I’ve been thinking a lot about the “topias” lately—meaning utopia and dystopia—especially as the holidays approach with unrelenting speed. The new year brings with it some exciting and contrasting events personally: I have the incredible opportunity to creatively produce Mike Daisey’s presentation of his new work American Utopias as the launch event for the brand new, much anticipated The Next Thing (TNT) Festival at ArtsEmerson; meanwhile, I’m working on an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s scarily dystopic novel The Handmaid’s Tale as my senior thesis which I will also direct with a beloved student theatre organization.
Whether cloaked in an Atwoodian red cape or sparkling with the hollow magic of Daisey’s Disney World fauna, the “topias” linger in my brain, causing me to re-examine the way we socially construct our world. What have we built up as a utopia that actually has a dark, dystopic underbelly, or vice versa? Aren’t the holidays one of these constructs we have sold ourselves on? Just like Cinderella’s looming castle, the glowing Christmas tree tends to cast a shadow on the things we don’t want to see, while illuminating all that is sweet and good and joyous.
The premise of Mike Daisey’s American Utopias is that American culture has set up these vacuums in which we find peace, perfect worlds where nothing can harm us—small, indestructible utopias. These microcosms of ideal spheres can be seen in various forms as Daisey points out when analyzing Disney World, the quintessential fairy tale brought to life; the Burning Man Festival with its chaotic, uninhibited artistic freedom; and Zuccotti Park where like-minded individuals formed a perfected community in the Occupy movement to revolt against corporate corruption. Each setting has been idealized in its own way. Similarly, each location has a dark side that can’t be seen initially. These worlds of fantasy and idealism have holes in them once you scratch past the veneered surface. Naturally, the easiest thing to do is accept the utopia as-is, getting lost in the escapism of it all. It can (and has) happened to all of us.