Monday, January 08, 2007

Children of Men and the Dystopian Present

The Pentagon views the foreign slum city of tomorrow as a dystopian nightmare and the bloody battlespace to be feared and controlled in the coming decades. (More)

This weekend I saw the movie Children of Men. Any time I see films set in a dystopian future, I am struck by how much they reflect the past and even the present.

The scene in Children of Men that occurs in the refugee camp displays the type of urban warfare that has been a fixture of countless recent conflicts, such as in Iraq. It is very much the same as the urban warfare scenes in Blood Diamond, another recent film. Based on real events, and set in the past, (Sierra Leone's Civil War of the 90's) what we see happening is far worse than anything the most imaginative speculative fiction writer could conceive of.

Obviously the creators of dystopian future worlds such as in Children of Men get their inspiration from history and even the evening news, so the similarities shouldn't be surprising. Perhaps these movies allow us privileged folk who live in relative peace and prosperity to begin to visualize how terrible war and related atrocities actually are. These films succeed in communicating with wide audiences, and reach us a gut level in a way that newspaper articles often don't.

Urban warfare is inevitable in our increasingly unequal world, as evidenced by what happens in vast third-world slums around the world. As quoted in this excellent article, Mike Davis wrote in Planet of Slums:
...the 'feral, failed cities' of the Third World --especially their slum outskirts -- will be the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century." Pentagon war-fighting doctrine, he notes, "is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor."

True safety cannot be created by armoured cars, gated communities, and private security guards.

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