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How dystopian narratives can incite real-world radicalism

How dystopian narratives can incite real-world radicalism
via GIPHY Dystopian fiction, moreover, is likely to be especially powerful because it is inherently political. We focus here on the totalitarian-dystopian genre, which portrays a dark and disturbing alternative world where powerful entities act to oppress and control citizens, violating fundamental...


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The increase of dystopian fiction

The increase of dystopian fiction

Dystopian fiction keeps growing in popularity. According to, the share of dystopian books in 2012 was the highest for more than 50 years.

The boom seems to have begun after the terrorist attacks on the US on 22 September 2001. After the Hunger Games novels (2008-10) about a totalitarian society, the share of dystopian stories skyrocketed.




Influenced by fiction

It seems unlikely that fiction can be capable of influencing people's real-world outlooks. However, a growing body of research shows people subconsciously incorporate lessons from fictional stories into their beliefs, attitudes, and value judgments.

Dystopian fiction is likely to be very powerful because it is inherently political.



Changing the moral compass

The totalitarian-dystopian genre portrays a disturbing alternative world where powerful entities act to oppress and control citizens, violating fundamental values as part of the rule.

The dystopian narratives affect those who watch it in a profound way by changing their moral values. Studies show that those who watch dystopian stories are more likely to say that radical acts such as violent protests and armed rebellion could be justifiable. They agree that violence is sometimes necessary to achieve justice.



The lens of dystopian fiction

Research shows that people are more willing to draw 'political life lessons' from a narrative about an imaginary political world than from fact-based reporting about the real world.

These narratives may have a positive effect on nourishing society's 'watchdog' role in a variety of contexts, ranging from climate change and artificial intelligence to authoritarian resurgences worldwide. However, the narratives may also encourage radical perspectives that oversimplify complex sources of political disagreement.




Joker’s commentary on society

Joker’s commentary on society

Joker is a psychological movie, showing the dangers of group action and the power of group narratives.

It is a very interesting commentary on society as it mirrors the phenomenon of dei...

A dangerous movie

Many reviewers see the Joker as a dangerous film because it might inspire incels to identify with the character as a hero and copy him.

The real evil to be feared is a broken, frustrated society that is willing to participate in almost purposeless acts of violence, then put deeper meaning into it, and ultimately use it as a springboard for mass violence and brutality.

Society and Mass Violence

Gotham City in Joker is a fundamentally broken city.

  • Arthur Fleck (the Joker) is failed by every level of society.
  • However, every class in Joker wants to shift the blame.
  • When Arthur commits murder, society turns this purposeless act of violence into an act of social rebellion.
  • Despite knowing nothing about the reason for the murder, Gotham's people imbue it with shared meaning, forcing this event into their narrative, and held Joker as a hero.
  • When Arthur commits another purposeless murder, it sparks riots.
  • The real villain of the movie is the broader society that latches onto actions and imbues them with nonexistent meaning to justify their own crimes.

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The illusory truth effect

The illusory truth effect

It's our tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure to it.

The illusory truth effect is the reason why advertising and propaganda works.

Why repetition reinforces a belief

The typical explanation is that our brains take shortcuts to save energy:

  • Statements presented in as easy-to-read color are judged as more likely to be true.
  • Aphorisms that rhyme (like “what sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals") seem more accurate than non-rhyming versions.

    Carl Sagan

    Carl Sagan

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. ”

    Insight from literature

    Over the history of Western literature about pandemics, much has been said in the way of catharsis, ways of dealing with intense emotion, and political commentary on how people respond to public he...

    Stories help us to think

    Homer's Iliad opens with a plague visited upon the Greek camp at Troy. The Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio is set during the Black Death.

    The stories offer the listeners ways to consider how similar crises have been managed previously, and how to reorganize their daily lives, which have been suspended due to the epidemic.

    Authority's failure to respond

    • Mary Shelley's apocalypse novel The Last Man (1826), depicts the life of Lionel Verney, who becomes the last man after a devastating global plague. The book criticizes the institutional responses to the plague, showing the revolutionary utopianism and the in-fighting that breaks out among surviving groups before they also die.
    • The short story, The Masque of the Red Death (1842), also shows the failures o authority figures to respond to a disaster appropriately.