by Hope Jordan
Reviewed by Annaleah Magnuson
In her short story “Offensive”, Hope Jordan imagines a futuristic dystopian world, though it’s one that’s not too far from recognizable to readers. This media-saturated and digital-obsessed society has been bluntly categorized into three castes: Flaunters, the 1% (think Kardashian); Commoners, the middle class laymen; and Miscellaneous. Jordan’s words paint a macabre picture of the way the forgotten members of society have been condemned to scratch at the bottom of the barrel.
Miscellaneous people were the ones easily forgotten – the people you met one second, forgot the next. Miscellaneous made up a small percentage of the population, a title mostly saved for the homeless or rebellious or disgusting. Most lived on the streets or in prisons, but a select few had money. Those with the resources built their own safe havens somewhere near the coasts and were never seen again.
We begin alongside Clara, finding serenity and solace on the shores of a beach as ocean waves crash around her. Through the lens of Clara’s memories, we understand more of this world’s strange rules: each citizen is required to wear a minuscule “Update” device that constantly sends thoughts and feelings telepathically as “status updates” to “followers” – and the celebrated Flaunters have millions of these devotees. Jordan’s barely contained sarcasm for the reflection of Flaunters in our society seeps through, while her commentary on its capitalist nature, including the obsession with “constantly consuming and recording life for others to covet” is clear through Clara’s distaste for her world.
They had Updates from the moment they were born until the day they died, so that no one missed out of their privileged, fascinating lives. Flaunters were the individuals most prone to Updating the rest of the world on what they had for lunch. Ironically people cared, and would emulate the Flaunter diet, as well as their style and attitude.
The story’s action begins to pick up when we learn Clara was unhappily born into Flaunterdom, and has since escaped and joined the ranks of the disgraced Miscellaneous.
To them, she had tarnished her parents’ legacy and let herself be a nobody. In the eyes of the world, she was wasting her greater purpose and falling into the trap of self-discovery. Even the most offensive individuals had the purpose of offending people.
Following her rejection from society, move down the totem pole towards shameful anonymity and years of tinkering, Clara had discovered how to temporarily dismantle her Update to afford her a few hours of precious freedom before returning back to society’s shackles. And as far as she knew, she was the only person who was on the verge of complete escape.
Just as this light at the tunnel’s end is revealed, it quickly becomes apparent that Clara’s serene beach escape is becoming nightmarishly wrong: the sky darkens ominously and a full-fledged tidal wave suddenly rises up and threatens to swallow her, while her body is inexplicably paralyzed against the sand. Right alongside Clara, the reader is metaphorically splashed in the face with icy cold water as we are told the entirety of her calm beachfront was an unconscious dream: she is being trapped and tortured by the government for outsmarting their all-knowing system. Jordan’s grimy and descriptive language places us right inside Clara’s fear and claustrophobia.
As dystopian novels and films continue to be produced, especially those involving creeping technology and corrupt governments (ehem, Netflix’s excellently chilling Black Mirror) Offensive’s concept is not extremely inventive. However, Jordan’s frank descriptions and compelling voice make Offensive a gripping quick read. Its abrupt ending leaves us pondering which caste of this disturbing society we may fit in.
After years of work, she was days away from being able to shut down the entire Update system, not simply her own earpiece. That freedom, that ability for people to get in touch with true reality was priceless.
She would share nothing.
Really makes you think twice about grabbing your iPhone to share your thoughts on Twitter for the 14th time today, huh?
“Offensive” by Hope Jordan was originally published in the Spring 2015 Issue of DePauw University’s A Midwestern Review.
Click here for the web link to the original story.