During the pandemic, dystopian heroes inspire resistance to chaos

Disclaimer: This article was originally published in Portuguese at TAB UOL.

In a moment when Brazil reaches the sad statistics of 300,000 deaths for Covid-19, grief is extended beyond actual loss to include psychological, economic, and social side-effects related to the pandemic. Either due to social distancing, a job lost or the failure of businesses, as well as the inability to celebrate important dates, unfortunately no one is going to get out intact out of this.

But as memes say, it is pretty much different when you are studying history rather than living it.

According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of grief theory, we usually experience five stages that are defined by denial, anger, negotiation/bargain, depression and acceptance. Throughout these 12 months since the WHO (World Health Organization) declared a pandemic, we ticked all the stages without necessarily following the order or knowing when this is going to be over. After all, as we have observed, the fact that vaccines were developed even in Brazilian institutions doesn’t mean that they will be efficiently delivered to the population. And while it’s not our turn yet, what should we do?

On social media, we find negation not only in the publicizing and corroboration of inefficient precocious treatment techniques, but also posts published by famous and unknown people who have been going to parties and celebrating the illusory and fragile limit of their social bubbles. One year after, however, we are simply exhausted, hopeless, uncertain of what to do in order to actually change the scenario — after all, after one year banging pots, things kind of only got worse?

Ignoring the pandemic and the calamitous scenario which Brazil is experiencing is not an option — even for those brands and influencers who are not so political. This does not mean that they don’t make any mistakes, for instance choosing a design of bright colors for an Instagram post addressing the tragic stats of 300,000 deaths. This kind of approach is far from addressing and comforting the despair and pain shared by families. Likewise, another influencer made a post about “7 reasons why you should believe that this is all ending” using data from the U.S. to address the Brazilian situation — after all, the scenario here is completely different as showed by the Sento Mesmo on Instagram.

On the post above, the research agency Float published a “political compass” about how people are behaving during the pandemic according to their beliefs. In a few words, this post summarizes the despair, disorientation and helplessness of Brazilians because basically nothing gives us hope that things are getting better or even closer to an end. At a first glance, that post using data from the US had convinced many people who actually shared it in their own profiles, both as as means to convince themselves that it is possible to have hope and to comfort the others. But it wasn’t true.

So, how should we act in this new season of Brazilian dystopia?

Dystopias have grown popular both in mainstream media and in the collective unconscious — there is even a particular diagram trying to situating Brazil or the whole world in the intersections between novels such as 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 and The Road. But in spite of that, here we are watching reality shows, banging pots, compulsively tweeting and trying to figure out ways to keep our mental health good without being completely alienated and without experiencing panic attacks while checking the news.

Last year, I listened to a podcast where the writer Bruce Sterling mentioned right away how science fiction and fantasy many times present these catastrophic scenarios — sometimes caused by a pandemic — , and the reason why we feel compelled by these dystopian narratives.

As I already discussed here, dystopias function as alerts about what we don’t want to live or what we shouldn’t do, but, as Sterling argued, these stories give us protagonists and characters that are actively trying to survive the chaos or even trying to subvert it through a hero journey. These are the stories that make us hopeful in face of colapse, even if this hope is totally dark and nihilistic, as narrated by Cormac McCarthy in The Road or in the series The Handmaid’s Tale, where the character June, in spite of all adversities, carries on trying to find strategies to resist.

More than believing that everything is going to be alright, we need to find strength and criticism to deal with the moment, because assuming that things will simply get better soon puts us in a passive position and on hold of a fate that supposedly is already put. It’s not that we are going to live in a pandemic for the rest of the century, but it’s about the fact that even everybody is vaccinated, we will still need to face other issues that are lasting or have been even aggravated during this past year.

Observing the resiliency, persistency and active posture of these dystopian protagonists, as argued by Sterling, is what makes us so attracted to these dark stories. Even if we aren’t comforted with a classic happy ending, at least the scriptwriters gave us a spark of hope: the hope that it is possible to do something even when the planet is on the brink of colapse — even when we know that, in real life, it is not always possible to actually do something.

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Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.