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May 26, 2023
Narratives have the capability to untap the potential for social change

The power of speculative fiction lays within its ability to provoke societal change through representing the detriments of present concerns. Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange (1962), and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) envision near futures where governmental control has largely restricted autonomy and self - determination. Both texts engage with the ideas and values of their respective cultural and historical contexts. Thereby, Burgess text responds to the contemporary anxieties regarding youth culture and the uprise of teen violence in early 1960’s Britain, whereas Oshii explores the threats posed by technology on the human condition during the advent of the internet in Hong Kong. Burgess and Oshii reveal the imperative role free will plays within the functioning of society through representing a world where such notions are limited. Although decades apart, both authors share a mutual interest for social change before these fictions become a reality. Ultimately, Burgess and Oshii call for societal change through their exploration of humanity and freedom in their respective narratives.

Burgess' narrative provides introspect into his ideals through envisioning a dystopian anarchist future in which violent youth and authoritarian government rule the world, therefore calling for societal changes. Clearly, Burgess assesses the importance of free will through revealing the consequences of it being removed. Furthermore, Burgess responds to the growing tensions between the British authorities and delinquent youth through creating a dystopian society in which excessive governmental control in addition with human experimentation has restricted individual autonomy. Burges' characterisation of Alex, which literally derives from ‘defender of humankind’, illustrates the central theme of free will, reinforced through the novel’s exploration of the human condition. We are introduced to Alex’s arrogant and precarious adolescent freedoms through his adult register “a large Scotchmen all round … and I poured my pocket of deng over the table,” ironically contrasting Alex’s naivety and innocence as a young “droog” with the illegal act of underage drinking to appear more mature. Yet this pursuit of lawlessness and hedonism is a recurring motif of the narrative, with Alex regularly indulging in “Milk Plus”, an LSD laced cocktail subverting the traditional symbolism of milk associated with youth and innocence. Additionally, Alex’s “droogs” drink the same laced substance “Moloko” at the beginning of the novel, reflecting the capacity of narratives to alter diction, register and proper nouns to world build a future dystopia. Burgess explores the threat governmental agency poses on individual free will through F. Alexander’s metaphorical dialogue, seen in, “proposing debilitating and will - sapping techniques of conditioning.” In this, Burgess reveals the disparaging effect governmental conditioning has on individual freedoms evidenced through the “will - sapping” approach to autonomy and self - determination. The prison chaplain affirms this notion through Burgess utilisation of metaphorical language, in, “a man who cannot choose ceases to be a man.” Thus, Burgess notes the ability of choice is what defines our identity. Therefore, the weaking of Alex’s free will is what makes him a “victim of the modern era.” Ultimately, Burges re - imagines societal conventions through his construction of a futuristic dystopia in order to capture the importance of free will in the human condition.

Whilst both texts explore common themes of humanity and free will, Oshii focuses on the nature of identity through his representation of the ontological instability of Motoko Kusanagi. In this, Oshii raises concern for possible societal confinements, enforced by state control, and the consequence this can have on individual expression. In this, Oshii affirms with Burgess’ ideals therefore revealing the potential narratives behold in provoking social change. Furthermore, Oshii explores this notion of change throughout the film’s central idea of duality, displayed through the diving scene. In this, we learn Kusanagi’s enjoyment for engaging in such a sensory experience is due to it being able to transcend her from her conscious state. This is witnessed through the two sides to the image, representative of the brains right and left hemisphere. When interpreting the scene with the understanding of it being a physical representation of her conscious ‘ghost’ state, we are able to identify the dualities of her character. Thus, this symbolism of the brains differing sides, is reinforced through the change in the colour composition and camera angle, during Kusanagi’s ascent to the surface, representative of her transgression into this differing side of her identity. This is a major milestone in the development of Kusanagi in her understanding of reality and identity, therefore Oshii conveys the parallel between Kusanagi’s transgression with the shifting identity of Hong Kong. In, Oshii’s strong use of existentialism, present in Kusanagi’s ascension and evidenced through the Puppet Master’s paradoxical exclaim, witnessed through, “your effort to remain what you are is what limits you,” captures the importance of change. Through the Puppet Master gaining sentience, although originally created by the constricts of governmental control, the ability of emotion, a conventionally human trait, is attained by the artificial intelligence. Therefore, Oshii’s utilisation of the motif of free will, displayed in, “what you are witnessing is an act of my own free will” reveals the sentiment life form engaging in the human condition. In Oshii’s questioning of what determines human identity, he raises concern for the power technology beholds therefore providing his narrative with the capability to untap the potential for societal change. Ultimately, Oshii employs the metaphysical conceit of Kusanagi in order to provoke societal change in our understanding of technology.

Burgess and Oshii comparatively construct future dystopias in order to provoke change in their respective contexts. Both composers use their setting as vehicles of volitation in their exploration of the human condition. Burgess establishes the importance of free will through his creation of the “Municipal Flatblock 18A” and further reinforces this through the propaganda instilled throughout the area. Subsequently, Alex’s assertive tone, seen in, “but of course, some of the malchicks living in 18A had, as was to be expected, embellished and decorated … adding hair and stiff rods and dirty ballooning slovos out of the dignified rots”, we learn that this propaganda has been vandalised. This defacement is representative of the choice between staying within the constructs of conformity, or opposing the traditional narrative, and rebelling. Additionally, in “it may not be nice to be good, little 665321. It may be horrible to be good,” Burgess contradiction reflects the ethicality of forced individual control and dehumanising governmental conditioning. Thereby, the Prison Chaplain extends on this philosophical discussion through Burgess biblical allusion, chiefly demonstrated in, “What does God want? Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness?” Clearly, Burgess suggests Alex choosing evil through exercising his free will is better than him becoming a “piece of clockwork.” Evidently, in Burgess world building, the central theme of free will is presented through his narrative. Similarly, Oshii conveys the synthesis of identity through Kusanagi’s characterisation. Oshii’s approach to the suppressing effects of corrupt political governing in his creation of setting raises concern for the direction Hong Kong was heading towards during the advent of the internet and after the Hong Kong handover. The opening scene of the anime foreshadows the possibility for technology to have a disparaging effect on future society, seen in, “advance of computerisation, however, has not yet wiped-out nations and ethnic groups.” This implicitly is extended through the three minutes aspect – to – aspect cityscape sequence which captures close ups of traffic signs and directions as metaphorical symbols Kusanagi’s directionless state. Therefore, Oshii affirms that, alike Alex, Kusanagi’s identity and existence is both fabricated and controlled by the government. Ultimately, in viewing both Burgess and Oshii’s construction of future societies through setting and characterisation we are forced into questioning the need for societal change in their respective contexts.

Ultimately, Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, and Mamoru Oshii’s, Ghost in the Shell, epitomises the capability for narratives to achieve societal change through their exploration of the human condition. Both composers construct didactic dystopian texts that are catalytic in reflection. Evidently, Burgess and Oshii allows us to engage with importance of free will and the existentialism of identity in the human condition. Thus, the fictional settings and characters are emblematic of contextual concerns of each composer’s respective contexts. Hence, Burgess and Oshii comparatively create highly influential works in promoting change in societal constructs.

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