By Andrew Ferguson
If I may begin on a personal note: I’m a veritable Little Mary
Sunshine, all-star division.
Show me a half-empty glass and I’ll swear it’s half-full. Show me an empty glass and I’ll show you how to fill it up halfway, never half- empty. Give me a lemon and it’ll start raining lemonade from a cloudless sky. I’ll take that frown and turn it upside down, no matter where it came from. Furthermore, I can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream, separate the sorrow, and collect up all the cream. I’m a ton of fun at parties. My sunny nature extends even into literary matters. (I do not consider quoting lyrics from “The Candy Man” a literary matter.) Pangloss, the irrepressible optimist from Voltaire’s Candide , insisted that this present world is the best of all possible worlds. Our storytellers – highbrow and otherwise – have tried to underscore the point by creating much-less-pleasant worlds of their own... an entire grisly genre we call “dystopian fiction.” Dystopian novels, along with movies and short stories, present a grave challenge to
followers of Pangloss. But they also prove, if approached aright, that even they can be mined for the silver lining (mixed metaphors have their upsides, too). But that’s the key: They must be approached aright. That means we adopt an insanely upbeat attitude that disavows negativity, downgrades disturbing reality, and elevates positivity to a ridiculous degree wherever it can be found. As it happens, this is also the proper attitude one should take to a world of catastrophic debt, crumbling social cohesion, racial strife, declining morality, ethnic resentments, overweening government, cultural commissars, speech codes, ubiquitous surveillance, ridiculous art... in short, a world very much like our own. But it requires practice! As examples, I have taken a trio of our most intractable fictional dystopias and given them my own Panglossian... um, gloss. Consider this a kind of guide for the perplexed. To wit:
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