A Dystopian Valentine’s Evening

On Thursday 14th February, the Iris Project held a Celebration of Dystopias, with a talk, community film viewing, exhibition, and dystopian themed refreshments!
Year Eight Classics students have been exploring utopias and dystopias through the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato’s most famous work is his Republic, where he outlines his thoughts on the ideal society. They have also been looking at dystopian novels from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and Handmaid’s Tale. The students were set the challenge of creating their own dystopias, with premises, titles, covers and first pages. These were all submitted to Professor Greg Claeys, Dystopia expert from Royal Holloway, University of London, who read through each one, selecting winners and runners-up in each of the four categories. You can explore all the dystopias here.
Greg came to deliver an after-school talk to an audience of about 80 Cheney students parents and staff, where he talked about how dystopian fiction appeared at points in history where society had become threatening and controlling. He also spoke of how all dystopias carried a theme of human isolation, where the bonds, love and affection between people in society were forcefully broken down by a controlling organisation. He divided dystopias into three categories: those like 1984 where people were generally miserable, ones like Brave New World, where people seem superficially happy but their freedoms have been controlled and removed, and finally dystopias focussing on climate change, which have become particularly prevalent in recent decades. He ended by noting that the threat of climate change is our own dystopia to face, and that reading dystopias should be a challenge to act rather than simply resulting in depression about the state of things.
After some very interesting questions from the audience, Greg then announced the winners, runners-up and some honorary mentions in each category, explaining why he had chosen those particular entries. There was then some dystopian themed refreshments to enjoy, ranging from bowls of “soma” pills and radiactive cookies, to V for Vendetta Cakes, Victory Gin (from 1984) and Moloko Plus (from Clockwork Orange). The students’ work was also available on display, as well as a range of front covers from well-known dystopian novels.
After a short break, about 40 students and parents stayed for a community viewing of “Never Let Me Go”, a film based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The novel explores the experiences of three human clones, in a near future society where clones are created and grown to adulthood in order to supply their organs for non-cloned humans to live up to 70 or 80 years longer. It is a moving portrayal of how the individuals come to terms with the lives set out for them, and how their relationships develop with one another.
We are very grateful to Professor Claeys for all his time and energy in judging and speaking, and to all the students who took part in the dystopia project, creating such thought-provoking and imaginative work, and to everyone who attended the talk and community viewing.

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