“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY”
Now, I hate to burst all of your bubbles in which you believe that I am a divine goddess of a being who, being an English major and librarian, has read everything that matters, BUT: that simply is not true. I mean, I am a divine and mystical creature but I haven’t read every book ever. This doesn’t bother me, but over the years I have found myself saying, more frequently than I would care to admit, “I’m embarrassed to admit this, but, no, I haven’t read bippity boppity boo.” Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is one of those books, a fact that was hammered home yet again when I was book shopping with a friend of mine in the best book store in Los Angeles, The Last Book Store, and had to admit my shame once again.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise, this is an early (as in, 1932 early) dystopia that envisions a world peopled by genetically engineered clones who fill a rigid caste system. Your caste is determined from the outset of your artificial creation, and your pre-determined caste is the basis for what part of the highly industrialized world you occupy. Society is an industrialized machine with no traditional families, no true human connections. It’s kept stable through psychological conditioning and manipulation while people sleep, and and and….it’s all just wild. I could keep describing this nightmarish vision of the future but that would ruin half the fun should you decide to read it, which you really should.
This book is, to put it quite simply, insane. As I was reading it I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this was written in 1932!” It still feels fresher and more relevant than anything I’ve read from the glut of “dystopias” published recently. I can’t decide if it’s a testament to how wildly imaginative this book is or how derivative most of the recent dystopian ventures are that it’s still better and more original eighty years later.
Now, any good dystopia points a finger back towards a present or in some way illuminates a fear that the author has for our future based on our current path (at least, that is my highly non-academic take on dystopias), and there is a whole mish mash of stuff going on in this one. There’s a fairly obvious thread of Red fear throughout; Brave New World reads as a warning against the dangers of an organized society, which is highly reflective of the fact that it was written when the world was in the grips of anti-communist broohaha. At the same time there’s a lot of boot-quaking about the adverse effects of rabid, state endorsed consumption, which, again, makes sense because there was a wave of industrialization going on at this point in history. As CRAZY as a lot of the ideas in Brave New World seem, they are still easily connected to the goings-on and fears of the time.
There’s also a fairly hilarious fear of what we in this modern day and age call “polyamory,” but I’m guessing Huxley was afraid of a future filled with HUSSIES and PROMISCUITY. Seriously, everyone in this future is a slut, and if you’re not a slut then you’re being anti-social. I am going to bold this for emphasis and I don’t even care what I’m spoiling, because they have government-sanctioned orgies while chanting “orgy-porgy.” That is my kind of future! However, the hyper-sexual future exists at the expense of a traditional family and good, old-fashioned love (because of course lots of sexing with various partners and forming love attachments are mutually exclusive) which, again, points towards some actually quite conservative fears about the hedonistic direction society was heading. However, the rampant sexuality is rooted in society due to the extreme, systematic psychological conditioning everyone is subjected to on a nightly basis, which also serves as a fairly radical commentary (for the time) of how our concepts of attachment, love, and sexuality are socially constructed and have nothing to do with any innate inclination towards partnership and “love.” Basically, this whole novel serves as a rabbit hole of mind fuckery.
Regardless of personal politics, however, I think there are fairly universally resonant fears of the loss of humanity and individuality that could come with a fast-paced future world. Huxley’s vision of the future is one that is driven by industry and consumerism, and what’s truly frightening in reading a book like this eighty years after it was written is seeing how well-founded some of those fears were. Society is a capitalist machine that continues to dig us deeper and deeper into a stratified class system that devalues our humanity. We spend all of our time plugged into our personal computing machines, whether those are phones or computers or what the fuck ever, to the point that we would often rather be lost in a machine than to actually look at a person who is sitting right next to us. And every time we check in to our virtual worlds, we are bombarded by messages to consume, to be sexier, to consume in order to BE sexier! It might not be exactly what is outlined in this satirical vision of the future, but it isn’t terribly far off, either.
Anyways, my point is, this book is still totally badass eighty years after the fact. As an added bonus, I started realizing that there are references to it in all sorts of other stuff I’ve read and watched; for example, in Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion, the clones are all grown in cows which is a direct reference to a very specific line in Brave New World which I could find if I wanted to but I don’t. Isn’t that cool? I think so. So, if you haven’t read it, and you like trippy ass dystopian shit, read it.
Before I give you your music, here’s a fun fact: Aldous Huxley was suuuuuper into psychedelics. He even wrote a book on his experiences with mescaline called The Doors of Perception. Here’s a quote from an article on how much dude loved to trip out from the LA Times blog:
“Laura Huxley told the story of Aldous Huxley’s death. In the last hours of his life, as he was dying of throat cancer, she maintained that he wrote a note asking for an injection of LSD. She gave it to him and sat beside him as he passed away, blissfully, on Nov. 22, 1963.”
So, Aldous Huxley died tripping. A-fucking-men.
For music, let’s go with Quasi’s “Our Happiness is Guaranteed,” because so much of the way society is structured in Brave New World, from the genetic manipulation to the heavy drug use to the ban on loving attachment to the conditioning to EVERYTHING is based on a pursuit of a shallow but pervasive “happiness.”
AND ALSO I have to include Iron Maiden’s “Brave New World.” HAVE TO.
Where I got it: the library