Between utopia and dystopia. Generational reception of speculative models of societies in transition on the example of the “1983” series.

About the project:

The aim of the study, situated at the intersection of sociology (generations, social models, political transformation) and literary studies (speculative narration, alternative history, fiction and post-truth), is to answer the question: how reception of dystopian and utopian models of society mediated by popular culture—in this case Joshua Long’s “1983” (2018) series produced by Netflix—is affected by generational differences.

Broad theoretical frame of the project is the apprehension of reception of cultural texts—both shaping and maintaining cultural memory (see Brabazan 2017)—as determinants and manifestations of generational shifts. As shown by David Marc (1996: 85-90) in the context of the Vietnam War, television and discourses it produces are not only strongly linked with narrations around historical events, but also they enforce the generational gap in reception and understanding of history (see also Fiske 2010, Łuczaj 2012). It is particularly evident in the case of alternative history genre—critical devices exposing tensions between clashing historical discourses, often serving political interests (Rosenfeld 2011, Hellekson 2013, Schneider-Mayerson 2009). In the proposed study, we will empirically verify generational differences in the reception of ‘1983’, understood as a cultural text developing utopian-dystopian thought (see e.g. Fredric 2010, Savran 1995, Charles 2008). In our research model generations X and Y are differentiated mainly by the actual moment of political transformation (1989), which in the series is replaced by a dystopian vision of Poland after terrorist attacks in the titular year, at the same time being the after-image of 9/11, and (in the Polish context) Smolensk air disaster (2010).

Existing analyses of speculative models of societies show that the dynamics of collective cultural practices lead to the emergence of utopias/dystopias in popular culture, which are—to varying degrees—replications of socio-historical reality. ‘1983’ is the first Polish series taking on the subject of utopia/dystopia/anti-utopia in the context of Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, due to the production method and its intended audience, i.e. international viewers, it taps into the global discourse of modern culture and heavily relies on well-examined thematic and stylistic fictional and aesthetic motifs (alternative history, political fiction, film noir, cyberpunk, neon noir etc.). Thus, it engages in a broader dialogue with critical discourses as mirrors of social mechanisms (see Calvert 2013). Contextualizing the project in the utopian reification of anti-neoliberal delineation of utopia/dystopia (Jameson 1979) makes it possible to not only conduct comparative analyses (representation of utopias in CEE vs. USA/Western Europe), but also to make a contribution to global research in this area.

The project is financed under a programme for interdisciplinary projects of the Vice-Rector for Research at SWPS University with subsidies from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Methodology:

The study relies on qualitative analysis of the ‘1983’ series, which will reveal speculative models of utopian society featured in the show (see also Kompatsiaris et al. 2012). Based on the results, we will carry out individual, in-depth expert interviews, employing video elicitation interviewing (see e.g. Jewitt 2012). Those will be conducted with experts from the field of popular culture who also represent two generations – X an Y – in order to explore generational reception of utopia/dystopia.

 

Research Team:

dr Paweł Pyrka (PI)
dr Paula Pustułka
Monika Rawska
Rafał Węgrzyn