In The Children of Men humanity’s infertility leads to the rise of an autocratic “Warden” of England. In The Handmaid’s Tale, it leads to a new theocratic state that takes over part of the United States.
Both of these books describe a singular event that leads to dystopia. Like the best fiction, they start in the midst of the action, and they don’t waste time on the exhaustive detail of exactly how things happened. We just know that a severe drop in births leads to panic.
1984, arguably the most famous dystopian novel, is a cautionary tale about how revolutions can degrade into to excess and betrayal of the principles that lead to them. Here again, we have a single event pushing society to dystopia. Of course, Orwell had two real-life examples to draw from; Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
But is that always how it has to be?
As a writer, tying the rise of a dystopia to a single event is a hell of a lot easier than trying to describe how one might slowly subsume a society. Huxley pulled it off in Brave New World, which I consider one of the most terrifying dystopian novels ever written.
Neil Postman compares 1984 and Brave New World in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death:
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
If that doesn’t give you chills in 2017, then I don’t know what to tell you.
We left off last week with a campaign of fake political ads targeted at Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, Matt(Daredevil) Murdock’s best friend. This subplot spanned several issues and then ended in a three-part story focusing on the “real” villain.
The political ads evolved into bizarre news stories:
And now you know what made me think of these comics; the recent release of government files about the assassination of JFK, and how they validated some of the “crazier” ideas (while answering almost no questions) that have floated around it. We know the story above is true though because that’s Walter Cronkite.
The fake news continues in Daredevil, with Foggy Nelson finding out about his statement questioning his own competence by seeing it on television:
His opponent denies responsibility:
So we have untraceable political advertisements. Fake news stories, including one about the candidate that was the target of the mystery ads, and an opponent that insists he is not involved.
Sound familiar? This was in a “kids” comics series, 42 years ago.
Of course, a campaign of disinformation should be easier back then than it should be now because back then there was only TV and newspapers.
Well, finally we find out who the real target is:
After all, it’s his name on the cover of the comics.
In 1976 this kind of editing was possible. Editing videotape with computers (using time offsets, not digital processing) was already a few years old. The fiction is the Jester having such a system (they were incredibly expensive and rare) and his ability to air pirate broadcasts for weeks without being caught.
The Jester’s campaign works until he throws Daredevil into a death maze (comic book!) and Daredevil beats him up, and then it’s the end and join us next issue for a special guest hero.
This wasn’t the first appearance of the Jester, nor was it the first time he framed Daredevil for murder and drove a story that spanned multiple issues. It wasn’t even the first time the Jester was involved in an election. Nor was this the first or last time a Marvel comic added “serious” ideas to its stories.
This one seems notable to me, though, because as much as 12-year-old Eric enjoyed it, he thought it was far-fetched.
Extra credit: Some fake newspaper pages from the story.
It’s 1975, and the District Attorney of a major city is facing fierce opposition in his re-election campaign. Desperate to stay ahead and stay in office, he works with national and international law enforcement agencies to develop a comprehensive database of criminals to help law enforcement around the world.
A 70’s cinema thriller? An episode of Radiolab? A Sci-Fi novel?
No, a subplot in Daredevil issue #124, August 1975. (On newsstands a few months earlier than that.)
This was another comic I read when it came out, and it is a treasure trove of science fiction concepts and social commentary. The mid-seventies was a time of chaos inside the hallowed halls of Marvel Comics, with Stan Lee stepping aside to run licensing efforts for the company on the west coast, and the inmates ran the asylum for a few years. Sometimes this led to some pretty bad books, other times it created gold. This issue was a goldmine, but I’m only going to touch on two. Bear with me, even if you’re not into comics.
Dr. Armstrong Smith explains that he is working on a “reference bank” of “worldwide habitual offenders.”
This idea sounds positively adorable in 2017. While a “worldwide” database might never exist, we know that something pretty close is with us today. Probably several different systems that may or may not share data. Big databases of people and their habits are not flights of fantasy; they are the stuff of nightmares. Not because no one saw the potential abuses coming, but because people failed to see the databases while they cheerfully added their personal information to them. This makes Matt Murdock’s example of murderers with a “penchant for pasta” especially sad-funny.
As you might know from the Netflix series or one of two terrible movies, Matt Murdock is not just Daredevil; he’s a criminal defense attorney. What he might say is, “Hey, Mr. District Attorney and Best Friend, this might be ripe for misuse.”
But he doesn’t.
He’s impressed. He also wants to know why Foggy is so worried about his campaign. We’ll get to that.
Murdock/Daredevil does have qualms about the computer(s) a few issues later, but they’re not what you would expect.
Blind attorneys that work during the day to defend criminals and at night to beat the crap out of them aren’t just ethically-challenged. They’re ethically challenged liberals.
Smith’s word choice ad Murdock’s going along with it are interesting in this conversation; the computers will help with location, not identification. If someone is in the system, it’s just a matter of finding them. They’re already a criminal.
But don’t worry, Dr. Armstrong Smith is killed in Spider-Man #155 after his ethical lapses catch up with him: his computer achieves sentience and becomes a criminal itself. Comic books!
Coming across this old subplot was a treat, but then I saw these panels a few issues later:
What’s this? Did Foggy’s campaign manager go off the rails?
No. It was a fake campaign ad…and the networks can’t tell District Attorney Nelson who ran it. C’mon…that could never happen!