You live in a place that can only appear in the most beautiful dreams. The world is perfect, all is well, everyone is happy...
... or so you think. Your cozy little world is not as perfect as it seems. It never was. You just havenít noticed yet.
A False Utopia is a place, town, or even a world that seems or at least is supposed to have no faults, while in reality it just hides them very carefully from its inhabitants. Many False Utopias are Dystopias
in disguise (addressing the 0% Approval Rating
aspect of Dystopia Is Hard
), but not all; it's enough to try or pretend to be perfect, but always fall short, simply because perfection isnít part of real life.
A False Utopia can manifest itself in these ways:
- The world is obviously flawed or even a living Hell, but its people donít know it (whether because they are lied to and kept in the dark, Conditioned to Accept Horror, or are just stupid) and donít even notice their happiness is fake.
- It looks perfect at first, then after a while living in it, the protagonist discovers that it isnít, and often, the means that brought the Utopia to life are questionable. Often a big sign is finding out the truth about someone who's been Released to Elsewhere.
- The whole utopia is too good to be true. So good it is not true: itís only a dream, an illusion, or a scam.
Many False Utopias are meant to stay secret, so expect heavy spoilers on this trope!
A False Utopia is often a Crapsaccharine World
. Contrast Crapsack World
, where the world is Hell but everybody usually knows. If it's a suburb town, it's Stepford Suburbia
Compare/Contrast Crapsack Only by Comparison
when someone comes to believe they live in a Crapsack World
by comparing another. Note that in a false utopia, this can go both directions simultaneously
And no real life examples, please!
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Anime and Manga
- Skypia in One Piece. It is probably the most peaceful place in the manga, made of clouds with nice people. But they worship an Evil God who is merely using (and planning to kill) them for its own ends.
- No. 6 in the novel-turned-anime No.6. The utopian town of No.6 uses its citizens to revive Eliurias and to control her. Most who get wasp eggs implanted in them die in a fashion resembling rapid aging.
- As if that wasn't bad enough: genocide! The higher-uppers of No. 6 wiped all of the People of the Forest, save for Nezumi, who escaped.
- And, every year, armed forces of No. 6 use sonic weapons to flatten all the slum-type houses of the West Block and captures its inhabitants, only for them to be killed by being dropped in a HUGE corpse pile.
- Psycho-Pass is all about this. Japan in this dystopian future is forced to always be calm and content, by having machines constantly scan their brains to see if anyone would think of doing anything bad. Those who would think of doing cruel things are sent to therapy, locked in psych wards or outright killed. Of course, this is hidden from the populace as no one is supposed to think of doing anything bad. Making everyone calm all the time has all kinds of negative effects as well, such as removing stress from society to the point where people losing the will to live and having no ambitions has made many give up on living. Shogo Makishima despises the Sibyl System, the computer or collection of sociopathic human brains controlling society and will do anything to bring it down, even replace the ordered but dystopic society with societal collapse.
- Woodsbury in The Walking Dead, along with several other towns. There simply cannot be peace in a world filled with zombies, and even worse, other survivors.
- Doctor Doom has created Latveria, among other False Utopias, through the years. He often makes his people trust and worship him, even though he is an outright dictator. Note that he does try to bring peace, but with force.
- It may be played with, as well...when he actually gets to take over the world, he does a pretty good job of it!
- The Incredible Hulk: In one of the comics, Bruce Banner has a dream where all his biggest wishes are true: married to Betty, friend to her father and other former enemies... This is an illusion from his inner monster, the Devil Hulk, in which Bruce could be trapped if he let the devil take over his body. Bruce turned down the offer.
- The Rainbow Factory, from a notorious My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan fiction.
- A major theme of the Pretty Cure fan fiction Utopia Unmade is that the Precure Kingdom is not as perfect as some of its residents make it out to be. Love and Miki in particular mock the idea of it being a paradise.
- The golden Smurf Village version of Elysium that Empath visits in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Smurfed Behind: Smurfing In Heaven" is this, given that it is actually an illusion created by Ares the god of war, who created it in order to seduce Empath into becoming his god of conquest.
Film — Animated
- Toy Story 3 has Sunny Side. Lotso presents it like the best place any toy would dream of, where they will be played with forever. What he didn't say is that some unfortunate toys are forced to get chewed, brutalized and put in pieces by children too young to know better. And whether you like Sunny Side or not, Lotso and his minions make sure you stay forever.
- In WALLēE, humans all live in a space ship where they can eat, drink, chat through computers, and have virtually nothing to do. So why is it a false utopia? For the reasons mentioned above... the humans are bored out of their minds, but are so complacent they don't think to try anything new. Not only that, but years of living in micro-gravity while being pampered by robots have left the humans so fat they're almost completely dependent on machines. Worst of all, the Earth is completely polluted, but the humans havenít ever noticed because they were in their safe ship for centuries.
- Bambi's forest. Seriously. At first it seems like it is a wonderful dream land: all the animals are cute and nice and nature looks like a paradise. Then the humans arrive. Bambi's mom dies. And as the fawn grows up he fights more and more for survival.
- Pinocchio has Pleasure Island, where children can go crazy: smoking, drinking, vandalism, everything is allowed. The Coachman simply "forgot" to mention that acting as a jackass on this island turns you into an actual donkey. Then you go serve in the salt mines, with no hope of going back to your family.
- The Other World in Coraline. It seems like a perfect fantasy world, but that's just an illusion meant to entice Coraline into staying long enough to be devoured.
- The world of Sugar Rush in Wreck-It Ralph. This Crapsaccharine World is full of sugar... too bad all its inhabitants apart from Vanellope are jerks and the King is outright evil, and his machinations are a major reason why the other inhabitants are jerks. Plus, all the sweetness Tastes Like Diabetes.
- The King and the Mockingbird: The kingdom of Tackycardie is very luxurious and pretty, with lots of art. But why is the king the only one to appear on the paintings? Because nobody but him is happy. His people hate his dictatorship, and most of them live under the kingdom in a sombre town where they can't even see the sun. It is a utopia for the king only.
Film — Live Action
- Demolition Man: The futuristic town shown in the movie has its people think they are safe from harm, that violence has been erased from the world, and the tiniest thing like swearing is forbidden, but you barely get tickets for that. Apart from the fact that this world is completely "boring" to live in, it is anything but safe: a single psycho is enough to ruin its peace. And he was thawed out to take out a small community of people who wouldn't comply to the cities standards. And why the hell did these people keep working weapons and ammo in a museum with nothing but glass to keep them out of the wrong hands?
- The Truman Show: Truman lives in a nice little town, ignoring that it is the biggest studio in the world and that his life is a TV show. Christoff justifies that he wonít free Truman because while in his studio, where everyone protects him and give him an easy life, he will be safe from the evil of reality.
- Equilibrium: A medicine is invented to rid people of emotion. War is over, the world is in peace. The price? People feel nothing, are incapable of empathy, and emotion-triggering activities like art are forbidden. People who even try to express or feel emotion get executed.
- The ending also reveals that the leaders of Libria are themselves sense-offenders.
- Brazil: In the end, Lawry leaves the hellish town with Jill. Except he doesn't: he lost his mind and got trapped in his dream world.
- Metropolis is a town where the rich live in luxury, while the working class in the undertown struggle to survive.
- The Matrix gives a subversion: Neo didn't live in a utopia, but when you look at what reality has become the Matrix ends up looking like a safe world that would be hard to let go. Some characters are shown to think this illusion is much better than reality to the point of one of them betraying the Resistance because of it.
- There were previous versions of the Matrix that were suppose to be heavenly, but some people didn't buy it.
- Hot Fuzz Nicholas Angel gets transferred to the little town of Sandford, which is crime free, and everything seems perfect. But a small cabal of the town's inhabitants secretly control everything, and they kill people they consider would ruin the town's image.
- Pumzi: The Maitu Community uses 100% sustainable energy by recycling all water and producing electricity with exercise machines. However, no one can ever go outside and everyone must take dream suppressants that restrain creativity and free will.
- Logans Run: The domed city is highly advanced; everyone has everything they need. But when someone turns 30, they are killed, either through a phoney "renewal" ritual called "Carousel", or (for the few who try to escape, called Runners) hunted down and shot by the Sandmen.
- Brave New World is one of the most notable examples of the False Utopia genre.
- Animal Farm. Napoleon keeps telling Blatant Lies and the animals are just happy to be free from Farmer Jones. But slowly, bit by bit, Napoleon becomes no different from Jones, and the farm turns into an even worse hell than it started out as, with the other animals only finding out when it is too late.
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has some elements of this in general. Having spent his first ten years with the Dursleys, he is more than happy to attend Hogwarts and is amazed by the magic world. At first, it appears that everything there is better than the Muggle world. However, as the books grow Darker and Edgier, the Wizarding World's flaws become more and more apparent. The second book shows that it has racism and slavery. The third that it has horrible creatures like the Dementors in it. The fourth gives us a racial supremacist cult and Barty Crouch. The fifth has Umbridge, who turns the school into a dictatorship. Looks less magical now, doesn't it?
- Talking about the fifth book, Cornelius Fudge tells everyone that Harry and Dumbledore lied about Voldemort's return. Nothing is wrong.
- In the last book of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaires end up on an island ran by Ishmael, who presents it as an idealistic society, free from the evil of the outside world. But it is intensely conservative; the chief pretends that he doesn't force anyone to do anything when in fact he does, and it hides several secrets. While the Baudelaires needed some place to avoid justice, the book clearly states they don't like living on the island, though it could have been worse.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you have a near-magical place that produces the best candy in the world, and being its owner would be a Happy Ending. But if youíre too careless or greedy on the path towards that ending, you might drown in chocolate, get turned into a giant blueberry, be thrown into trash, or be shrunk — then elongated. While the bad kids are at least implied to survive in most versions (an exception is the 2013 stage musical), they certainly aren't the same people they were when they went in. This factory manages to be both Sweet Dreams Fuel and terrifying. It was worse in the original draft of the book, where Willy Wonka outright admits that the bad kids are actually part of the candy recipes! Not too surprising this was edited out for the final version...
- In the Uglies series, everyone over sixteen is beautiful, and anyone who has just turned sixteen has a few years of non-stop partying. But the operation to become a Pretty involves having brain implants to make you vapid and shallow. Justified, as the brain implants were meant to stop people becoming as destructive as the Rusties, the race of humans who destroyed the world with their stupidity.
- In Somtow Sucharitkul's Inquestor series, the man characters serve as Utopia Hunters, elite and near immortal maintainers of galaxy order who investigate all so called utopias and then, having found the hidden flaw, bring the entire edifice down.
- Cowslip's Warren in Watership Down is a peaceful haven where food is provided by the Man and the rabbits are safe from all predators except the Man himself. Just don't mention the wires.
- In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", Omelas is a beautiful city where everyone is happy except for one child whose suffering is somehow linked to Omelas' prosperity. And everyone in Omelas is made aware of this at some point. The title refers to the people who believe their "utopia" isn't worth it and abandon it for parts unknown.
- The Community from The Giver is a society of perfect order. Except when someone decides not to follow it, then they get killed. Also, there are no emotions or colours.
- The Kindar of the Green-Sky Trilogy are a psionically-gifted, Perfect Pacifist People where elaborate ritual and extensive social training have made violence unthinkable, and even two-year-olds squabbling over a toy is considered a shocking display of poor parenting. They have sexual freedom, gender equality, and are completely vegetarian. However, abuse of the sacred narcotic berry is widespread, their inborn psychic abilities are fading at younger and younger ages, and the ruler-priests of the Ol-Zahaan have been sitting on more than a few dark secrets. Subverted in the end, though. The High Priestess's elaborate Batman Gambit pays off, the Erdling exiles are freed from their underground prison (and are almost as pacifistic as the Kindar), and while they have a few bumps in the road, the society is well on its way to becoming a true utopia at the end of the third book, and more so at the end of the tie-in game.
- Veronica Roth has stated that she only realized after she had started writing that Divergent was her own personal utopia, and then later realized that her "utopia" was a horrible place to live.
- In the Discworld story Witches Abroad, Lilith has made Genua into a fairy-tale kingdom with herself as the Good Fairy Godmother - except she does this by forcing Genua's people into their stereotyped roles. Cooks who are not plump and cheerful and toymakers who don't whistle and tell the children stories are either imprisoned and "re-educated" or simply disappear.
- Also, a Fairy Godmother still needs problems to solve, so Lilith will, for example, have a girl's parents killed to better 'prepare' her for the Cinderella role. She also doesn't care if her happy endings actually make anyone happy...
- Gordon Eklund's novella Three Comedians has Felix, a sociopathic assassin who grew up in an Earth colony in a Polynesia-like environment on an isolated paradise planet called Eternity. The earth people mingled freely with the natives, including intermarriage, and all was beautiful. Felix leaves to meditate before proposing to his native sweetheart. When he returns, every human in the colony is dead, dismembered and arranged in neat piles. Every once in a while, the chief explains, the gods demand human sacrifice. Rather than killing their own people, they slaughtered the humans, none of whom had converted to the native religion. Felix is banished from the village and spends the next several weeks amid the rotting bodies, trying desperately to operate the radio to call for help.
- Doctor Who uses this trope often, especially in the revived series. In the year 5 billion, the world looks perfect and evolved. But the Doctor discovers a hospital that uses thousands of humans as test subjects to fight illnesses.
- A season later, he goes back there, and it has become a Crapsack World. Most of the population is dead due to a deadly virus, and the rest are stuck in traffic for many years.
- In GARO The One Who Shines In The Darkness Vol City is an Utopia city he has low-cost living and low taxes, and schools and hospitals are free. Turns out to be a False Utopia as Crimes and violence are denied by news reports and Horrors are in such mass here that one can eat enough to be stuck in a building. Furthermore Horrors are in control of the city's infrastructure, able to create more of their own that are nearly undetectable by the means of Makai Knights or Priests, and are powerful enough to negate most protection that said Priests and Knights can give as seen in ep 7 and are basically creating a massive feeding ground for their kind. Basically Vol City is a Utopia of sorts, but only if your are a Horror.
- The Flipside Of Dominick Hide: At first glance, the future looks pretty good, with the recreational time travel tours, the holograms, the computers attending our every whim. However, it is also a pretty sterile world, with everyone living in a Stepford Suburbias, no one allowed any intense feelings, and as it turns out, most of the world outside was poisoned in an unspecified holocaust at the end of the 20th Century.
- The Escape episode "The Return" has a man who wishes for a life without struggle. A mysterious beggar sends him to a village where everything is perfect, and there is no struggle. Anything he wants to do automatically succeeds, and the same is true of all the Perfectly Pacifist People in the village. He eventually realizes that perfection requires absolute conformity, and breaks down. When he returns from the village (through a one-way exit), he thinks it was All Just a Dream as he's back in the exact spot. But when he meets an acquaintance, it's revealed that as much time has passed as he experienced in the village.
- Eberron brings us Zilargo, the country of the gnomes. It's a happy, peaceful place where crime is unheard of... because not only are many things that would be considered crimes mere games to the gnomes, the Trust, a nigh-omnipresent organization of secret police, exists to warn people away from anything more serious — or, if they don't listen, make them "disappear" before they can take action. Zil culture considers privacy a small price to pay for their peace.
- Touvette in Pathfinder is a country surrounded by pirates, brigands, and assassin-happy kleptocracies. It boasts the highest literacy rate in the world, finds jobs for everyone, and takes genuine care of all citizens. It does this because it has an essentially North Korea-like level of policing, where being on the wrong road is considered trespassing, and trespassing is punished by a gruesome death.
- Tianjing is an idyllic mountain paradise whose people are literally angel-blooded and beautiful. They live hundreds of years and are generally saint-like in their virtue. They're also dedicated to blocking off the maw to the Abyss which sits under their realm, and so all their secretive efforts are holding back a demonic incursion into the world.
- Alpha Complex, of Paranoia fame, is an absolute utopia. Any rumors of secretive societies or mutants who run things are treasonous slander. Any tale of Friend Computer being an insane, idiotic machine hacked at will by mysterious "Ultraviolet" citizens is pure vile enemy propaganda. Claims that fully 85% of the population exist in a drug-induced haze are simple demonstrably false. The casualty rate for troubleshooters does not exceed 89.238%. All food in Alpha Complex is real food. Please report to Room101 for Brain Scrub, Happy Fun Time Bubbly Medication, Much Joy Orange Chocolate Salmon Nutrient Paste, and a nice massage.
- Rapture in BioShock: supposedly a utopia where no constraints of any sort will hinder the "bright and powerful", it devolves into tyranny and anarchy that leads to a Civil War even before the populace start degenerating into psychotic, hideously deformed mutants as a result of city-wide addiction to Psycho Serum. The Little Sisters see Rapture as a beautiful palace like city, the interiors are white and bright and the floors are filled with toys, and beautifully dressed people wander the halls, but the truth is anything but pretty.
- Sequel BioShock Infinite has Columbia, which has become a war-zone between "super-Libertarians" who have totally lost the point and jingoistic, ultra-patriotic, religiously fundamentalists by the time the player comes through. Add to that the fact reality itself is becoming increasingly unstable, and things get worse.
- Fallout 3 has Tranquility Lane, a virtual reality where everybody lives happily in the 1950s, safe from the devastated wastelands outside. Unfortunately, it's run by a scientist who takes pleasure in repeatedly mutilating, torturing and murdering the other inhabitants - and then resetting the chirpy simulation to do it again, keeping every victim trapped in torment but unable to escape or die, forced to maintain their smiling pantomime forever.
- In The Walking Dead video game, the group finds a farm with welcoming people and plenty of food, as well as an electric fence to protect from the dead and the bandits. Then Lee discovers that the farmers keep their guests locked up, cut them into pieces while they're alive, and eat their flesh. The zombies look a bit nicer now, don't they?
- Back to the Future: In the alternate 1986, Doc Brown became the leader of Hill Valley and turned it into a totalitarian place, closed from the world, with people dressed in identical suits, forced or even brainwashed to be good, and watched 24 hours on 24. Doc actually wants his citizens to be happy, but his wife, Edna, is so obsessed with discipline that she makes him annihilate all freedom in the town.
- New Pork City in MOTHER 3, exemplified by the fact that its musical theme is titled "You Call This A Utopia?!". It's made out to be the best place on earth by the people from outside of Tazmily Village, but when you actually go there towards the end of the game, it's readily apparent that it's a stretch to even call it a city, with almost all of the "buildings" just being wooden stand-ups. Some of the Tazmily Village folk are able to see this, while others have become so deluded by the influence of the outsiders (who are implied to have been brainwashed) that they really do believe it to be a utopia. It turns out that it's meant to simply be a stage from which everyone will witness the end of the world, so putting effort into making it a passable place of residence would've been a waste.
- The world of Happy Tree Friends is beautiful, colorful, and inhabited by cute little creatures. It would be perfect if they didn't die so gruesomely in every single episode...
- In Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: U.T.O.P.I.A.", Chester traps Numbuh 1 in a virtual reality where his personal paradise is an island with no adults, and all kids live happily and carefree.
- In a Justice League Unlimited episode, Superman receives a strange plant from Mongul that forces him into a dream world. He lives on his birth planet, and has a wife, a son and even a dog. When he realizes that none of this is true, and leaves the perfect dream world, Mongul tells Superman that it must have been like tearing his own arm off.
- Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter got blasted to an alternate world which everything seems nice, and its filled with some Silver Age type superheroes and supervillains. But it is all an illusion created by a mutant kid who gained his powers from a nuclear war which happened a long time ago.
- An alternate version of the Justice League - calling themselves, the Justice Lords, took over their world after assassinating President Lex Luthor in response to the murder of their Flash, and the world pushed to the brink of World War III. Their world shows that even Gotham, which in the League's world is a cesspool of corruption and crime, is a splendid place to live and Arkham Asylum looks like a regular mental hospital. However, elections are banned, protests are met with the Justice Lords appearing, journalists are placed on house arrest and you could get arrested for having an argument over the price of tea in the restaurant. Oh, and that nice Arkham Asylum? It has supervillains alright. Even reformed them...if you consider lobotomisation to be 'reforming' them into productive members of society.
- In a Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode, Buzz wakes up in a future where most of his enemies are defeated and he is worshipped as a hero. It was all a scam Zurg made to fool him.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, there is a huge city, called "Ba Sing Se", which is made out to be a perfect world, but it is really hiding a huge underground operation to control the Earth King, and not mentioning the war with the Fire Nation within the walls of Ba Sing Se.