“The Definition of Dystopia” by Kayleigh Gallagher

THE DEFINITION OF DYSTOPIA

HOW THE GENRE’S RECENT POPULARITY SHOWS OUR GENERATION’S VIEWS ON THE CURRENT WORLD, AND HOW FICTION HAS COME TO REFLECT REALITY

The New Yorker magazine claimed in a 2017 article that we are living in “a golden age for dystopian fiction.” Needless to say, the dystopian genre has skyrocketed in popularity. But what is a dystopia? Merriam-Webster defines the word as “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” This fictional society uses propaganda. The distribution of information and use of independent thought are restricted or manipulated. Citizens are under constant surveillance, live in a dehumanized state, and fear the outside world. Conformity is expected, protest is frowned upon. The natural world has been disturbed or almost destroyed. But most importantly, the society keeps up the facade of a perfect, utopian world. Obviously, a dystopian world will bear some resemblance to reality, as the genre is used as a way to point out the flaws in our society through exaggeration. However, the similarities between these fictional stories and modern American society are decidedly nightmarish.

Two plus two equals five. Anyone who has read George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, will recognize this as the message repeatedly drilled into the mind of the main character, Winston Smith. Through gaslighting, blackmail, threats, and other forms of manipulation, the government removes every aspect of Winston’s personality. Winston was, in the first place, one of the only people who recognized how twisted his country was. Meanwhile, all of Oceania lives obliviously. People live under constant surveillance and fear, an entire language is destroyed to make way for newer, shorter words. This might sound familiar— in fact, it bears unsettling similarities to modern American society. Here’s the kicker, though— the government of Oceania often rewrites history, distorts statistics in its favor, and creates new facts on a whim. No one knows how certain events in history actually went down. For a large portion of the book, Oceania is fighting a war with Eastasia. Then, suddenly, Oceania is at war with Eurasia. It has always been this way, Winston is assured. Oceania has always been fighting Eurasia, and Eastasia has always been Oceania’s ally. In the current age of alternative facts, fake news, and a government that strives to incite violence and misinformation, this 1949 novel hits surprisingly close to home.

In elementary school, we learned about Thanksgiving. We learned that, with the power of friendship and teamwork, the Native Americans and the pilgrims created a wonderful holiday about being grateful. They overcame an obstacle together. We didn’t delve too deep into what that obstacle was, or what happened afterward, but that was unimportant. Each history class showed the steady dehumanization and removal of Native Americans as an unfortunate reality. Christopher Columbus was a hero. No one really mentioned the rape, genocide, slavery, and murder until much, much later— late seventh grade to early eighth. Honestly, I understand why no one told me every horrific detail— I don’t understand why I was taught that he was a hero, at the very least, until fourth or fifth grade. I was told he was a great man, and I believed what I was told. I did not, after all, have an alternate source of information, so I didn’t really know what else to believe. There are other, countless examples of American history being glorified and the less pretty details being glossed over, but that’s the one I thought I’d share. The Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott Decision, internment camps, etc., are all things I didn’t learn about until late in my middle school career. The unfortunate reality here is that dystopian societies alter history to portray them in a more favorable manner, and America is guilty of doing such things. Rather than taking a moment to reflect on our past mistakes and how we can change moving forward, many hasten to defend the image of a golden country. This makes progress nearly impossible, and if we continue to constantly deny any current flaws, we will remain static while other countries move on.

“Wind” by Michael Lederer

Wind

The rustle of leaves

The movement in trees

It gives the illusion of rain

It can destroy a plane

It can bring in a storm

Or to expose you to warmth

The stillness of humidity

Overcome by the zenful tranquility

That is a breeze

It frees

 

A breath of fresh air

Will be your only care

It turns into a passion

You become the captain

With the wind in your sail

Pushing you forward

To a brighter, better future

 

But not without the waves

Not without the risk of capsizing

Too much wind in your sail

Can overturn your ship

But too little wind

Won’t push it far enough

 

On your way to be great

But you must first overcome

Any obstacles in your path

And then will you see

There’s so much more than just “me”

Or “myself,” or “I”

And the thing that can make you crash

Gives an equal opportunity to make you fly

 

Written by Michael Lederer

“Poetry” – Day 9 of Project Citizen

Today was very productive. In a last minute hustle to get what we needed to get done, we only had time for one more powerful workshop.

Jack Powers ran a poetry lesson where he taught us how to steal strategies from other poets to use in our own poetry.

It was very useful and everybody left with at least one poem that they were proud of. Many of us want to continue writing poetry as well because of this lesson.

After this, we had lots of fun with an improv game called “Whose Line is It Anyway?” to get our creative juices flowing.

At the end of the day, we had two hours of designated writing time to finalize all of the work that we’ve been working on.

One student claimed to want to use all the things she learned from today on her work in these two hours.

The activities our class did both today and throughout Project Citizen have emboldened students to write.

 

Written by Kaitlyn, Jalen and Lilav

Edits by Kira

“#SpeakUp” – Day 8 of Project Citizen

Today, in Fairfield University’s famous Quick Center, there was a special art gallery: “#Unload”.This exhibit focused on repurposing guns for art.

Many exhibits highlighted how common place guns have become, how deadly they are or juxtaposed a gun to something beautiful such as butterflies. The juxtaposition of guns to butterflies is illustrated in the work, Epitaph.One student claimed that this juxtaposition is what caught her attention as it was somehow beautiful. 

After the art gallery we went to a seminar starring Dr. Crandall where he talked guns, violence and how authors are writing to make a change. Students and teachers sat together to discuss these authors and try to “copy” their work by making their own work in a similar format.

During this seminar, the participants also wrote down what stresses them and talked with others at their table about their stressors. A student wrote down his stresses as a story. He found this to be a fun activity as it made stresses seem tangible and more understandable when in the eyes of a fictional person.

 

Written by Chloe and Chunjong

Edits by Kira

“Fun Days” – Day 7 of Project Citizen

Today was day filled with pleasant surprises.

The students of Project Citizen created their own memes.  Some were political, while others were just plain silly.

Afterwards, we did a group reading led by Shaun and Charlotte, two of our instructors here at the program.

Their activity four students taking on the roles of characters within a playwright from an anthology we had the honor of getting an advanced copy of.

Next, as we were talking about playwrights we practiced doing improv. These activities were not only fun, but helped us react faster, think faster and become better writers overall.

Today was a day full of creativity as everyone was challenged to express themselves in different formats. Whether it was funny memes, taking the roll of a fictional character or impersonating a celebrity.  Most importantly we had fun doing it.

Written by Alana, Nouvante and Kemoy

Edits by Kira

“History” – Day 6 of Project Citizen

Today, we began to learn historical facts about Native American history, including the Lakota tribe’s history.

Students seemed particularly fascinated with Lakota traditions such as Winter Count also known as the “Wniyetu Wowapi”. This is when someone from the tribe, usually a male, would record one major event that happened  in that year on a buffalo hyde

After the event was decided on by the tribal elders, the event would be printed on with past events in a counter-clockwise, spiral shape.

Native Americans also used buffalo hyde as a canvas for their drawings known as “ledger drawings”. However, this tradition changed with the end of the 19th Century.

During this time, American bison began to die out as European settlers killed them to make leather.

At this time, Native Americans were on reservations already. Children on these reservations were sent to schools founded by White settlers.

While settlers were trying to forcefully assimilate Native Americans, Native Americans found new ways to keep their culture alive.

With Bison nearly extinct, they still found ways to continue to make art. Ledger drawings were drawn on books, Muslin and sheet music.

Stories were also passed down orally.

Additionally, the Lakota along with many other Native American tribes kept their original language intact, despite settlers cruel attempt to destroy their ways.

One student from the Lakota tribe wanted to also talk about the celebrations in which they are given names. According to her, these names come from their grandparents. “Phentan win” which means “fire woman” is the name her grandmother gave her.

 

Written by Michael G. , Matthew and Savannah

Edits by Kira

“Screenwriting or Blogging” – Day 5 of Project Citizen

Screenwriting/playwright is a majorly useful method that can be used when writing for change. The page “How to Write A Scene” by John August was super helpful to us as we began to craft our own screenwriting.

This page listed eleven things that are helpful in creating a scene ranging from “what needs to happen in this scene?” to “where could the scene take place?”.

In one practice session, we focused on writing a dialogue and in the next, a monologue. Dialogues are helpful in showing the differences between characters meanwhile monologues more-so show a character’s internal thoughts.

We also enjoyed an activity in which we came up with random words and strung them together to make a silly dialogue.

After lunch, we learned blogging techniques and how to apply them to our work. There were four points of advice. The first, choose a subject and stick with it. The second, think of a story to tell. The third, bring in facts and statistics. The fourth, be expressive.

Later, we headed upstairs to start writing our pieces and sharing them in a group folder.

 

Written by Kayleigh, Dylan, and Max

Edits by Kira

“Written Words – as Lyrics or in Books” Day 4 of Project Citizen

It’s not everyday that you get a lesson on hip hop and rap in a class about fixing problems in the world.

Hip hop and rap have been used as a platform of social change for longer than many of us would have guessed.

‘This is America’ By Childish Gambino serves as an example.

After watching it, the class talked about the symbolism Childish Gambino put into his music video.

Symbolism is a funny thing – people tend to interpret it into whatever way they want. Other people seem to ignore symbolism altogether.

If looking at the symbolism in this music video however, police brutality seems to be one of the overarching themes as well as gun violence.

Seeing this symbolism embedded in a video will definitely make the kids of Project Citizen wonder what we can do for our presentation.

Afterwards, we wrote 4 bars of Cypher (hip hop) each about topics that we’ve been covering in the days prior. These subjects included Unity, Domestic Violence and School to Prison Pipeline.

Later, the students of Project Citizen video-called Nic Stone, author of the novel ‘Dear Martin’.

We, as students, thought Nic Stone was pretty cool.

Student talking to Nic Stone via Skype

We learned that she is just a regular person raising two kids. It’s amazing to see that authors are just regular people too.

She, like many other writers, wrote these books for her kids as well as for other kids.

Lastly, we closed out the day with some free writing. Students spread out, some going outside to enjoy the beautiful day.

Overall, we had a great day at camp.

 

Written by Nicki, Mila and Michael L.

Edits by Kira

 

“Written vs. Spoken Words” – Day 3 of Project Citizen

Today, Project Citizen started the day with a lesson on op-eds and journalism.

We read examples including Brent Staples article, “Just Walk on By” which details what it’s like to be a black male walking the streets in a big city.

He elaborates on how black men are more likely to be interpreted  as rapists, muggers and crooks as well as how some black men have had to change their walking styles or let others pass in front of them to avoid making others feel uncomfortable.

Persuasive techniques are super important within op-eds. In this discussion, we learned three Greek terms that increase persuasiveness within an article: logos, ethos and pathos. Ethos is used to provide the audience with a reassurance that you are a reliable and credible source. Logos represents logic as well as the facts and statistics that can be provided to support your argument, while pathos focuses on the emotions you want to tap in your writing.

Using these three can help you convince your reader to agree with you opinion.

We also mentioned some key techniques such as anecdotes, which serve almost like short stories and utilize repetition. This technique conveys to the audience the writer’s persistence and can be highly persuasive.

In the afternoon, teacher, Kim Herzog, came in to discuss TEDTalks. She explained the TEDTalks are normally comprised of three main points with three minor points inside of each. We also learned about speaking and presenting tactics to engage audiences, and how different formats of presenting (Spoken word, TEDTalks, poetry, op-eds, fiction) can influence the message.

Now, Project Citizen students are considering using  TEDTalks for their presentation next Friday. Whether their TedTalk is highly informational on the problem they’ve chosen or tugs on heart strings by using a spoken word poem, we are excited to hear them.

 

Written by Isaiah, Paige and Joaquin

Edits by Kira

“Different Perspectives” – Day 2 of Project Citizen

This morning at Project Citizen, we began to talk about problems occurring locally, nationally, and globally. As we jotted down problems that occurred in each area, we got to learn a lot about the hidden messages and meanings of these words. Interestingly enough, it was easier for most students to talk about problems occurring nationally, whereas it was hard to figure out what was occurring in the rest of the world and (especially) locally.  Many students blamed media for never narrowing down incidents happening in their hometowns and media’s focus on national (and sometimes global) events.

Later on in the day, Project Citizen was joined by a group of teachers as well as Dr. Crandall, head of the CWP program, for an informative lesson about the value of using different forms of writing as tools for the expression of ideas. By taking a single event, of Organization Officer, Abu,  smashing an egg on the floor, and then challenging participants to write from assigned, unique perspectives with various formats (ranging from haiku, to news report, and even obituary), students learned how writing is a vessel for sharing ideas and understanding others. Dr. Crandall also spoke about the Allegory of the Cave, describing how exposing ourselves to new truths can be difficult to understand and express. Communication across cultures and peoples isn’t always easy, but through writing we can become more informed and compassionate global citizens.

It helped that the pieces were also funny, especially one poem written by a teacher in the perspective of a child. This poem was all about hating Abu. In fact, Abu eventually walked into the room at the end of the activity and listened to the poem about him. Jokingly, Abu offered his box of popsicles to the teacher to apologize.

Altogether, the class really enjoyed having the opportunity to use their creativity to make something both silly yet important in garnering understanding of perspective.

Students have expressed feeling happy to be able to share with individuals who aren’t much different than themselves.

 

Written by Xavien, Sean and Amelia

Edits by Kira

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