|Assignments for Utopias and Dystopias
Utopia/Dystopia Course Themes
A number of the assignments make reference to the “course themes.” The course themes are the questions and ideas that are dealt with across the whole range of utopian and dystopian literature. They include, but are not limited to, the themes listed below:
Governance: What is the ideal form of government?
Human Rights: What is the ideal relationship between the individual and society?
Economics and Work: How should labor be managed and wealth distributed?
Science and Technology: What role should science play in the ideal society?
Ecology: What is the best relationship between humanity and the natural world?
The Relationship between the Sexes: How should men and women relate to each other? How are gender and sexuality constructed and regulated?
The Family and Reproduction: Who is responsible for producing children? What role does the family play in the ideal society?
Education: How is knowledge to be passed on? Who gets what sort of education. How is the level to which an individual be educated determined?
Health and Wellness: Who is responsible for keeping people healthy? What approach is taken to health care? How much importance is assigned to health?
Ethics: What codes of conduct, beyond formal law (which should be considered part of governance), should people abide by? How is this code promoted and enforced?
Religion: What role does religion play in the ideal society? How should beliefs about “the soul” and “the afterlife” be produced and regulated? What rituals should be associated with such beliefs?
Utopian and Dystopian Themes in Contemporary Music (Minor Assignment--Post by 9/1; Comment on other posts by 9/4)
Review the blog posting on utopian and dystopian songs prepared by Professor Hoffman on the class website. Find a song on YouTube, which is not included among Professor Hoffman’s selections, that you believe has a utopian or dystopian theme. Post a link to your song, and a 200-300 word commentary on what theme it illustrates, on the class website by 9/1. Comment of the postings of 3 other students by 9/4.
Film Review Assignment (Minor Assignment)
Select two of the following films, each from a different section, to watch. You may either rent them on your own or borrow them from Professor Hoffman. Write a 400-500 word review of each film that briefly summarizes the plot and discusses the course themes that film deals with by comparing and/or contrasting it with one or more of the novels that the class has read. Be prepared to give a brief, informal presentation to the class of your review on the assigned date. The presentation should include a YouTube clip from the film is possible. Post each review and a link to the film clip on the class website by the assigned day. Discuss your selection with Professor Hoffman, who owns many of the films.
Utopias of the (European) Age of Discovery (Reviews Due 9/11)
Bird of Paradise (1932)
The New World (2005)
Lost Worlds: Victorian Rediscoveries of Utopia (Reviews due 10/2)
Lost Horizon (1937)*
Socialist Utopianism (Reviews due 10/16)
Things to Come (1936)
The Village (2004)
Totalitarian States and Their Dystopian Critiques I (Reviews due 10/23)
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
THX 1138 (1971)
Logan’s Run (1976)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Totalitarian States and Their Dystopian Critiques II (Reviews due 10/30)
The Running Man (1987)
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
Code 46 (2003)
V is for Vendetta (2005)
The Hunger Games (2012)
Post-War Visions of Utopia (Reviews due 11/6)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)*
Star Trek: The Original Series: “The Apple” (1967—Season 2, Episode 5)
“The Way to Eden” (1969—Season 3, Episode 20)
Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Justice” (1987—Season 1, Episode 8)
“The Neutral Zone” (1988—Season One, Episode 26)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Green Utopias (Reviews due 11/13)
Silent Running (1972)
Soylent Green (1973)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Animated Feature) (1984/2005)*
Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (Animated Feature) (1992)
Post-Apocalyptic Dystopias (Reviews Due 11/20)
The Omega Man (1971)
Damnation Alley (1977)
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The Postman (1997)
Children of Men (2003)
I am Legend (2007)
World War Z (2013)
Destination Unknown: Cyberpunk Dystopias (Reviews Due 12/11)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)*
Blade Runner (1982)*
Max Headroom (TV Series) (1987-8)*
“Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future” (Pilot) (1987)
Select a second episode—Professor Hoffman has the DVDs.
Ghost in the Shell (Animated Feature) (1995)
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
The City of Lost Children (1995)*
The Matrix (1999)
Natural City (2003)
Reports & Presentations on Elective Novels (Major Assignment)
You will write a 5-6 page report on Elective Novel you have read, its author, and the circumstances under which it was written. You should also discuss how the book relates to one or more course themes. The summary of the book should be complete enough that the majority of the class, which will not have read it, and get the “gist” of it. The information about the author and the circumstances of the book’s composition should give the class some idea of the relationship between the book and the historical moment in which it was produced. Post your report on the class website and be prepared to give an informal 5-10 minute presentation on the book in class on the assigned day.
Give a presentation on a real utopian community (or project) of approximately ten minutes. The presentation should cover how and when the community was founded and for what purpose. It should give information about its governing philosophy and the rules community members need to live by. The presentation should include reference to one or more class themes and include visual material. Post a summary of the presentation and several pictures on the class website.
Utopia Construction Project (Major Assignment)
Phase One: Construction (Description due 10/23)
Your group should construct an 8-12 page description (double-spaced, 12 point type) of a society that falls under one of the following categories: eutopia (a society that lives up to some ideal standard), satiric utopia (a society that, although it lives up to some formal ideal of perfection, in fact mocks some aspect of our own society), or critical dystopia (a society constructed as a hypothetical example of warning of what might happen if some trend in our own society is allowed to continue).
Here are some examples of ideas around which the societies that have been written about in utopian and dystopian literature have been organized. You may wish to make one or more of them as the basis for your own society, or pick some similar, unlisted, organizing principle:
A single-sex society, an androgynous society, or one with radically different gender roles than our own
A society in a land of such great material abundance that people only need to work for 2 hours a day
A society that relies on a drug that removes sadness, aggression, or some other undesirable quality without side effects
A society designed to cultivate a single quality or talent: creativity, obedience, intelligence, beauty, physical excellence, etc.
A society built around a different system of morality than our own
A society that has chosen to live in isolation
A society that is built to provide as many opportunities as possible for a certain kind of experience: silent contemplation, near-death experiences, etc.
A society that has found a unique way to solve a problem that plagues us: i.e. a society that eliminates aggression and way through a ritual of random murder
A society devoted to a single purpose, i.e. the accumulation of knowledge (New Atlantis), the preservation of civilization (Shanghri- la), serving God, living in balance with nature, justice, or equality
A society that reverses one or more customs or practices of our world
A society where the average lifespan is 200 years or more
Your description should contain information about the physical setting and the constitution in addition to all of the course themes, although some themes may be treated in greater depth than others. It is advised that you divide writings tasks long topical lines among your group members.
Phase Two: Presentation (Presentations given 10/30)
Your group should give a 5-10 minute presentation on the utopia you have constructed. The presentation should cover all the topics listed above and use charts and pictures where appropriate to clarify and enliven your content. Distribute copies of your description and accompanying presentation materials.
Phase Three: Narratives (Due 11/20)
Students individually are to write a short story detailing the experiences of a character in one or more of the utopian societies the class has created. The story is to be 5-10 pages in length.
In the story, the protagonist may be an explorer who discovers one of the utopias, someone who awakens in one after a long sleep, or be sent to one of the utopias as a reporter. The story may also take the form of a travelogue written by a character who visits a number of the utopias. Care should be taken to explain the background of the protagonist, who may come either from our own world and age, from a different historical epoch, or from one of the other utopias created by the class. The protagonist’s background is important because his or her perceptions of the utopia will be strongly colored by their own beliefs about what is “normal,” which will be conditioned by the society in which he or she originated.
Stories may take other approaches than that described above. Another approach that may be taken to writing the story is to imagine a meeting between characters from two or more of the class-built utopias. Perhaps characters from two or more of our utopias will need to deal with a crisis together, or need to negotiate a treaty or conduct trade. Or perhaps a character from one of the class-built utopias is sent to report on our world from his/her own unique perspective. The possibilities are limitless.
Write 3-4 pages of commentary on the utopian narratives crafted by other students. Feel free to react to the stories on a personal level, comment on what you think the intent of the writer was, on the realism of the narrative, life in the society depicted and its relationship to the real world, details that you would like to see filled in, etc.
Paper on a Utopian/Dystopian Theme (Major Assignment. Due 11/13)
Write a 6-10 page paper that examines how two to three of the utopias or dystopias we have discussed thus far engages with one or two of the themes of the class. For example, someone might write a paper that describes the similarities and differences in the economic principles portrayed in Caesar’s Column, Ecotopia, and Elysium. The best papers will provide insight into how a themes handling in a particular work is related to the historical moment that the work was produced in.
Final Paper (Major Assignment. Due 12/11)
Expand you “Paper on a Utopian/Dystopian Theme” into a 12-15 page paper that discussed five to six of the utopian works we have covered.
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