By its nature, satire is a form of storytelling that is used to take a critical lens to the ills of a society, organization, government, or individual. Dystopias depict a future that has gone wrong. More often than not, these two walk hand-in-hand, creating a world that serves as a warning to us today. Dystopian satire stories are a warning that says if we don’t fix the problems laid bare within the tales, that we will be doomed to face a bad future just like them. Sometimes, they can involve humor, and sometimes not, but the warning persists. British literature, gaming, comics, and films offer some of the best satirical dystopias out there and are often the standard that others seek to achieve. Please consider one of these five works listed below and let us know some of your own favorites in the comments.
And speaking of standards, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is a novel that is most often referred to in popular culture for a bad future, one in which the state monitors your every action (“Big Brother is Watching You”) and provides “correction” to threatening thoughts, speech, and actions. Orwell, in the fervor of the Cole War, sought to warn his fellow Westerners of the dangers Communism could create at home. His totalitarian state created the term “Orwellian” to describe similar circumstances.
While not taking place in the United Kingdom, this comic series that began to appear in the 2000 AD anthology comic book in 1977. Created by writers Pat Mills and John Wagener as well as artist Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Dredd depicted a post-apocalyptical North America consolidated into “Mega-Cities” where law enforcement officers acted as police, judge, jury, and sometimes executioners. The title character is a humorously exaggerated “Dirty Harry”-type of officer who patrols a city filled with exaggerated vices of every sort. The long-running story in 2000 AD, Dredd’s over-the-top setting, characters, and themes are a major source of satirical commentary on modern culture and law enforcement.
V for Vendetta
Released as a limited series in 1982, first in the British anthology Warrior and later published by DC Comics in the States, V for Vendetta was the creation of author Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd. Moore used the story as a vehicle for his concerns about Thatcherism by depicting the UK government as having been taken over by a Christian fascist party in the wake of World War III. The character V serves as an anarchist figure who seeks to destroy the fascist government and cause Britons to think for themselves again, with his look based on Guy Fawkes. The comic and 2006 film adaptation inspired the use of the Guy Fawkes mask from the film to protest unpopular government actions.
Terry Gilliam’s entry into this list is a cult-classic satirical dystopia film released in 1985. It features a Britain that is dominated by bureaucracy, technocracy, and self-centered consumerism. In many ways, it’s a more absurdist and humorous take on Orwell’s novel in which protagonist Sam Lowry attempts to break out of the bureaucracy of his life only to find that he can never truly escape. While mostly a cult film in the United States, it is much more highly regarded in the United Kingdom, whose government culture is spoofed.
A role-playing game filled with miniature models that players often paint themselves, the story involved in this universe is one of heavy dystopian satire. Similar in some respects to Moore’s V for Vendetta, it features an extreme black comedy future in which a stagnant human culture is governed by a fascist theocratic state that is constantly at war with other alien groups and unfathomable horrors that lurk in subspace. An initial glance may make one wonder who would ever play such an ultra-violent game, but its overdramatic violence is intentional to its dark humor that keeps the players coming back for more. The game launched in the UK in 1987 and is one of the most popular tabletop games in the world.