Screening Utopia in Dystopian Times

In Search of a Good Place: Screening Utopia in Dystopian Times
Leimar Garcia-Siino and Sean Guynes, editors
A special issue of Science Fiction Film and Television
Forthcoming, 2020


In Search of a Good Place: Screening Utopia in Dystopian Times confronts a pressing problem at the intersection of media and utopian studies. As early as 1982, Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski contended that utopian writers and thinkers had “lost both the intellectual support and their previous self-confidence and vigor,” pronouncing that “one can hardly quote an important utopia written in our epoch.” Three decades later, sociologist and utopian theorist Krishan Kumar concludes that “the unwillingness to essay the literary utopia suggests a distinct lack of confidence in its capacity to be effective, as well as a failure of the utopian imagination.” Kumar follows other historians of utopia in pinpointing the “social conflicts of the 1960s in Western industrial societies,” including the Hungarian and Czech suppressions in 1959 and 1968, the “May Events” in Paris in 1968, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 as key events in the retreat of utopia from narrative and theory. Unsurprisingly, this period coincided with the emergence of both neoliberalism and globalization, and witnessed the explosion of dystopian media to bestseller and blockbuster status.

But as this special issue of SFFTV makes clear, the utopian ideal is neither exclusive to literature nor to the west. Essays in Rajagopal and Rao’s Media and Utopia (2016), for example, chart some of the trajectories of global utopian film, but even here there is scant attention to utopian film and TV in the wake of the 1970s. If the state of scholarship is any indication, it would seem that the last fifty years has seen a palpable decline in the production of utopian texts in favor of bleaker, dystopian tales. And yet, it is with the increase of a globalized media and the advent of social media, as well as the increase in both the pursuit of nostalgia and the desire to escape/prevent the various incoming ecological, political, and social global crises, that the past fifty years of film and television have given rise to more nuanced and critical elaborations of utopia, often in the form of political thinking.

While significant attention has been awarded to western utopian literature, and to a lesser extent Anglophone utopian film and television, little attention has been dedicated to the utopian currents of wider global film and television post-1968. Screening Utopia in Dystopian Times addresses this lacuna and asks whether utopia is dead or merely transformed, and if so into what. Collectively, the essays in this special issue begin to map the utopian mediascape of our dystopian times.

Table of Contents

Leimar Garcia-Siino and Sean Guynes, “Introduction: In Search of a Good Place”

Joseph Donica, “Arab Utopian Futures: Documentary and SF Film in the MENA after the Arab Revolutions”

Steffen Hantke, “West German Angst: The Evolution of Dystopia in 1970s West German Television”

Ouissal Harize, “Paying for Utopia in Flesh”

Sasha Myerson, “Global Cyberpunk: Reclaiming Utopia in Japanese Cyberpunk Film”

Daniel Panka, “Utopia in The Mézga Family (1968–1978)”

Ida Yoshinaga, “Visualizing Kanaka Maoli Utopia: Genre, Media, and Bumpy Kanahele’s Challenges to Digital-Age ‘Left Behind’ Narratives”