Richard Clay explores utopian visions for a better world - from radical politics to online communities - and asks if they can inspire real change.
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Is it part of the human condition
to dream of living in a better world?
In a utopia?
Ever since Thomas More coined the term,
the idea of utopia has captivated us.
It's been reimagined and reinvented by generations of writers
and artists and dreamers, each interpreting it
in their own distinctive ways.
But why has this vision of a place somewhere between fiction and reality
exerted such a hold over us?
Utopian dreams have driven popular culture...
..and high art.
From Swift to Star Trek...
..Wagner to Wikipedia,
utopias have broadened the horizons of the human imagination,
inspiring extraordinary architecture...
Look at this.
..whole new genres of fiction...
..and radical experimental communities.
We're a deviant culture.
We change the relationship that the people have with material goods.
In this programme, I'm going to find out how utopias start as aspiration,
as blueprints for fairer worlds.
Could you guys come up with some rules about your own perfect worlds?
I'll explore the values that utopian visions have in common and whether
they can inspire real change.
If you can improve the world for the most marginalised population,
it can get better for all of us.
By finding out what you can do,
it's the only way you can be the best person you can be.
I want to ask what our utopian visions reveal
about humanity's deepest hopes
This seems like an age ago now, doesn't it?
A kind of warning that the route
towards a better world is rarely smooth.
This is our time to restore prosperity and
promote the cause of peace, and reaffirm that while we breathe,
we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubts
and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that
timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people -
yes, we can.
-Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
We all want to believe in a better world, in a utopia.
The big puzzle, of course,
and it's baffled humanity at least since Plato,
is how do we get there?
Let's start with perhaps the most basic utopia of all -
a moment of liberation from the humdrum of everyday life.
FOOTBALL CROWD CHANTS
Where better to begin than at a football match?
Here, tens of thousands of people come together
to share in a common passion and a dream.
If there's one person who understands this utopia,
it's veteran commentator John Motson.
I think for many, many people
it was always a release, because when football crowds were huge,
just after the Second World War,
many people worked, not just Monday to Friday,
but the men would also work Saturday morning.
And when they left their jobs at lunchtime on Saturday
they would make straight for the football stadium,
and that was their release at the end of
a very gruelling and maybe boring working week.
There was a utopian feel about it because this was their moment when
they could let off steam, or cheer or boo or support their local club.
I love those Lowry paintings of the football grounds and
everyone processing in...
-..as a direct equivalent of the factory.
And, of course, going to the match is one of them, isn't it?
It conveys them descending on a football ground.
The factory worker and the managers are all in the same place and
they're all cheering for the same thing.
-And that's quite amazing in terms of bringing
a community back together.
Yeah, and I think that's where this feeling of belonging...
..for a football fan, is really essential to why he's going,
because once he gets inside the ground,
he is irrevocably linked to the performance of those players
and to the brains of that manager.
You know, suddenly, they're at one.
They all want success
and if it's failure,
they all go through that as well, together.
Football says something to me about the resilience of humans and
their ability to keep on hoping and keep on dreaming.
Yes, yeah. Absolutely. Clubs have their good runs and their bad runs
and the supporters live through the bad runs,
hoping that the good run is going to come very soon.
I always remember reading Alan Sillitoe's book,
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.
-Oh, yeah, wonderful.
-And sort of the antihero of that, where he said,
the chapter started, "He always knew Notts were going to lose,"
cos the guy was a Notts County fan, but he was so pessimistic
when he went to the game!
So, and I mean, that makes another point -
football isn't all about, you know, standing there and yelling, I mean,
there is a sort of a sentimental,
cultural side to the way people follow the game.
John Motson's right. Football is about so much more than football.
I think it speaks to a deeper yearning.
This shared hope for better, week in, week out, come what may.
It seems to me that hope,
that optimism is something that runs as a current
all the way through human history.
The kind of hope for better that we see in football fans
was given philosophical gravitas by the Tudor polymath Thomas More.
More set out a blueprint for a better world - an imaginary,
idealised society, with a name which started
as a knowing classical joke.
Literally, in Latinised Greek,
utopia means "no place".
It's a place that can't exist,
or a place that doesn't exist.
But when Thomas More published the book in 1516,
he included a poem in which he spelt the word differently -
eutopie, which means a "good place".
And it's that inherent ambiguity
that means that utopia's been contested for centuries.
More's own dream of utopia was of a faraway land.
His book is presented as a mariner's tale.
It was written in an era of feverish excitement,
as a new and perhaps better world was being charted across the seas.
In Bristol, tourists take a spin in a replica of the Matthew -
the small ship in which John Cabot sailed
across the Atlantic in 1497...
..and reached North America.
During the Age of Exploration,
there were ships like this travelling all over the world,
packed with hardy souls,
desperate to find new knowledge, new understanding,
who knows? New lands.
To me, the sea was like the internet of its age -
little packets of information travelling backwards and forwards,
crisscrossing the globe.
And those sailors who were coming into ports were coming with
pretty tall tales of lands far away that were verging on perfect.
The promise of a utopia,
of a better place, of a good place,
always seemed to be just over the horizon.
Thomas More's Utopia was partly inspired by
Amerigo Vespucci's reports of
his encounters with the natives of South America,
innocent and uncorrupted by the European love of gold.
The natives of More's Utopia have democracy,
religious tolerance and no private property.
What's fascinating, I think, is that More puts forward a version
of communism several centuries before Marx and Lenin.
Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich,
for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness,
peace of mind and freedom from anxiety?
It's a very romantic idea that, back in the Golden Age of Exploration,
people weren't just looking for trade routes and new resources
but they were also looking for the answers to kind of all
the big questions in life, you know, and the...
And, therefore, to utopia.
There's amazing stories and tales about people searching for
Shangri-La and Eden and...
I think today we're still the same.
We might have mapped the planet,
but there's still so much to see and experience for ourselves.
Explorer Belinda Kirk has tracked camels through
China's "Desert of Death"...
..uncovered ancient rock paintings in Lesotho...
..and rowed unsupported right around Britain.
She believes that seeking out new and better worlds
is more than just a choice - it's an innate urge.
There's a lot of studies about the explorer gene,
which has been identified as 7R and which is also known as
the wanderlust gene.
So, this idea that a fifth of the population have this...
..real, strong feeling to explore.
Now, that exploration might be physically looking for new lands
or it might be that they are our philosophers.
You know, they have got new ideas
and they're the people who break those boundaries.
Do you think that there's, you know,
something utopian, inherently, about all exploration?
I think it's the characteristic that is largely the reason for our
development and evolution.
The groups that are innovative, that are exploring,
they're going to come up with the solutions
and I think that's what you need, isn't it, for any utopia?
You need progress and people being engaged, people being excited.
There's that hope that this could be the trip that is really enriching.
Is that what keeps you going back?
I think at the time you don't always think that.
There's a lot of type two fun in exploration.
Don't know if you've heard of that.
No, what's type one?
So, type one is fun at the time and fun afterwards.
Type two is not fun at the time but fun afterwards.
And type three is not fun at any time.
So, a lot of what happens on expeditions is you suffer a bit,
but you learn that, through suffering,
you can achieve things that you wouldn't otherwise achieve,
and then I think you take that into the rest of your life.
It does sound a little bit utopian, this idea that you can discover
a better place that doesn't have to be an actual place,
it can be a better place for yourself.
By finding out what you can do,
it's the only way you can be the best person you can be.
Perhaps we don't all have the explorer gene,
but that doesn't mean we can't go on a voyage to discover utopia vicariously.
The exploits of the Age of Exploration spurred writers
to imagine new and ever more exotic worlds.
One 18th-century author's story of an explorer
enduring a lot of type two fun has become
one of the most influential works of literature ever written,
and it would ultimately inspire utopian change in the real world.
"I slept sounder than I ever remember having done in my life,
"for when I awakened it was just daylight.
"I attempted to rise, but I wasn't able to stir.
"I found that my arms and my legs were strongly fastened on each side
"to the ground. In a little time,
"I felt something alive moving on my left leg.
"Bending my eyes downwards,
"I perceived there to be a human creature not six inches tall.
"In the meantime, I felt at least 40 more of the same kind
"following the first.
"I was in the utmost astonishment and I roared loud.
"And then they all ran away in fright."
-Where were we?
-What's the special thing about Lilliput?
-Everyone was very small and then, like,
the trees are like that big.
At Seven Stories,
the National Centre For Children's Literature in Newcastle -
a little utopia in itself -
Matthew Grenby's running a workshop for local schoolchildren,
exploring Jonathan Swift's work and our love of fantastical worlds.
Can you think of any books that you've read where there are other made-up lands?
-Oh, Harry Potter, interesting.
-Hogwarts, that doesn't exist?
-Are you sure?
-Yeah? Anywhere else?
-Alice In Wonderland?
Alice In Wonderland! So, Wonderland, that doesn't exist either.
One thing that we thought we'd ask you to do is make up a place
which is different from your normal life.
I'm just interested to see how it would actually look.
-So, it's always sunny in this world, is it?
Uh-huh. And that's what makes the trees grow so well?
-It turns them happy.
There's no cars. You've just got to walk everywhere.
Ah. What's this here?
It's a town on a flower.
A town on a flower?
-So all the celebrities live on the petals.
-Right, and who lives in the middle?
-Just normal people.
So is it better to be a celebrity or a normal person?
While Thomas More wrote Utopia for a narrow audience -
the erudite Tudor ruling class -
what made Gulliver's Travels so enduring
is that Swift aimed it at a much broader readership,
empowering them to dream.
He is doing something really remarkable with it -
he is making it a much more approachable kind of utopia
than there has been before. He's putting in these little people,
the Lilliputians, he's putting in the big people,
all of the strange fantasy inventions
which give it a new kind of life, I think,
and make it available for a much bigger audience.
So, as soon as Gulliver's Travels comes out, everybody's reading it,
whether they're aristocrats at court or,
we're told, children in schools.
It's obviously written by a man who has an agenda.
What are his politics?
By this stage, Swift has been on a bit of a political journey
and he's now a Tory. Not in the modern sense a Tory, maybe -
he's someone who has a real sympathy for those who are left out of power.
To me, it's a defining element of utopian fiction,
that it has an agenda.
Jonathan Swift made his principles clear in the preface to his story,
where he claimed that the bulk of the people were...
Forced to live miserably by labouring every day
for small wages to make a few live plentifully.
In utopias, there are often a lot of rules to make sure that everybody
behaves in the right way so that the whole society functions really well.
So, could you guys come up with some rules about your own perfect worlds?
With his idea of escaping into extraordinary worlds,
Jonathan Swift arguably invented children's literature
and, just as importantly, he put utopian dreams into the heart of it.
Some of the very first children's books that are published
in the 1740s and the 1750s,
so just a couple of decades after Gulliver's Travels,
they pick up on this idea of big and small,
which is embodied in the word "Lilliput",
and you have The Lilliputian Magazine -
the first magazine written for children, 1751-1752,
which has taken that word from Swift.
It's a really interesting publication.
It has poetry in it, it has riddles,
it has all sorts of miscellaneous contents, including -
and this is what I find so fascinating -
three or four utopian stories,
little travel narratives which are rather like what's happened in
Gulliver's Travels and which are going to take these young readers
to some really extraordinary places, governed by extraordinary rules.
In your perfect world, are there any rules that people have to obey?
Yeah, don't argue - discuss. And if you're sad, be happy.
And what about this one I can see there?
No-one's allowed not to like football?
If anyone tries to be more important than other people,
they're not allowed to be more important - everyone's equal.
The Lilliputian Magazine's utopian stories are each about how a child
takes over an island kingdom
and rules it according to their own edicts
to make it a better place.
One of them was The History Of The Mercolians,
about a little boy who manages to save a corrupt society
by leading his people to a new island and putting in his own rules
to make it a much more virtuous country.
And the remarkable thing about that is that in this new country,
there's a radical redistribution of property.
"All inhabitants, every four years,
"are to bring their money into the public treasury,
"from which an equal distribution was made again."
That sounds a bit like some of your ideas,
about everybody being equal.
-Don't you think?
Stories like this in The Lilliputian Magazine had real impact,
seeding revolutionary ideas among a new generation of thinkers
living at a time of intellectual and political ferment.
In the late 18th century, the shock of the French Revolution
reverberated through Britain's stratified society.
This was a time when industrialisation was creating
"dark Satanic mills" and William Blake dreamed of a spiritual utopia,
a "Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land".
One young reader of The Lilliputian Magazine, perhaps more influenced by
its writings than any other, was Thomas Spence.
This radical political firebrand
was born into a poor family in Newcastle.
He had 18 brothers and sisters
and he actually lifted whole sections of The Lilliputian Magazine
and used them directly in his own radical political writings.
For Spence, the route to utopia on earth lay,
perhaps unsurprisingly for a kid from such a big family,
in gathering resources and sharing them.
For him, it was all about commonsing.
The concept of the commons, the ideal of shared ownership
by a community, is, I think, a vital but often overlooked strand
of utopian thought.
We take it for granted today, but common land, like much public space,
has had to be fought for tooth and nail.
This is Newcastle's Town Moor,
1,000 acres of rural space slam in the middle of urban Newcastle.
It might look peaceful nowadays,
but in 1771,
this was the battleground that fired Thomas Spence's utopian politics.
When landowners threatened to enclose the moor,
Spence rallied the local freemen
to campaign for common ownership of the land.
The freemen wished to see the people of Newcastle
enjoy sole and several grazing rights in perpetuity
by being able to lead their animals up the hill and onto the moor
for the summer season.
Spence clearly did ignite the debate,
was provocative, and he did generate the thinking behind a common.
And they actually succeeded?
It took a week in Parliament
and they came back with the Town Moor Act, 1774.
They were hailed as heroes
and it's led to where we are today.
Well, today, a quarter of a millennium later,
and there are still cows being grazed on the moor by freemen.
I mean, that's quite a victory.
It's tremendous, but it is part of the culture in this city.
The Town Moor is the prized asset. It's the city lung.
After helping to create a little utopia in Newcastle,
Spence scaled up his campaign,
thumbing his nose at the grandest landowner in Britain -
His Majesty, King George III himself.
That's Thomas Spence's alternative national anthem.
In his championing of the poor,
Spence dreamed of commonsing not just land, but education and money.
This is a really, really important historical object.
It's a 1797 cartwheel penny
and with this object,
Spence saw an incredible opportunity to get his message,
his utopian vision, out to the masses.
200 million of these were issued in the 1790s by the Crown.
The first time Britons owned an identical image of Britannia and,
of course, of King George.
So what Spence did was he took them
and he counter-stamped them with his message.
"No landlords, you fools,
"Spence's plan for ever."
He sent thousands of these coins back into circulation.
His plan was utterly visionary.
And for having it, conceiving of it,
he found himself repeatedly in prison, and repeatedly,
he defended the principles he dedicated his life to.
The King thought he'd issued a propagandist message to the people,
Spence took it and issued a utopian vision to the people.
Thomas Spence died in 1814 in the same poverty
into which he had been born.
If he was alive today,
I'd like to imagine that he'd be a digital rights campaigner...
..because in cyberspace, his idea of the commons remains
a powerful, if contested, concept.
Here, the commons is no longer about shared land, of course,
but about shared ideas.
I'm going to try to explain how it is that the internet
takes Thomas Spence's thinking about the commons on to a whole new level.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, that great Irish playwright,
you can think of it like this...
If I've got an apple and you've got an apple
and we exchange our apples,
we both end up with one apple.
But if I have an idea and you have an idea
and we exchange ideas,
we both end up with two ideas.
The concept of a commons of ideas and knowledge on the internet
is championed today by Wikipedia.
In Berlin, hundreds of Wikipedia editors from across the world
are holding a convention.
I think of this as a kind of UN of knowledge.
They're sharing ideas and bravely fighting for free speech
in their time, just as Spence did in his.
It's really just thousands of people trying to get things right,
so that what's being presented on Wikipedia is the truth.
The crowd-made online encyclopaedia is nothing if not ambitious
in its utopian dream -
for every human to freely share in the sum of all knowledge.
With 18 billion visits every month,
40 million articles
in almost 300 languages...
..and around 120,000 regular volunteer editors,
Wikipedia is arguably one of humanity's
greatest collective efforts.
So, are you ready to edit?
-You're ready. So, you're going to click the edit.
Executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher,
is helping me to become a Wikipedian.
I'm going to go for something I know a bit about -
the French Revolution.
I was hoping there might be missing references, but I'm seeing...
There are some missing references in this section.
That looks like something that we could do.
I want the Mission: Impossible music.
Oh, what have I done? I've made a shambles of this.
I really have made a shambles of this. You see...
We'll be able to edit it.
There's an important lesson here, which is - concentrate.
VOICEOVER: Here we have a commons,
but is this commons a virtual utopia?
Is it really as smooth-running,
democratic and idealistic as it appears to be?
In practice, it would seem impossible for such a model to work,
that you could ask people to write some sort of common sense
of knowledge, come to consensus on difficult issues
and that anybody could edit it, right, and that wouldn't fall prey
to sort of vandalism or other problems.
But the reality is that Wikipedia works and it works remarkably well
and it works in 300 different languages,
with all of these people from all over the globe.
So I think there is something in there that is about sort of
an optimism and a generosity of spirit
that speaks to our better nature.
Are there any topics that you could imagine
that would not be worthy of coverage?
Oh, Wikipedians decide that sort of thing every single day.
Wikipedians determine what's notable and what's not and it's not
necessarily the same thing as what's famous and what's not.
You could have notable things in Wikipedia that no-one...that only
five people have ever heard of,
but it's important in some way to human knowledge.
And then you could have things that are essentially ephemera,
that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Is that, in any way,
pointing towards the sort of tension within the organisation,
between those who want to include more?
Yes, we actually call them inclusionists and deletionists...
-..and there is a strong tendency...
Most Wikipedians have a tendency one way or another. I'm an inclusionist.
I believe that the more things that we have that are available
for people to learn from, the more we represent sort of the truth
of the world around us.
I kind of imagine Wikipedia as being a utopian community.
-Which is to say, it has no physical place,
but it's definitely part of a drive to make the world better.
I think there's a utopian aspect to what we believe,
that free knowledge should be available for all,
that everyone should be able to participate in it,
not just consume it,
and that we should reach every single person on the planet.
What really strikes me about Katherine Maher's vision
for Wikipedia is the notion of equal access and equal rights
for everyone on the planet.
In other words, equality.
Alongside the commons,
the ideal of equality is a vital pillar of much utopian thinking.
People often assume that equality is something humanity
has come up with rather recently, but in fact,
the struggle for equality takes us deeper still into utopian dreams.
Let us make this conference the beginning of a stage in our quest
for making democracy the thing it should be
and should have been 200 years ago.
This is the time that we will make women and men share equally.
Thank you very, very much.
where different peoples and sexes enjoy equal rights,
have a long and rich history.
In 1405, a century before Thomas More
and more than 500 years before Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch,
Christine de Pizan wrote The Book Of The City Of Ladies.
De Pizan extolled women's accomplishments.
Her allegorical city is a refuge from patriarchy and male dominance
populated, she writes, by "all women who have loved and do love
"and will love virtue and morality".
From the City of Ladies to the City of Angels.
In Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood's dream factory,
which has pushed out countless visions
of alternative better worlds,
there's a project that fits squarely into the feminist utopian tradition.
This is a rehearsal of a play that continues the fight
for gender equality by exploring how pregnant women are marginalised.
The Bumps is a play that's written specifically for a cast
of three pregnant actors at three different stages of pregnancy.
The piece is a way to create a small economy for pregnant performers
in the absence of one.
And it felt really good for me.
It's very moving to watch you guys work together, cos I feel like...
Playwright Rachel Kauder Nalebuff's avant-garde play is about more than
giving an opportunity to pregnant actors,
it's also a provocative feminist critique
of why that opportunity doesn't usually exist.
The hope is that watching pregnant actors on stage makes everyone
start to wonder, "Why have I never seen this before?
"And not just in the theatre,
"but what else is broken about our current world
"that I'm now suddenly realising is broken
"because I've just assumed that pregnant women are invisible
"and don't participate in society?"
Almost everything I know, I've taught myself.
Yeah, discover it.
How to walk down the street.
How to bleed...
There's a bell hooks quote that I really love, which is that
"art should do more than show us the world as is,
"it should show us what the world could be",
and so something that I really love about utopian art
is that it acknowledges the reality.
You know, it's not dreamy, la-la, oblivious to what's going on
because, by creating a solution,
or an experimental solution,
you're also reflecting on something you're dissatisfied with.
I just want someone in my life, you know?
And this feels so different from meeting.
Why do you think there's a really urgent need to be thinking about,
talking about, feminist utopias now?
The feminist approach to utopia is really crucial because what it does
is it rejects the idea that utopia is the product of one man's genius,
or anybody's genius, and that, actually, utopia...
..requires a multiplicity of minds,
and the theatre, to me, is the natural place to explore
utopian thinking in a feminist way because it's so collaborative.
OK, let's play through again, and what if you used more space?
-Within the space.
And you can also allow yourself to...
It's about realising the patriarchy is limiting for all of us,
it traps everyone, and that, if you have fair pay,
if you have affordable childcare, if you have sane labour practices,
these are things that make the world a better place for everybody.
If you can improve the world for the most marginalised population,
it's a key to how it can get better...for all of us.
The more I explore it, the more I am struck by how
disruptive utopian art like Bumps can be,
helping us re-engage with the problems in the real world,
giving us a glimpse of a way towards a better future.
This has never been more so than in the 1960s,
a time of utopian optimism perhaps like no other.
Alongside experiments with values and chemical stimulants,
the 1960s was also the moment
when explorers started to look for utopia
not on the other side of the world, but in space.
# Hey, Mr Spaceman
# Won't you please take me along?
# I won't do anything wrong... #
The exploration of space is one of the great adventures of all time.
We choose to go to the moon.
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things
not because they are easy but because they are hard.
Space exploration launched a new wave of utopian storytelling
nowhere more powerfully than via the new medium of television.
Setting their stories in space, television writers could smuggle
daring and subversive futures under the radar
and see them broadcast into millions of living rooms.
One series in particular was hugely influential
in tackling the issue of racial equality.
This one I like the most.
They caught the essence of who I am in this picture.
-These are original publicity shots?
Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek,
her role on the bridge of the USS Enterprise inherently utopian
as she sought to communicate in hundreds of alien languages.
A signal, Captain.
It's very weak. It's Balok.
It's a distress signal to the Fesarius.
We might smile today at the cardboard sets
and primitive special effects,
but in Star Trek we see a coming together
of so many utopian elements.
-Negative. The signal is growing weak.
Sir, I doubt if the mother ship could have heard it.
What's intriguing is that it's an escapist entertainment,
like Gulliver's Travels.
There's a crew in which men and women are equal
and they strive for peace in a galactic commons.
This is the Captain speaking. First Federation vessel is in distress.
We're preparing to board it.
There are lives at stake - by our standards, alien life,
but lives nevertheless. Captain out.
This was also an imagined utopia that set out to change reality.
Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry,
was making a statement on the struggle for civil rights in America
by writing a black officer onto the bridge of the Enterprise.
He was one of the most brilliant men on the planet
and if somebody came up and said, "That doesn't make sense,"
he'd hold a conference with them,
and he said, "That comes from your limited point of view.
"I'm talking about the big picture."
What were his ideals like?
In a word, "We are one."
Your performances are so strong,
partly because you really feel the message...
-..that Gene Roddenberry's sharing.
Because we were doing something that we really believed in
and you had something...
..to hold on to, to hold up.
This is where I'm coming from.
In an episode called Plato's Stepchildren,
the series boldly went where American television had so far
feared to go with the first interracial kiss on screen.
I'm so frightened, Captain.
I'm so very frightened.
That's the way they want you to feel.
Makes them think that they're alive.
Kirk and Uhura's dialogue, ostensibly about telekinetic aliens,
can be interpreted as a commentary on white supremacists.
Kirk, as I recall, he's like, you know, like this,
and he said,
"I told you I'd get you sooner or later!"
Did you realise when you shot that kiss
how long it would be remembered for?
This enormously important, historical TV kiss?
Oh. Oh, yes. Yes, yes.
And they said, when the kiss went on, you know,
this was an interracial thing,
and I simply said...
"Yeah, cos that's what my whole family is."
They wrote my life.
Nichelle considered quitting the show early on because she worried
Uhura didn't have enough to do,
but she was convinced to continue by Dr Martin Luther King,
who saw the significance of a black female role model
being beamed into American living rooms.
I have a dream
that one day on the red hills of Georgia...
..the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners
will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream.
Do I gather that you recognise me?
I recognise what you APPEAR to be.
Martin Luther King's utopian dream shines through a Star Trek episode
in which the crew beam Abraham Lincoln onto the ship.
And there's a telling exchange with Uhura.
Excuse me, Captain Kirk?
What a charming Negress.
Oh, forgive me, my dear.
I know that in my time some use that term as a description of property.
But why should I object to that term, sir?
You see, in our century, we've learned not to fear words.
May I present our communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura?
The foolishness of my century had me apologising
where no offence was given.
We've each learned to be delighted with what we are.
Dr King was a man who preached that we should not see differences
-..and that we should love one another.
Do you feel that Dr King's message
was really quite like Star Trek's message?
Yes, very much.
That's why he was a Trekker.
He was, you know, and he made no bones about it.
He was so pleased that we were
getting what he meant.
Utopian visions like Star Trek act as a beacon.
They're crucial in criticising the present
so as to mark the way towards a better future.
But there's a flip side to utopian thinking -
Dystopian literature reminds us that hard-won gains can be lost,
dreams like equality and shared ownership can go out of the window.
Dystopias warn us we must beware humanity's darker,
authoritarian side if we're ever to reach a better place.
Just outside Vilnius in Lithuania, I'm being interrogated by the KGB
in an immersive and very disorientating theatre experience.
They call it 1984 - The Survival Drama
after George Orwell's classic dystopian novel
about the Big Brother state.
This three-hour performance, set 20 feet underground
in a disused nuclear bunker, distils the Soviet experience
into a grim, unremitting dystopia.
HE SPEAKS RUSSIAN
The creators, for whom the Soviet experience is recent memory,
believe you can't just read about dystopia, you have to feel it.
Why do you put people through this?
Just to make people understand how living in Soviet Union was like.
This experience, working here,
is very important for me because I love free Lithuania,
I love freedom, and I want to show our society that freedom
is much more better than totalitarian system.
Orwell's bleak vision of life under a totalitarian state,
still a bestseller today...
OFFICER SPEAKS RUSSIAN
..is a recurring metaphor.
The book even has a cameo as a prop,
or rather, a blunt weapon!
You imagine George Orwell might have approved.
As his sinister interrogator O'Brien warns hero Winston Smith...
If you want a picture of the future,
imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.
Astonishingly, it's popular with tourists and school parties,
who play the role of participant and victim.
We have a lot of students from schools,
so we call it live history lesson.
So three hours they are here, just facing the Soviet Union,
the discipline there and all the reality.
So, how do the schoolkids respond?
I mean, it's quite an immersive,
a very immersive and quite a daunting experience.
So, usually, you know, they come here and they are thinking that
this is a game, you know? Like, the guys were 17, 16 years old.
They are coming here and just behaving like, "What...
"What can you do for me?" you know?
So, it takes about ten minutes and we've got the silence there,
you know, and they are kind of scared.
Perhaps they walk out realising quite how lucky they are
to have been born when they were born.
Yes, yes, they go out, usually through this door,
and they are shouting, "Freedom!" you know?
And...just like going out of the jail!
Stretch your hands.
Spread your fingers.
Close your eyes.
It might seem extreme, but the Nineteen Eighty-Four experience
is hardly outlandish in our culture.
Where George Orwell led, others have followed.
In the 18th century,
young people read the utopian stories of The Lilliputian Magazine.
Now it's dystopian comics that help them understand their world.
The 1990s cult Marvel series Transmetropolitan
is a classic example.
It imagined a near future of information overload
in which truth is lost in a morally bankrupt society
bingeing on a diet of sex and violence.
Transmetropolitan, the whole hook was,
when truth is lies,
who do you look to to bring you what's actually happening?
Who's your guide through that world? A journalist.
Transmetropolitan's author, Warren Ellis,
is one of Britain's most prolific comic book and sci-fi writers.
For him, the warning about a dark authoritarian future is about
helping his generally young readership to navigate issues
of politics and control.
Reading dystopic fiction in comics can give kids tools to understand
the way the world is run and letting them know
that they are not alone in their lack of understanding
and general horror at the way the world is.
So, there's this one passage
that I just think is really staggeringly prescient.
So, he's broadcasting to the city.
-"Your boss does what he likes.
"The papers and feedsites that lie to you for the hell of it,
"they do what they like,
"and what do you do? You pay them.
"You must like it
"when people in authority they never earned lie to you."
These things are always true in dystopian fiction -
One of the many little shocks that Winston Smith gets
in Nineteen Eighty-Four is discovering that O'Brien
can turn off the telescreens.
-Sudden, unearned, secret privilege.
The 0.1% were present in Nineteen Eighty-Four,
just as they're present today.
You see, I was wondering about this work
in relation to Nineteen Eighty-Four, of a world where the truth gets lost
and you don't bother to question it or challenge it.
This is why Nineteen Eighty-Four was such an important book,
because it was only two steps away from life at the time.
It was Anthony Burgess who actually revealed that at one time
the working title for Nineteen Eighty-Four
was Nineteen Forty-Eight.
RICHARD GASPS OK.
Yeah, it was really very, very close
to the way Orwell saw the world at the time.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of those books
that every generation can find a reflection in
or act to prevent that, or something like that, happening.
I agree with Warren Ellis.
I think of dystopian stories as the warning lights of our time.
And it's striking
how those warning lights are flashing everywhere these days.
They're our favourite big-budget movie franchises
and glossy box-set dramas.
From a sadistic regime forcing teen gladiators to fight to the death
in The Hunger Games...
If I'm going to die, I want to still be me.
I just can't afford to think like that.
..to a Christian fundamentalist state
where the few remaining fertile women are subject to ritualised rape
to bear children for their male masters in The Handmaid's Tale.
You girls will serve the leaders and their barren wives.
You will bear children for them.
Today's utopian fiction pits a heroic protagonist against a world
that's inhumane, full of torture and brutality.
It asks us, how do we hold on to our values in this kind of a space?
Whereas in the 1960s
such literature and film-making was optimistic...
..nowadays it's full of profound fear.
For me, there can be no bigger fear than the horror of Nazism.
Continuing to haunt us,
the Nazi nightmare is being reworked again
in the drama The Man In The High Castle,
which asks us not to assume our future is set.
Amazon's adaptation of Philip K Dick's sci-fi novel
imagines a 1960s America carved up by Germany and Japan which,
in this counterfactual world, have won World War II.
And it was Heydrich who gave the order.
He was following orders.
Probably don't even know why he wanted me and Lautz out of the way.
No, sir, I...
I didn't think so.
This balcony really reminds me of the scene
where the Obergruppenfuhrer throws his adjutant over the edge,
this horrifying moment...
VOICEOVER: Frank Spotnitz developed and produced the series.
Why does he think dystopias are so popular today?
My feeling is that we are living in a period of heightened fear, er,
really since 9/11.
People are very fearful
and dystopian storytelling allows them to work through those fears
in a safe space, an entertaining space.
Do you think that dystopian fiction and film-making
is almost cathartic, then?
I do think, in my small way, I try to tell stories that help us think
about ourselves and make us think about ourselves.
The Man In The High Castle, I think, is a story that really invites you
to look at yourself.
It's really more about us than about Nazis
and that's why, especially in the first season,
they were hardly any Nazis with German accents.
They were all American Nazis.
What I was trying to say was, "Look, you have this in you, too."
-Sieg Heil. Glad you could make it.
Saw you in the parade on TV. That was really something.
Yes, it was.
The Victory in America Day celebration
at the Smith household...
That was like Americana. That was like Thanksgiving and, you know,
saying hello to the neighbour and... That was pretty nice. And, you know,
John Smith has a really lovely wife and children.
Oh! Joe, this is Thomas and Amy and Jennifer.
-Hi, guys. Sieg Heil.
I think you've got to admit that attraction to parts of it.
You could argue that national socialism was a utopian movement.
In their mind, they thought they were perfecting man.
In my mind, that's what makes it evil.
Hitler's vision of utopia was of a genetically pure master race
dominating Europe for 1,000 years.
Please, take a seat.
One storyline in The Man In The High Castle interrogates this utopia
by confronting its main Nazi protagonist
with a terrible personal dilemma.
This won't be easy for you to hear.
Your son has a serious disease.
He discovers his son has a rare degenerative disease
and must, according to Nazi protocols, be euthanized.
That's nonsense. My son is the picture of health.
I'm afraid he isn't.
Within months, perhaps a year...
..there will be paralysis.
That's a mistake, Doctor.
You're making a mistake.
I would never tell you this were I not certain.
The look on his face of realisation, as he suddenly comes to wrestle with
the inner human emotional life that he's supposed to entirely suppress
in the name of the regime, is really striking.
That character, played brilliantly by Rufus Sewell,
was an attempt by me to say
there can be good people who embrace evil ideologies,
that that actually happens all the time.
And that storyline of confronting the terminal illness of his own son,
to me, was a perfect way to force him to face...
..the evil of the ideology he'd embraced.
As for medical assistance,
a syringe and an ampoule of an effective combination.
A good dystopian drama is a warning.
It's a critique of who we are now, saying these are the impulses that
we are exercising, this is who we will become unless we change path.
Frank Spotnitz is right, I think.
The dystopian stories are there to keep us on the righteous path,
in check, on the way towards a better future.
That future might seem uncertain in the current climate of fear,
but it's within our seemingly undaunted search for utopia
that I find some optimism.
Utopias spur the human imagination
and keep us asking the big questions,
whether as dreams of escape and exploration,
as campaigns, or as warnings.
What links these very different visions, it seems to me,
is our almost innate drive to make the world a better place.
We imagine utopias through fiction, I think, because they encourage us.
They speak to the good in us and around us
of utopian acts of everyday life and of extraordinary kindness.
If someone falls in the street, just watch as others rush up to help.
If we're attacked by terrorists, witness our resilience.
Our desires for utopias is, I think,
an important part of the human condition,
the thing that inspires us to keep trying to improve our world.
In the next episode, from imagination to implementation.
Hi, can I join you?
..grand architectural visions.
We're declaring war on the slums.
But is humanity ever really up to the job?
In this first episode, Prof Richard Clay explores how utopian visions begin as blueprints for fairer worlds and asks whether they can inspire real change.
Charting five hundred years of utopian visions and making bold connections between exploration and science fiction - from radical 18th-century politics to online communities like Wikipedia - Richard delves into colourful stories of some of the world's greatest utopian dreamers, including Thomas More, who coined the term 'utopia', Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, and Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek.
Richard builds a compelling argument that utopian visions have been a powerful way of criticising the present and he identifies key values he believes the imagined better futures tend to idealise. He shows how the concept of shared ownership, a 'commons' of both land and digital space online, has fired utopian thinking and he explores the dream of equality through the campaign for civil rights in the 1960s and through a feminist theatrical production in today's America.
Immersing himself in a terrifying '1984' survival drama in Vilnius, Lithuania, Richard also looks at the flip side, asking why dystopias are so popular today in film, TV and comic book culture. He explores whether dystopian visions have been a way to remind ourselves that hard-won gains can be lost and that we must beware humanity's darker side if we are ever to reach a better place.
Across Britain, Germany, Lithuania and America, Richard talks about the meaning of utopia with a rich range of interviewees, including Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols, explorer Belinda Kirk, football commentator John Motson and Hollywood screenwriter Frank Spotnitz.