Monday, September 29, 2008


For my class I had to try and observe Dystopian elements in some every day situation. This is my report back:

I did not plan to spend an hour in the Post Office on Lyons Ave in Santa Clarita, but that is how it turned out, so I started taking notes while I was standing in a line that stretched almost to the door (Just a tip, avoid the Post Office on Lyons between 4 and 5).

Now the post office is kind of a gimme when looking for dystopian elements, because it has all of the qualities that a set designer would incorporate into 1984: The Musical!

There are many, many cameras. Some of them focused on the patrons and others focused on the employees.
There are walls lined with numbered metal boxes.
There are lines, which are not to be complained about.
There are authority figures in matching uniforms.
There are forms and forms and forms and forms.
And most importantly – and most dystopianly – there are very clearly systems at work that are hidden and mysterious.

The people I encountered in the United States Post Office were less interesting than the way that they interacted with it (though I was a couple people back from one of those six/seven year-old-girls who wanted to know why things were happening).
The Post Office is long with a counter running down the length. ON this counter can be found the various and specific forms that one would need to fill out before mailing a package. Like so much of what I observed there, this was a good idea that was poorly implemented. Most people – myself included – were unsure of which forms to fill out, so the forms were gathered up and studied nervously while people waited in line. Seldom were the forms being correctly filled out.
The people who worked at the counter (there were two at a counter built for at least three) seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They answered questions quickly and demonstrated a depth of knowledge on questions of Postal Service operations. However they demonstrated less depth of knowledge in human relations. The customers who arrived at the counter were fatigued from waiting in a long line and the employees behind the counter were quite often annoyed at the customers who did not fill the forms out correctly.
What most struck me about my interaction with the Postal Service employee (a man a little older than myself who seemed too fit considering what his job entailed) was that as I handed over my one envelope and three small packages (books wrapped in paper labels), he rattled off a well-practiced bit of script asked me if my packages contained any liquids or flammable materials. I was struck by how slightly afraid I was suddenly. “They’re books.” I said. I immediately realized that he had not asked that and in order to prove my innocence I offered up more information than I was required to.
That is what I think connected my experience most closely to the concepts of dystopia. While it is true that the forms and the lines were right out of Brazil, the way that I felt, came straight from Orwell.
I felt immediately as though I were being accused of something, though no accusation had been made. I felt instantly the need to prove that I was upstanding and following the rules. What was even more interesting was that the USPS employee was not even trying to accuse me, the accusation had been operationalized into his daily routine. Distrust – maybe rightly – had been built into the system.
What is more dystopian than that?

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