Do pessimistic works make us happier?

“When the year 2000 comes, we will be 40 years old! If we don’t live now, tomorrow will be too late! Inevitably, some lines have aged a little… However, the new staging of starmania currently showing, after two years of postponement because of a pandemic, is horribly topical. Why horribly? Because starmaniait’s horrible.

At the exit of the musical Seine, the spectators of the show are in shock. “I did not remember this violence,” explains Nathalie, who came with her 14-year-old daughter. Léa, a fan of songs by starmania and de Balavoine in particular is all turned upside down: “The character of Johnny is very hard, it’s difficult to like him. And then it’s so sad…”

Tubes and shade

“In 1979, starmaniait was a dystopia, a pessimistic projection of our humanity in the future, explains Thomas Jolly, director of the show. Today, reality has caught up with fiction. Plamondon was prophetic. There are plenty of amazing things in his texts: the question of gender, ecology, the rise of nationalism, terrorism… Somewhere, starmania predicted the September 11 attacks since it ends with the destruction of the tallest tower in the West…” More generally, starmania 2022 will speak to the heart of the disenchanted post-Covid generationwith one in two songs evoking despair, loss of meaning and suicidal thoughts.

Thomas Jolly’s staging relies, of course, on the original songs which are, for the most part, hits, but also on sharp lights, agonizing contrasts with characters with faces in shadow. Zéro Janvier’s tower and the costumes also take up codes from recent dystopias such as The Hunger Games Where Squid Game.

“The villains of a dystopia today would be climatosceptics. »

In this, starmania perfectly fits the definition of dystopia given to us by Jean-Pierre Andrevonauthor of science fiction novels andAnthology of dystopias “The question posed by dystopias is ‘what kind of society do we choose?’ The worst dystopias are those that are valiantly accepted by those who live it without realizing it. Today, the danger is climate change, the depletion of resources, pollution… The villains of today’s dystopia would be climatosceptics. »

But it is not only on the stage of the musical Seine that the dystopian genre is brought up to date. On Disney+, series Andor square the Star Wars universe on this niche. Dehumanizing totalitarian regime (with imperial costumes worthy of a III Reich SF), destruction of ecosystems and indigenous cultures, corruption of the elites… and heroically desperate resistance.

On another platform, Hulu, it’s season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tales which has just ended. The series, and the book by Margaret Atwood from which it is based, depicts a society plagued by an epidemic that enslaves women to ensure the survival of the human species. A successful dystopia that revived the genre. But who also poses the question of gender interest

The pleasure of the worst

“There is currently a debate in the middle of the imagination, notes Betty Piccioliauthor and literary director of the festival l’Ouest hurlant. Are we not too permanently pessimistic in our fictions? Wouldn’t it be better to write utopias? As authors, don’t we have a responsibility to show something else? »

Joachim Thome, game author The Wind Tribes, abounds in the same direction: “It seems to me that there is an unhealthy enjoyment in imagining the worst, the catastrophe, and in recounting it. Why a science fiction story would necessarily be negative, dark and violent. In my game, I wanted to imagine an inspiring story. The idea of ​​reconstruction or construction interests me more than the idea of ​​collapse. »

The good bad story

If in The Wind Tribes, the players must, as a tribe and therefore in cooperation, rebuild a better world, more colorful and centered on the preservation of nature, the game is a bit alone in its niche. Many dystopian works depict alienating societies and their collapse. “There is a desire to see the society that makes us suffer disappear, observes Joachim Thôme. But for several generations it will be the horror of this collapse. »

Why, then, not to project oneself on the after, or better, on stories of reparation. “There is a technical aspect that is difficult to circumvent: to write a story, you need conflict, observes Betty Piccioli. It’s easier to write a story where everything is going badly than when everything is going well… But you can do it by getting out of the fascination with misfortune. »

Woe to all

Especially since this misfortune always tends to strike the same people… In starmania, it is women who die (Cristal is murdered, Stella commits suicide, Marie-Jeanne is condemned to misfortune…). “In dystopias, and the genre of the imaginary in general, the female characters are often the worst treated, observes Betty Piccioli. It’s as if, to become an interesting character, a woman must necessarily suffer and face traumas specific to her gender. It’s something I talk about a lot with other authors. If we choose to make our female characters suffer, at least let’s do it in a less sexist way. »

The Handmaid’s Tales was thus accused of wallowing in the spectacle of women’s suffering. But current or older dystopias have other blind spots: the situation of racialized people, the question of disability, homophobia… To stay in the game (according to), dystopias must imagine the worst for everyone .

Do pessimistic works make us happier?