His job is quite controversial, and that is something that is a source of suffering in him. The fact that people could think he is making money on someone else' s pain and losts. But what if there were not these men, who risked their lives to give a voice to all these people, to raise awareness, to document in a powerful and concrete way the horrific aspects of war and the injustices these innocents are obliged to endure. He is not there to be assigned some kind of award or recognition. He wants to show "what happens to ordinary people during history", giving in this way importance to them, trying to transmit without so many words that there is someone who considers them PEOPLE, it is a way to bring them out of that state of alienation from the world that they are living because of the war. They are accustomed, they think that it is normal, and it is also difficult to them to react, and try to get out of that situation concretely. A concrete example? How can possibly a man that has lost a half of his body, help his family to find a better place to live in, that is different from the railway track, without any kind of help from the government? And that is James' job, at least giving us the possibility to help them, because we know what is going on there.
In our society, blinded with selfishness and shallowness, the only way to reach everyone is trying to show the evidences, for this reasons they are sometimes coarse, cold. They are not meant just to be good, they are meant to be real, they are an attempt to trigger a sort of train of thoughts in everyone, to awaken humanity in everybody.
War is a sort of the "bottom of the well", extreme situation of brutality and lack of consideration and respect of human beings' dignity and lives. At war, men bring out their worst part, that beast side, just to defend their own reasons, forgetting to have the power of intelligence and diplomacy, forgetting to be not alone, and forgetting to have the duty to give everyone the same possibilities and not to have the right to make choices and decisions at their place.
James is patient, he acts slowly and quietly, he understands he is carrying an heavy burden, and he is witnessing history, he is witnessing something bigger than him, he is responsible of our knowledge, he is a means of connection between that people and us. I appreciate him, because he acts rather than speaking too much, he is taking advantage of his talent in a positive way.
I watched the documentary of his life, and I found some links between that and what we did in class speaking about the poets of the Great War, that can be considered a sort of photographers of the war, in an other, past generation. Soldiers as Brooks, Sassoon or Owen have been the reporters of the situation at that time, were there were not professional or digital cameras, even they, as Nachtwey, used their talent to bring the memories of that time living till nowadays.
They have been criticized a lot, they have been punished, because truth is difficult to be accepted, above all if it can be considered a "wrong truth", something that goes against our moral common values such as respect and equality, in giving everyone the possibility to express, their own ideas, talents but even simply their own personalities, their own "selves".