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False Utopia

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"Technically, Utopia shouldn't have much use for a detention facility..."
Augustus Sinclair, BioShock 2

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 haven't 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 isn’t part of real life. There is a reason why 'Utopia' means 'Nowhere'.

A False Utopia can manifest itself in these ways:

Look out! 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.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Falconia, the Rome-like ruled by the Big Bad Griffith. To the war-torn demon-infested people of Midgard, it's a shiny paradise. To Guts and the readers, it's an Eldritch Location responsible for half of Midgard's suffering.
  • The civilization in Cross Ange is presented as such: a post-scarcity world wherein everyone has access to a magic power called "The Light of Mana", which has enabled a world without conflicts or suffering. There's only one flaw in it: the presence of "Norma", rare (and exclusively female) people born without the ability to use the Light of Mana, and who destroy it on touching it. Norma are rounded up and "quarantined" by the government upon discovery and are considered subhuman monsters. In actuality, the Light of Mana is an energy field generated by an imprisoned Dragon from another universe, and her children are invading in order to rescue her. The invasions are being covered up by the governments and fought exclusively by Norma. Oh, and the godlike being that set everything up this way is planning on annihilating all life on the planet and starting over because the Mana civilization doesn't meet his criteria for a true utopia.
  • Death Note:
    • Sure, there are no more wars or acts of terrorism, and crime is low... but that's because the death penalty applies for even the most minor infractions, including violations of Japanese Politeness, and there's no such thing as "due process" or "fair trial by a jury of one's peers". Even things like laziness (by Japanese standards, of course) or adultery are considered capital crimes. People go by fake names as a matter of course because they're so afraid of having their real identities revealed to Kira; even husbands and wives don't know each others' real names. The world is ruled by a large Cult who views Kira as The Scourge of God, or (more accurately) as God Himself. If you don't like someone or their lifestyle, or they've wronged you in some way, or they're your rival, or you feel that they've brought shame to your family, just reveal their real name and picture to Kira, and he'll take care of them for you... and beware that you could be next. Young children are brainwashed into accepting Kira and his definition of justice, and threatened by their own parents with being killed by Kira for misbehaving or getting bad (or even just mediocre) grades. No one can trust anyone else; parents are turned against children, children against parents, friends against friends, lovers against lovers, and spouses against spouses.
    • Somehow inverted in the special episode, where 'A-Kira' decides to forego the rampant murder and get filthy rich by publicly revealing and auctioning a Death Note. Naturally, the whole world panics as they realize the richest organization in the world could become the next 'God' and make Kira's reign look like a circus. The bidding war escalates until world governments take the reins, with America winning the auction for almost one trillion dollars. A-Kira then demands that they be paid directly by the banks — along with hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens they picked at random to ensure there would be too much hassle trying to find out which lucky recipient was the true mastermind. While the entire world quivers at the horror of America's president obtaining power over life and death, this trillion-dollar stimulus package causes an economic revival in Japan. A-Kira is killed off by Ryuk, on orders of the Shinigami King, for gaming the system to its limits, preventing him from enjoying his wealth (or screwing everything up like Kira did). The POTUS decides to relinquish the Death Note instead of sacrificing himself to ensure that America owns it. For the moment, America has the ability to control rogue nations by threatening to use the Death Note for a surgical assassination, but severely limits their ability to directly manipulate foreign powers (especially with assassination), knowing that their secret will be revealed if they do. The Crapsack World of Death Note has finally gotten a little brighter, even as everyone cowers in fear of what they believe is a tyrant on God's throne.
  • Japan, and Tokyo in particular, in Lycoris Recoil. The safest place to live in the world, free of major crimes because of the inherent goodness of the Japanese people... according to the propaganda spread by the secret organization DA. The reality is that DA maintains an invasive surveillance state, and potential perpetrators are pre-emptively assassinated by their army of orphaned girls called Lycoris. Violent incidents that do occur despite these countermeasures get swept under the rug and labeled "accidents" by the media.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: The University is an elitist culture where you have to be strong in all stats but which contains many caring individuals and cooperative guilds. Then Aladdin finds the slave pens, who the headmaster declares "are in their place, and even better off than before". Later on, the slaves are used to create a titanic Eldritch Abomination made of black Rukh, which is basically hate in the form of sprit ravens.
  • One Piece:
    • Skypiea is probably the most peaceful place in the manga, made of clouds with nice people, but they worship a God-Emperor who is merely using (and planning to kill) them for its own ends.
    • Dressrosa, despite being ruled by Donquixote Doflamingo, seems like a fantastic place to live, with good food, wealthy people, gladiator fights, and Living Toys. Said toys were originally humans now enslaved by a Devil Fruit user who is part of Doflamingo's crew, and the gladiators in the Colosseum are prisoners who are forced to fight until they die. One such prisoner describes Dressrosa as a place where everything that would make the kingdom look bad is simply swept under the rug. When the plot causes Doflamingo's control of the island to unravel and he decides to kill everyone, he tries to guilt trip Luffy for ruining the peace, to which Luffy points out that the "peace" was nothing more than a facade.
    • The Wano country's center, the Flower Capital, seems to be an exaggerated Theme Park Version of Feudal Japan... but the government is run by corrupt officials, those who have no money are run out of town, and the real power running the kingdom are Kaido's pirate crew. The landscape outside the capital are polluted due to Kaido's factories, towns are starving because healthy food is at a bare minimum, meaning they have to literally live off of the Flower Capital's leftovers. The Shogun didn't like the misery of the nearest "leftover town" so he introduced an artificial fruit that results in Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul into the leftovers. Orochi claims that the constant smiles mean Wano is close to Heaven, but those that know the truth believe the loss of emotion makes their country has become a Hell.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • The Age of X-Man is explicitly referred to as this in New Mutants (2019), and with good reason — its creator, Nate Grey, was trying to protect the X-Men from the Theory of Narrative Causality. He tried an absolute utopia, but as with The Matrix, he found that their minds rebelled against it, so he made Apocalypse a subversive 1960s-style love guru and leader of a Goldfish Poop Gang. As is admitted by the X-Men towards the end, it has many good points — there's peace, mutants are safe and mostly happy, with none of this 'hated and feared' business, being able to live out their dreams in a way they couldn't in the real world. Unfortunately, relationships are banned (and the subject of Fantastic Racism), and the false reality and guiding principles are upheld by disturbingly chirpy secret police, and a combination of Nate's mind-wiping and reality-warping — if you break the rules one time too many, you get shuttled off to a prison while no-one remembers you exist. As he comes to realise, he ended up creating something just as bad as the dystopian Age of Apocalypse that he came from and spent his life trying to avert. When he releases the X-Men and recreates it with the help of the AOX version of Magneto, he relaxes the rule on relationships and ends the mind-wiping and the secret police.
    • Fantastic Four villain 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 (by robbing people of their free will and making them slavishly devoted to him). A few good examples of this include Emperor Doom and Secret Wars (2015).
    • Fantastic Four (2018) sees the FF decide to complete their original space-flight and visit the solar system they would have travelled to if the cosmic rays hadn't interfered with their mission. This leads to the FF finding the Spyre, a supposedly perfect society that are such paranoid isolationists that it's revealed that their leader was responsible for the original cosmic storm that transformed the team as a way to stop them from reaching his planet because he couldn't contemplate the idea of another species in existence. Even worse, the mere idea that another race existed prompted him to instate a draft that empowered most of the population by cosmic rays, even when a fourth of all subjects underwent horrific mutations (the equivalent of Ben Grimm becoming the Thing), with the victims of this particular transformation being shunned and treated like garbage as they were banished to the equivalent of the planet's sewers.
    • In one The Incredible Hulk comic, 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 lets the Devil take over his body. Bruce turns down the offer.
    • Genosha, another fictional state that appears mainly in the X-Men comics, is a rare subversion of this trope. When they first appear, they are presented as a little model democracy with a super-advanced economy and public health care, like a stereotypical Sweden on steroids. Then, however, it turns out that the country secretly implements a super-harsh Super Registration Act that basically reduces its mutants to state slavery. Then the story takes pains to explain that the country really is a paradise for everyone else except the mutants — and with a few hundred of them in a country of ten million, this makes them easily the smallest oppressed underclass in history. The Genoshan government also get to justify their harsh measures by appeals to national security, arguing that if not kept under strict control, the super-powered mutants will quickly destroy their democratic way of life. They are actually proved right by the story, as the X-Men, not buying this, free the mutants — who then proceed to turn Genosha into a Super Supremacist People's Republic of Tyranny that purges the majority population and is objectively far worse than the old regime in just about every way.
  • The Multiversity: Earth-10 in Mastermen #1, an Earth established on the Nazi Party's dogma. It's a very stagnant world as reflected by the architecture. There's no variety, no art of any kind, the cities are literally covered in grossly extravagant eagle statues and swastikas are plastered on everything. This isn't even getting into the rampant racial, religious, and sexual persecutions that have been going on since the 1940s.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In Children of an Elder God, this is Gendo and Yui's plan: to harness the power of Great Old Ones to create a paradise for humans. This takes the form of a peaceful pocket universe (or something) where everyone is content, dead loved ones are back (most prominently Kaji), and peaceful First Contact is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the power source corrupts everything, creating disasters that Gendo and Yui have to put increasing amounts of time into fixing, and the resurrected people are just puppets. Ultimately, the Children notice something's wrong with the world and rebel.
  • 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.
  • Royal Heights: On the surface, Utopia seems like a perfect paradise that holds the greatest school in the Universe that constantly rebuilds itself every year thanks to the Elite, but it's the ongoing events of an Eternal Recurrence and its ability to spring back from it that makes it supposedly perfect.
  • A major theme of 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.

    Film — Animated 
  • Bambi: At first, the forest seems like 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.
  • The Other World in Coraline seems like a perfect fantasy world, but that's just an illusion meant to entice Coraline into staying long enough to be devoured.
  • 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 in 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.
  • The Systar System in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is an inversion. The people are friendly and everyone is treated well, but Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi is transparently Affably Evil, there are Stepford Suburbias filled with unnervingly cheerful minidolls and abducted minifigs, and everyone sings an in-universe Ear Worm that Wyldstyle is certain is a brainwashing technique. It turns out that it's a False Dystopia: the people really are happy, the song is harmless, and Whatevra was telling the truth about not being evil. The Systarians are just really bad at communicating — and Rex, burned by his previous timeline, almost got Emmet to trash it.
  • 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 he sells you to serve as a working animal in the salt mines, circuses, and other harsh work environments, with no hope of going back to your family.
  • Toy Story 3 has Sunny Side Daycare. 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. Whether you like Sunny Side or not, Lotso and his minions make sure you stay forever.
  • In WALL•E, humans all live in a spaceship 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 that they're almost completely dependent on machines. Worst of all, the Earth is completely polluted, but the humans haven’t ever noticed because they were in their safe ship for centuries.
  • In Wish (2023), the people of Rosas live in contentment and harmony because Magnifico hoards their wishes, meaning they lack passion and drive to do things on their own. The people have to rely on him to grant their heart's desires, unaware that many of them will not come true.
  • The Crapsaccharine World of Sugar Rush in Wreck-It Ralph is, true to its name, 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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the end of Brazil, Lawry leaves the hellish town with Jill... except he's actually lost his mind and is trapped in his dream world.
  • The futuristic city shown in Demolition Man 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 in the first place to take out a small community of people who wouldn't comply with the city's 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?
  • 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.
  • While Counter-Earth from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 at first seems like the perfect society the High Evolutionary has been striving for, it actually suffers social issues similar to those of regular Earth like homelessness, drugs, and violence. The High Evolutionary is well aware of the problems and ends up destroying the entire planet to restart anew.
  • Hot Fuzz: Nicholas Angel gets transferred to the little town of Sandford which is crime-free and where everything seems perfect, but a small cabal of the town's inhabitants secretly controls everything, and they kill people they consider would ruin the town's image.
  • The domed city in Logan's Run is highly advanced; everyone has everything they need. However, when someone turns 30, they are killed, either through a phony "renewal" ritual called "Carousel" or (for the few who try to escape, called Runners) hunted down and shot by the Sandmen.
  • 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 of. 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's also said to be a previous version of the Matrix that was supposed to be heavenly, but no one bought it.
  • Metropolis is a town where the rich live in luxury, while the working class in the undertown struggle to survive.
  • 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.
  • The Purge Universe is set in an alternate timeline where the United States is ruled by a cabal called the New Founding Fathers who insist that their titular 12-hour annual "crime is legal" event is responsible for low unemployment, low crime rates and general improvements in public mental health (because people "purge" themselves of violent urges once a year). While the purge in itself sounds incredibly scary and not very utopian, the New Founding Fathers are strongly implied to be nothing more than power-hungry liars who fabricate all of these supposed benefits anyway through propaganda and misinformation, kill anyone who criticises them on Purge Night, and send out death squads to Kill the Poor and make it look like more people are engaging in the Purge than actually are (when most people spend the night hiding or otherwise just trying to survive).
  • The Truman Show: Truman lives in a nice little town, ignoring that (unbeknownst to him) it is the biggest studio in the world and that his life is a TV show. Christoff justifies that he won't 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.

  • In "All My Darling Daughters" by Connie Willis, "trust" children are conceived by artificial insemination and never meet their wealthy fathers, but they have lives of affluent luxury, including an exclusive private school. However, the dark side of the school's culture is pervaded by sexual abuse of not only young girls but animals artificially engineered to serve as helpless rape victims.
  • 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.
  • In Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell, the intelligence services of the world have set up several luxury "retirement" communities, each regarded as neutral ground where no one is allowed to be harmed. Only the men running them know that the residents (ambitious men who've fallen from grace, cooped up in a Gilded Cage which eventually palls) are frequently Driven to Suicide.
  • 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. However, if you're 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...
  • Meta-example: 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.
  • Faction Paradox has the City of the Saved: a galaxy-sized city at the end of time where every human and human-descended individual is resurrected in immortal invulnerable bodies and can live forever in the closest thing the setting has to paradise... unless they're only part-human, in which case they're second-class citizens and are generally thought of as lucky to have got in. In addition, humans and posthumans with non-human friends and lovers tend to be tragically disappointed when they realise their loved ones didn't make it into this human-supremacist heaven. House Halfling, the pressure group for part-human rights, explicitly pointed out that the City's culture will stagnate much faster with only human influences and that it is at present a rather unsatisfactory endpoint of history. Fortunately, that probably won't matter anymore, as someone figured out a way to turn off the immortality, a civil war broke out, and one group's attempt to end it summoned an Eldritch Abomination from the universe after this one.
  • 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 colors. The way it's set up also means that very few people are even aware of how bad it actually is.
  • 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.
  • The Han Solo Trilogy: Ylesia turns out to be one for Pilgrims who settle there. While they have hard work, the Exultation gives them a feeling of intense pleasure and makes them feel united to the One. Unbeknownst to them though, in actual fact the Exultation is not divine or spiritual at all, it's just a natural mating call t'landa Til males use which if done on other species will affect them in this way. Han sees through it right away, but he isn't a believer. Worse, in the end, they're all sold as slaves, and sent to mines or into the Imperials' military brothels. Since the Exultation is very addictive though, most of them don't want liberation (they're not aware of the rest until it's 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 shows that it has horrible creatures like the Dementors in it and they're used by the government to run the Hellhole Prison. The fourth gives us a racial supremacist cult and Knight Templar Barty Crouch. The fifth has Umbridge, who turns the school into a dictatorship. Looks less magical now, doesn't it? Not to mention that in the fifth book, Cornelius Fudge tells everyone that Harry and Dumbledore lied about Voldemort's return, and nothing is wrong.
  • Hive England in Hive Mind (2016) is a perfectly safe place where everybody loves their perfect job and the few malcontents are caught by the nosy patrols before they ever commit crimes. Except that it isn't — the Hive is just really good at hiding any incidents. Memories are wiped, purely fictional reports are generated, and the few real telepaths are always busy keeping incidents to a minimum. Even major incidents that can't be memory-wiped away are covered up, with acts of deliberate sabotage described as 'accidents' if possible and 'attacks from enemy Hives' if not. However, the Hive is clearly trying to be an actual utopia — it's just not quite succeeding.
  • In S. P. Somtow'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.
  • The Matched series has a whole high school prom meets perfect match feel to it, with much of the first book dedicated to the heroine praising this world. This is particularly pronounced in the book-on-tape version, as you can hear her tone as she gushes over how wonderful it is that they got the top ten books or movies or whatever, that they have good quality food that is cooked for them and things are such that people live to the ripe old age of eighty, that they know exactly who they get to have a love match with. It's only as you continue reading that you realize just how seedy this utopia is, starting with the inability to write and ending with the euthanization of the old.
  • No. 6: The titular 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.
  • "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is a complex Deconstructive Parody of the idea, in turn a very postmodernist discussion on how audiences perceive "utopia" and "dystopia". Omelas is presented as 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, with the story's title referring to those who believe their "utopia" isn't worth it and abandon it for parts unknown. However, the framing of the story makes the validity of this grave flaw heavily ambiguous — the narrator presents to the audience the perfect happiness of Omelas at face value, but also digs in with a knowing presumption that since "utopia" is incredibly subjective, the audience will be expecting some kind of Awful Truth that makes it a False Utopia just by the inherent nature of storytelling. To that end, it's greatly suggested that the suffering child doesn't actually exist within the fiction of Omelas, and was simply an idea cooked up by the narrator in order to feed the audience's sick expectation for a dark dystopian twist, and that even if a society genuinely is as perfect and ideal as it seems, it will still be rejected because you, the audience, are too occupied by the pursuit to "reveal" a more "realistic", yet ultimately just-as-absurd dystopia to accept it.
  • The New Earth in Oracle of Tao has no income tax, no housing rent, small government, and a lot of things about the universe that are fundamentally changed thanks to intervention from God. These tend to be mostly positive, although each town manages to be perverse (Opening charges a toll to leave town with guards literally cutting down people who can't pay... before being talked into funding the town by making the guards prostitutes, Shoten forces much of its male inhabitants wanting to visit Delphi to crossdress, Ghobli has a robust street-vendor economy yet charges excessive merchant's taxes, Zuran is ruled by whoever is the largest, and so on). Actually, what makes this world a false utopia is the entire world isn't real.
  • In Phoenix in Shadow, the protagonists go to explore a region that's been turned dark and twisted by a Leaking Can of Evil, and unexpectedly find that at its heart there is an area that's seemingly immune to the evil and is occupied by an apparently utopian community which has developed without any outside contact for centuries. They're certain there must be some catch, and they turn out to be right.
  • RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant: In The Warrior in the Woods, the village dwells at the edge of a lush forest and is considered the safest place in the land to live. The Grimm don't attack, so the people live peaceful, carefree, and happy lives. What they don't know is that they're being protected by a reclusive warrior who is hiding in the forest. She doesn't want the village to know she exists, and the villagers have no interest in scratching beneath the surface of their unusual safety; they are therefore oblivious to the fact that their utopia is so fragile that it depends entirely on the life and dedication of a single person.
  • In Sanctioned, independent Scotland is said to be a perfect utopia without homelessness, poverty, bigotry, or pre-meditated crime. However, it seems they cut the crime numbers by legalising all drugs. Ashleigh also thinks that some people will always end up homeless due to bad luck and crappy circumstances, and wonders if the homeless are dragged into unmarked government vans. Finally, Delaney has a theory that the superhero Glorious was murdered on the orders of the Scottish government because she was regularly meeting a known English spy for kinky sex.
  • In the last book of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaires end up on an island run by Ishmael, who presents it as an idealistic society, free from the evil of the outside world. However, 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 that they don't like living on the island, though it could have been worse.
  • The Stars Are Cold Toys: The Geometers live in a highly advanced post-scarcity society, raised by Mentors to be productive individuals, who love their jobs. Their ships are sleek, fast, intelligent, and completely unarmed. Everybody's cheerful, no one has to worry about money (since it doesn't exist in their world), and they are dedicated to making every alien race out there their friends. Then you look under the surface and realize that making aliens friends means first infiltrating their society and reducing their civilization to a primitive one so that Geometers can remake it in their image. Everyone is cheerful partly due to having been brainwashed since they're little (all Geometer children are raised in boarding schools) and partly due to all their food and drink being laced with tranquilizers (i.e. they're all a little stoned). Anyone who disagrees with their philosophy is deemed mentally ill and placed in a "sanatorium", which is basically a forced labor camp with alien guards, who kill escapees. Oh, and those "unarmed" ships? A single Geometer scout ship is capable of obliterating dozens of dedicated warships of the militant Alari using "repurposed tools", which include things like powerful force fields, laser cutters, and seismic probes (multi-kiloton nukes). In addition, Geometers are masters in designing Synthetic Plagues.
  • 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.
  • Robert Sheckley's short story "A Ticket to Tranai" tells of a human colony that is touted as a utopia for humanity as it really is. The protagonist goes there (it's a very remote planet) and, at first, he starts believing it to be perfect. He gets a good job, marries a beautiful woman, and lives in a nice house, all without paying any taxes. Then he starts discovering the problems with the world. First of all, instead of paying taxes, the government has legalized mugging. Muggers wearing black masks are tax collectors... and yes, muggers kill people as well, although that's a small percentage of cases. He finds that the Tranai officials are easygoing and don't want to change much. The reason? Any citizen can express his disapproval with an official by pressing a button in a special booth... which blows up a medallion that each official must wear. Additionally, any official can shoot any suspected murderer (by definition, anyone who has killed at least one but less than ten people) without arrest or trial. He also finds out that it's common for men to keep their wives in a Pocket Dimension of sorts, while they're at work since all housework is done by robots, and they don't want women to be bored alone (they're in stasis while in there). The protagonist finds that wrong and refuses to keep his own wife in stasis. One day, he comes home to find another man with his wife. They explain that she has grown resentful of him refusing to keep her in stasis (women of Tranai actually want to do that and to, eventually, inherit everything from their husbands, who die much earlier than they; the idea is that men and women want different things: men only want to deal with their wives at certain times and for their wives to always remain young, women want to avoid the routine and the housework, see only the highlights of the marriage, and become young widows to start enjoying life) and has hooked up with a guy she met once. Upset, the protagonist offers her a divorce, but her lover explains that there are no divorces on Tranai before taking out his gun. The protagonist barely manages to escape the planet alive. He then spends his days drinking in a bar, telling everyone how great Tranai is, keeping his new wife as a house slave, and working to disenfranchise women.
  • "Tomorrow Town" is supposedly a technologically advanced community-of-the-future. The devices they invent are Cool, but Inefficient, the community only survives on government subsidies, and the social system is inherently sexist. The outside world has long surpassed Tomorrow Town in social and technological advancement. No one dares complain about these obvious facts until after their founder is murdered.
  • 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 from becoming as destructive as the Rusties, the race of humans who destroyed the world with their stupidity.
  • In Victoria, the Republic of Azania has shades of this. A majority-female society, they are a generally peaceful, economically and technologically advanced nation in an otherwise largely post-apocalyptic setting, which welcomes women and homosexuals fleeing the reactionary neighboring states. However, it is also a semi-totalitarian dictatorship that practices eugenics, bans natural childbirth, and heavily discriminates against men. Of course, to anyone who doesn't subscribe to author William Lind's philosophy of life, the titular Victoria doesn't look a whole lot better. Black people are forbidden from marrying or having children if they choose to go to college, anyone who practices a religion other than the local fundamentalist strain of Christianity is lucky if they're merely deported and anyone who's had a new idea since about 1965 is automatically considered a subversive. Stepford Suburbia is presented as an ideal to aspire to.
  • 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 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...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ashes of Love: The Heavenly Realm is one under the rule of the power-hungry Tai Wei and Tu Yao. Run Yu lampshades it when he gives Tai Wei his "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Brave New World: New London is meant to be a utopia, and most of its citizens believe that. There's no crime, hunger, or poverty, there's total free love, everyone has a place, and everybody's happy. However, this all turns out to have a very terrible cost: everybody is made to fit into a strict caste system, monogamy or intimacy beyond friendship isn't allowed, there's no privacy and their "happiness" is superficial, achieved through drugging the population, empty casual sex or other shallow public entertainment.
  • Charmed (1998): The "perfect world" that the Avatars have created proves to not be the utopia that was promised; people who cause trouble are killed immediately, and their loved ones can't even properly grieve them because of the Avatar magic, leading to everyone just going along with it. It's also noted that nobody really has free will anymore.
  • Doctor Who uses this trope often, especially in the revived series.
    • In "New Earth", set 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, in "Gridlock", 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. An example of The Extremist Was Right — the Cat Nuns had talked about this, and their reasons for using humans were the exact same reasons humans use animals (though if you're studying disease in humans, it's much more effective to study it in humans rather than rats — so again, the Cats were right).
  • 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.
  • 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 episode 7 and are basically creating a massive feeding ground for their kind. Basically, Vol City is a Utopia of sorts, but only if you are a Horror.
  • In The Good Place, the titular Good Place turns out to be this. It appears to be a bright and pleasant Heaven, but it's actually a Bad Place designed to look like a Good Place and induce the four humans living in it to unknowingly psychologically torture each other for eternity with help from the place's other too-good-to-be-true inhabitants who are actually demons. It's also very good at offering what seem to be ideal pleasures but actually aren't, like how all its stores serve frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.
  • The Orville: In "All the World is a Birthday Cake", the Orville receives an "Is there anyone out there?" signal from a pre-space flight planet. As per Union rules, they initiate First Contact. At first glance, the people of the planet look like a peaceful society, rapidly moving towards joining the interstellar community. Then they discover that the natives are obsessed with astrology to the point where they arrest any individual born on a certain month, because "the stars" tell them that all those people are dangerous. Two of the Orville's crewmembers are likewise arrested after they mention their upcoming birthdays, which happen to fall on that same month, and the doctor witnesses a woman undergo an unnecessary caesarean so that her child will be born before the month is up even though such a procedure could be dangerous. When Ed tries to explain that no one in the Union believes that balls of gas hundreds of light years away can possibly affect a person's life, the planet's First Prefect tells him that he doesn't want his civilization dealing with people who believe that the universe is chaotic. The arrested individuals are kept, sometimes from birth, in internment camps, whose oversees treat them like dangerous criminals, even though they haven't actually done anything. Even worse, most of those people themselves are drinking the same Kool-Aid and believe their place is in the camps, to the extent that a mother is separated from her child as soon as the baby is born. In the end, the only recourse is to visibly modify a constellation (by using a solar sail as a reflector) in order to force a change of belief on the planet.
  • Star Trek:
    • Captain Kirk spends a lot of his time in Star Trek: The Original Series deconstructing these on one planet after another, often ending with the lesson that it is necessary for our strength of character for us to have to struggle a little, and so a bland and cloying "perfect" world might not even be desirable, even if it were achievable.
    • The Federation itself became this as the franchise wore on. It started out as an enlightened future society that had done away with all the evils of the 20th century so that people were free to pursue life however they chose, but later entries (especially the Darker and Edgier Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) started to show the cracks in the system; for a good many of the Federation's citizens, life was far from idyllic.
  • In the third season of The Walking Dead (2010), the town of Woodbury seems like a paradise for Andrea until the reality of what The Governor is doing there is slowly revealed. Michonne is suspicious from the start, though.
  • Westworld: As seen in Season 3, the world is very advanced technologically thanks to virtual reality technology. In high-tech cities like Los Angeles and London, people can change their outfits and ride in automatic cars. There's also an A.I. system called Rehoboam that guides people into giving direction in their lives and it can predict what humanity's future entails. But this limits the humans' ability to make conscious choices making them live in loops just like the hosts. This also explains why rich people rather go to Westworld because they can do whatever they want without Rehoboam looking over them.

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech, the centuries when the Star League, led by the Terran Hegemony, ruled the Inner Sphere are looked back upon as a golden age when peace, prosperity, and technological growth flourished. This is true: in the Hegemony, people were as fit and active at 150 as people in the 20th Century were at 50. Fusion-powered cars were the norm for private citizens. And the Hegemony regularly terraformed planets with environments too harsh to support human life into garden worlds. Sourcebooks set in the time period point out the reason that the Star League was able to do such things: they ruthlessly invaded the Periphery nations, conquered them in brutal campaigns that shattered the industries of their worlds, and levied oppressive taxes on them. The Star League also made it a point to prevent any of the member states from reaching the same technological level as the Terran Hegemony so as to maintain the realm's advantages.
  • 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.
  • 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 simply demonstrably false. The casualty rate for Troubleshooters does not exceed 89.238%. All food in Alpha Complex is real food. Please report to Room 101 for Brain Scrub, Happy Fun Time Bubbly Medication, Much Joy Orange Chocolate Salmon Nutrient Paste, and a nice massage.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Touvette 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Tau Empire, with its "Greater Good" philosophy, steady rediscovery of science, and... all secretly one big police state headed by mind-controlling sages who may be Eldar Manchurian Agents. Of course, in the Grim Darkness of the Far-Flung Future, this is the closest thing to The Federation available, and their renegade outcasts are pretty well-off.

    Video Games 
  • Artery Gear: Fusion: Autoluna initially seems to be a paradise for humans, and is the last safe zone free from monsters known as 'puppets'. However, it is run by a corrupt monarch who frames the Frontier and Union as being bad compared to Autoluna. Attempts to reveal the truth are punishable by treason and is enough to almost get Fiel executed. Except for the rich, everyone else needs to work to raise their 'contribution' to avoid being exiled to the puppet-infested ground. If this happens, they are usually left to die and are turned into puppets. The Queen is also making plans for 'Project Heaven', turning the most capable humans into Artery Gears against their wills.
  • Back to the Future: The Game: 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.
  • BioShock:
    • 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 starts 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.
    • BioShock Infinite has Columbia, whose quaint Americana facade is quickly revealed to be hiding a violently racist and xenophobic cult of personality. Things get even worse when the locals discover that Booker is the "False Shepherd" their leader has been warning them about.
  • Praetoria from the City of Heroes expansion Going Rogue seems to be a utopian world, with bright colors, robots to do most of the heavy labor, and everything neat and orderly, with the benevolent leader Emperor Cole protecting the people. But there are a whole lot of things wrong with this society — superpowered individuals are dragooned into the PPD's Powers Division, with psionic women forced to become Seers. And that's before you get into the rampant censorship of the TPN, the horrors of Mother Mercy Hospital and the Asylum, or the fact that the "bad" thoughts of every Seer put through Tillman's procedures survive as nightmarish Apparitions that are infesting First Ward, a place that many Praetorians never get to see. That's not to mention the fact that some of the Resistance, the group dedicated to fighting all of this, don't really give much of a damn about the innocent people involved, as long as it will put a wrench in Cole's operations.
  • Fallout:
    • The series takes place in an alternate history where America succeeded in using the Cold War as an excuse to slide into fascism, leaving power in the hands of the sadistically corrupt Enclave conspiracy. Culture stagnatednote  into a Zeerust-style eternal 1950s where nuclear families own bright houses and killer robots and nuclear cars, unaware of the war crimes perpetrated by the army and unethical schemes of the corporations until resources began to dry up. Eventually, the dream popped when nuclear war occurred on October 23, 2077, and the horror fully seeped in when the Vaults, America's emergency fallout shelters to survive the apocalypse, were revealed to the unwitting colonists to be Nazi-designednote  test chambers meant for determining the limits of human sanity and obedience. The worst part is, the freedom that Americans believed in became a reality after most of humanity died off and the landscape became an irradiated hellhole, forcing survivors to make decisions, fight to survive, and live their lives to the fullest — and then they'll die horribly, sometimes in part due to The Remnant of the Enclave or some other formerly 'respectable' organization still obsessed with controlling the world.
    • 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.
    • The Institute in Fallout 4 is basically the Enclave's nerdy little brother; a seemingly hospitable and vibrant super-vault where your worth in society is dependent on how many technological breakthroughs you can accomplish. It seems like a nerd's paradise — but there's the institutionalized slave labor of Synths, who are constantly implied to have achieved true human sapience, but can be reprogrammed on a whim according to their masters' needs. Then there's the infighting between departments, the sleeper agents used to Kill and Replace family members, the experimental monsters thrown up to the surface to kill any potential rivals to their power, etc. The Golden Ending concludes that the Institute itself is unsalvageable, but its scientists need to be salvaged and forced to take up actual causes for humans and synths.
  • Mother 3:
    • New Pork City, 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.
    • Even Tazmily Village itself at the beginning of the game is an example, though in a different way, and it's not as obvious. At first it seems to be a real utopia since everyone is happy, but it later becomes clear that their perfect social order is derived from self-brainwashing-induced naivety, rather than wisdom, and when things actually go wrong in their perfect little world, no one knows how to handle it, and when interlopers from outside try to corrupt them and pull them into their own Porky-worshiping cult, they have such an easy time of it that it's almost absurd. Their seemingly perfect little society had some things very wrong with it from the beginning. Porky even calls out the villagers for thinking that their plan would even work in the first place. It's quite telling that, while the local blacksmith pointedly stresses that Flint is the first ever person to be put in the village jail, nobody ever wonders why Tazmily has a jail at all.
  • Murricaville in Mr. Prepper has become a city of this sort because the President and government have created a full Police State that watches even the very thoughts of its citizens.
  • Given the importance given to the concept of utopia in Shin Megami Tensei, it isn't odd to see this trope popping every now and then. Shin Megami Tensei I has Ikebukuro, in which Belial and Nebiros have resurrected the entire town to serve as Alice's playthings, Shin Megami Tensei II has Arcadia, which the Archangels are running as a mind control experiment by hooking the residents into machines controlled by their lackey Gimmel, and in Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, which features brutal classism, an increasingly Corrupt Church, Witch Hunts, demons hidden straight under the capital's palace, and worse.
  • In The Walking Dead (Telltale), 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?
  • Wellington Wells in We Happy Few. The town sure looks bright and colorful, and everyone seems happy, but that's only because everyone is drugged up on Joy, and if they don't act happy and cheerful they might be on the wrong end of the law, or an angry mob. The town is surrounded by ruined buildings infested with the Wastrels, moody and miserable outcasts who were driven out of town and left to fend for themselves because of their immunity to Joy. On top of all that, Wellington Wells is on the verge of starvation and physical collapse because everyone is too drugged to do their jobs competently. All the more reason for the protagonists to go Downer and plot their escape.

    Web Animation 
  • 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...
  • RWBY: Discussed. Atlas is nicknamed "the City of Dreams". Maria reveals it was originally floated to give people hope of a better tomorrow. Ironwood also mentions that Ozma floated it, but not as high as initially planned for unknown reasons; when advising Ironwood, Oscar mentions that a floating city is held to a higher standard because of its purpose to inspire hope. However, Nora points out, when observing Mantle's poverty, that Atlas may inspire hope of a better future "unless you're the one having to look up at it". Ozma's dream of a city that inspires people to become the best versions of themselves never worked, instead producing a city of selfish, wealth-obsessed elitists who look down on the rest of the world. The tension this generates between Atlas and Mantle plays into Salem's hands during the Atlas Arc.

  • Dresden Codak: Nephilopolis is advertised as the city of the future, where even the lowliest interns can rise to become international icons. In reality, it's viciously segregated between humans and cyborgs, a police state that uplifts the most gullible and weak-willed into positions of incompetence, and a feeding ground for Reality Warper tyrants who gain more supernatural powers as they invade privacy, stealing the very laws of physics themselves through ritual sacrifice of privately-owned artifacts so said laws are retconned and usable only by them.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the capital of the Earth Kingdom, Ba Sing Se, is presented as a perfectly peaceful city-state, but is really hiding a huge underground operation to control the Earth King, and all mention of the war with the Fire Nation is silenced with blatant lies.
    • It only gets even worse in The Legend of Korra. The Earth Kingdom in general presents itself as an enlightened pastoral country that hasn't succumbed to the temptation of mad science like every other country on the planet. It's a mess; class warfare has all but destroyed Ba Sing Se's political infrastructure as starvation and riots are generally dismissed by an absolute monarch. At the end of Season 3, the kingdom tears itself apart and allows a dictator to take the reins with mad science, creating a giant mecha that uses soul power to fire a Wave-Motion Gun. By the end, the surviving crown prince agrees to disband the kingdom entirely to various provincial democracies to save what remains.
  • 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 Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: U.T.O.P.I.A.", Chester traps Number 1 in a virtual reality where his personal paradise is an island with no adults, and all kids live happily and carefree.
  • Justice League:
    • In "Legends", Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl, and Martian Manhunter get blasted to an alternate world filled with some Silver Age-type superheroes and supervillains in which everything seems nice, but it is all an illusion created by a mutant Psychopathic Manchild who gained his powers from a nuclear war, enslaving the survivors as his living puppets to fuel his childhood superhero fantasies for 40 years straight. Also, said superheroes are psychic artificial intelligences, as the real superheroes died during the war.
    • In "A Better World", an alternate version of the Justice League calling themselves the Justice Lords take 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 lobotomization to be 'reforming' them into productive members of society.
    • In "For the Man Who Has Everything", 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Cutie Map - Part 1"/"Part 2", the main cast heads to a small town in the middle of nowhere where everyone is sincerely happy and the community is welcoming and kind, despite their creepy smiles and conformist attitude. However, in order to live there they've all had their special talents stripped away and have been brainwashed into thinking that this is a good thing. A few ponies miss what they've given up, but are too conditioned to accept this as the One True Proper Path to Friendship that they don't seriously consider doing anything about it. Starlight Glimmer, the town's ruler, seems to genuinely believe in what she's doing, but she's paranoid, unstable and hides that she's kept her own cutie mark so that she can continue forcing more and more new ponies to join.