Today I read what I think was my first-ever Aeon post, and mostly I have to ask regular readers of the site if they’re all this terrible?

Set aside that it first uses Goodreads readership stats on dystopian fiction in books and then for its “study” switches over to showing people scenes from dystopian movies, it somehow manages to go from arguing that such fiction makes people “more willing to see radical and violent political acts as legitimate” straight to stating as plain fact that “it can also fasttrack some to violent political rhetoric–and even action” literally with no connective tissue whatsoever.

(I’m not even going to address at length the fact that this “study” uses mere decontextualized scenes from dystopian fiction, not complete works of dystopian fiction.)

Weirdly, though, that’s not even the part that first made me scrunch up my face. That was this bit.

Does this mean that dystopian fiction is a threat to democracy and political stability? Not necessarily, although the fact that it is sometimes censored suggests that some leaders do think along these lines. For example, Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) is still banned in North Korea, and even in the US, the top 10 books most frequently targeted for removal from school libraries in the past decade include The Hunger Games and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931).

No. Just, no.

These books aren’t censored because leaders see them as a threat to democracy. They are censored because leaders see them as a threat to their own control. In that sense, I guess, yes: they are censored as a threat to political stability but only so far as that stability is serving leadership’s need for control.

I tried re-reading that paragraph over and over again—even now as I write this—to see if somehow I was misreading it, but no: they straight-up are saying that books about totalitarian dystopias are censored as threats to democracy.

The censorship is the threat, not the books.

Also the threat: any suggestion that books are censored by leaders to protect democracy. Also the threat: poorly-written garbage Aeon articles about poorly-constructed “studies”.


  1. It’s interesting to me that, as near as I can tell, the authors don’t even bother to link their own study. It’s here (pdf) if you’re interested.