saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (us)
[personal profile] saavedra77
A dark science fiction drama: "A world divided. A society consumed by drugs. And one outsider who dares to make a difference. Brave. New. World!" Coming soon to theaters in 3D & Digital Surround Sound. You'll feel like you're there! Video game in stores December first. Multiplayer online role-playing game scheduled for release in January.

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I'm really glad that Stuart McMillen's cartoon illustrating that passage from Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death is going around.

I'm 100% with Portman's main thesis: In 1984, Orwell summed up the various totalitarian-isms that strangled European and Asian societies during the twentieth century. But Huxley's Brave New World more accurately perceived the way that the wind was blowing in Western society (and maybe societies everywhere, eventually): sharper class stratification; a superficial mass media & marketing culture; the pharmaceutical-ization of our bodies.

My two cents: I think that we've paid more attention to Orwell's dystopia not only because (as Portman says) it flattered us, but because 1984 was terrifying and didn't require much imagination--we'd seen Orwellian societies. Huxley's dystopia seemed more tragic than terrifying, and too science-fiction.

But if Huxley’s dystopia reads less like science fiction, today, it still is. If the trends are more recognizable, the author’s decision to set his story in the far future feels no less appropriate. We’re certainly not on the verge of a genetically-engineered caste system.

Moreover, many of Huxley’s fears seem decidedly hyperbolic and anachronistic, on this side of the Summer of Love: for example, associating widespread recreational sex and a ready supply of contraceptives with the obsolescence of the family; or imagining periodic acid-trip “holidays” as a means of keeping citizens happily in order.

Certainly, some have warned that the growing prevalence of mood-altering drugs represents a form of pharmacological social engineering: numbing us to real life so that we can focus exclusively on consuming and producing. But if drugs are being prescribed for the wrong reasons or to people who don’t really need them, we still have the problem of distinguishing legitimate therapeutic use.

Then we come to the problem of that ubiquitous, market-driven mass culture, its slick surfaces and hollowness, the feared “dumbing down.” Critics warn that depth, critical thinking, and face-to-face social skills are being lost in this new onrush of images and sensations.

I question the nostalgia of that sentiment: as the Welsh critic Raymond Williams once commented, the Golden Age moves with us into the future, always back there over the last hill. We can’t be too surprised that pop-culture is superficial. No society has ever been composed exclusively of poets, philosophers, and great minds–they are only the people we remember. Moreover, one could argue that the internet are related media teaching new forms of literacy and fluency. Maybe the Web will live up to its early promise, proving the bound-book traditionalists wrong. And our insuperable cynicism may yet save our minds and wallets from the market.

Fortunately or unfortunately, though, we are probably not going to be able to disembark from this train. Twenty-first century Americans appear quite comfortable with that mass media market culture. One hopes it’s not too much to ask that they read Brave New World, somewhere along the way.

Or maybe we should just make a movie?

Date: 2010-08-17 08:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] schmallturm.livejournal.com
What makes you think "Brave New World" is a dystopian novel? Other than that everyone says it is.

Date: 2010-08-17 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saavedra77.livejournal.com
Huxley certainly regarded it as such: he described the society of Brave New World as "insane," a "horror," a "really efficient totalitarian state"--one that didn't require overt coercion or propaganda. I suppose that you could also call it a "false utopia": the population think they're living in the worker's/consumer's paradise. Coercion and assent become almost indistinguishable because human beings have been, from Huxley's standpoint, mutilated through eugenics, lifelong conditioning, and pharmaceuticals. "The love of servitude ... established ... as a result of a deep, personal revolution in human minds and bodies."

I guess that one of the questions to ask about the novel is the meaning of coercion in that context.
Edited Date: 2010-08-17 10:16 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-08-18 02:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] schmallturm.livejournal.com
Huxley was a smart guy but I think that the presence of the novel on reading lists for years is more about english lit professors being able to use it to look down their noses at the horrors of the consumer society, than about real merit as futurism.

I have been reading a bunch on human evolution lately and it is pretty clear that we are all the product of "a deep, personal revolution in human minds and bodies" caused by the evolutionary pressures of agriculture and increased population density. A stone age hunter gatherer would be horrified by our society, that doesn't mean it is a dystopia.

Date: 2010-08-18 09:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saavedra77.livejournal.com
I should clarify: When I say that Brave New World is a dystopia, I'm talking about a kind of story, not necessarily what I think about the scenario. Brave New World's in the genre.

As to the content: From the standpoint of 2010, Huxley's going to come off as kind of a crank to many readers. Others may actually still entertain fears about sex, drugs, genetic engineering, etc. Brave New World seems like a great place to get that conversation going: To what extent should we really be worried about any of those things? In what ways?

But I think that you're actually getting at the most interesting part: How "totalitarian" or "coercive" is a system most people don't really mind all that much? If they were bred this way, that's the way they are. Fait accompli. The rest is arguably just, well, their culture. (Hello, multiculturalism ...) I honestly don't think Huxley thought through the coercion/consent paradox in the scenario he was creating--the reader ought to, though.

You could do a lot with the above in a classroom: not just "Where are we going?" and "What do we think about that?", but "What's coercion and what's not?"

Date: 2010-08-19 06:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] schmallturm.livejournal.com
I think that is what I was trying to say. :-)

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