Posted by: dystopiandaze | January 26, 2011

Ignorance is bliss … right?

I was fascinated by Westerfeld’s dystopian world in which everyone is beautiful and having fun. But you might be thinking, where is the dystopia? This sure sounds utopian to me!  (Well, except for whole eliminating any sense of diversity or celebration of differences.) Turns out there’s something even more sinister about the surgery that makes you pretty… lesions.

After Shay’s mysterious disappearance and talk of the “New Smoke”, a rebel group forming in opposition of the city’s authorities, Tally is sent on a mission by her city’s authorities to find Shay and the rebel group she is staying with. Once there, one of the rebels, David tries to explain to Tally that the surgery is not what she thought it was.

“And now everybody is happy, because everyone looks the same: They’re all pretty. No more Rusties, no more war. Right?”

“Yeah. In school, they say it’s all really complicated, but that’s basically the story.”

He smiled grimly. “Maybe it’s not so complicated. Maybe the reason war and all that other stuff went away is that there are no more controversies, no disagreements, no people demanding change. Just masses of smiling pretties, and a few people left to run things.”

“Becoming pretty doesn’t just change the way you look,” she said.

“No,” David said. “It changes the way you think.”

-pg. 267-268, Uglies

David explains to Tally that in addition to all the superficial products of the surgery, each pretty ends up with lesions, abnormal brain cells. This brain damage keeps you from thinking too deeply about any one subject or feeling any sense of disagreement; as Westerfeld describes it, your world become “bubbly” and you become a “bubblehead”. The city authorities maintain order and control by occupying the masses with numerous superficial entertainments. There’s nothing to preoccupy their bubbly thoughts but the upcoming party, the newest fashion trend, the next greatest pleasure that New Pretty Town has to offer.

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Stuart McMillen

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even without the government-issued lesions that Tally and co. have to deal with, we are becoming bubbleheads. Many people have become so concerned with superficial things that it has entirely consumed their lives. Instead of thinking about ways to end poverty or how to improve international relations, people are debating between the mustard and the argento D&G pump or who Brad Womack will propose to at the end of this season of The Bachelor.

I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone, because I’m definitely guilty of getting wrapped up in the insignificant as well. And I don’t think that we should become work-obsessed zombies without enjoying any of life’s pleasures. I doubt that Westerfeld intended us to think either of those things; he wasn’t being nearly as dramatic as Aldous Huxley. I’m just thinking that the next time I’ve been on facebook for who knows how long, I might just log off and go read the news. (Or another book perhaps?)

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