I was recently struck by the description of a new movie in the Alien chain that is coming out in 2017. Alien: Covenant has as its current IMDB synopsis: “The crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but it is actually a dark, dangerous world, whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.” We don’t know what this “paradise” consists of-whether it is technological, ecological or otherwise-but, we do know that behind even a surface utopia, lurks yet another dystopia ready for millions of global eyeballs to fret over. Alien isn’t the only decades-old dystopian franchise still churning out (probably unnecessary) sequels. We may or may not be getting another Terminator movie; as well. Though if we can’t decide whether our aging movie stars can still sell dystopias, we have no reason to doubt that our young box office idols will continue find themselves in one nightmare or another as the “dystopian young adult genre,” exemplified by the Divergent, Hunger Games, and Maze Runner series, amongst other one-offs, continues to crank out titles.
The 20th century witnessed the concurrent rise of sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques and the technology necessary to disseminate them broadly. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul set out to study modern propaganda in the 1960s. What he found should be a warning to us all. In one of the most insightful and revolutionary works written on the subject, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Ellul diverges from previous scholarship in that he considers propaganda to be a sociological phenomenon, one in fact that we cannot live without in modern technological society. Propaganda exists to adjust a normal person to an ever-changing social and technological environment which is profoundly abnormal given the vast majority of our evolutionary history.