‘Brave New World’: Soft Porn and the Peacock

In these times of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, one has to be courageous to take on a science fiction dystopian drama written in 1932. Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” is a product of its times, imagining a homogenous society based in New London after a nine-year war and the Peacock production attempts erase the racism and misogyny of the science fiction classic, giving us a sterile utopia modeled after Apple Store esthetics and carefully crafted diversity spiced with soft pornographic couplings.

Background

Huxley (1894-1963) was born in England, but died in Los Angeles County at the age of 69. He was nominated seven times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His influential family included a grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, who coined the word, “Darwinism.” Aldous Huxley’s brother Julian and half-brother Andrew were notable biologists. Julian was the first director of UNESCO, a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund and the first president of the British Humanist Association. Besides being an evolutionary biologist, Julian was also a eugenicist.  Andrew was a physiologist and biophysicist whose joint research with Alan Lloyd Hodgkin on nerve impulses earned them a Nobel Prize in 1963.

Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” came out only 22 years after women in the US were granted to right to vote nationally. Women in the UK were given the vote in 1918 (if they were over 30 while men could vote when they were over 21) and it was only in 1928 that women over 21 could, like men, vote.  The full novel is available for free online.

In 1921, the man’s whose name would become synonymous with “genius,” Albert Einstein, received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The year that the novel was published saw Adolf Hitler run for president of Germany, ultimately losing to Paul von Hindenburg, yet becoming Chancellor of Germany 30 January 1933.

By 1932, Henry Ford was manufacturing one-third of the world’s cars with subsidiaries in the UK, Australia, Canada, Europe, South Africa and India as wells Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the Philippines. Ford was credited with “Fordism” which is the mass production of goods that were less expensive, and built by well-paid assembly line workers.

The Novel

In the novel “Brave New World,” Ford is something of a deity in this world where Fordism is applied to people. The World State bases its numeric calendar year on the year that Henry Ford’s Model T first came off the assembly line: 1908. The action in the novel takes place in Anno Ford 632 which would be 2540. Instead of crosses, the T is worshiped and instead of saying something like “my lord,” the citizens of the World State say, “my Ford.”

The novel describes civilization based in a New London and predict cloning, designated as the Bokanovsky Process in which human ovum are fertilized in vitro, but caused to split into identical genetic copies of the original. The process is repeated for a maximum number of 96 vale embryos possible, but 72 being a good average. The process is used for three of the five social classes: Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. The process is not applied to the embryos of the two upper classes: Alpha and Beta.

The novel does specify racial differences apparent within the process of test tube babies:

Beckoning to a fair-haired, ruddy young man who happened to be passing at the moment. “Mr. Foster,” he called. The ruddy young man approached. “Can you tell us the record for a single ovary, Mr. Foster?”

“Sixteen thousand and twelve in this Centre,” Mr. Foster replied without hesitation. He spoke very quickly, had a vivacious blue eye, and took an evident pleasure in quoting figures. “Sixteen thousand and twelve; in one hundred and eighty-nine batches of identicals. But of course they’ve done much better,” he rattled on, “in some of the tropical Centres. Singapore has often produced over sixteen thousand five hundred; and Mombasa has actually touched the seventeen thousand mark. But then they have unfair advantages. You should see the way a negro ovary responds to pituitary! It’s quite astonishing, when you’re used to working with European material. Still,” he added, with a laugh (but the light of combat was in his eyes and the lift of his chin was challenging), “still, we mean to beat them if we can. I’m working on a wonderful Delta-Minus ovary at this moment. Only just eighteen months old. Over twelve thousand seven hundred children already, either decanted or in embryo. And still going strong. We’ll beat them yet.”

Each of the five classes is divided into Plus or Minus. An alpha double plus is at the top of the society and Alphas were grey. Betas wear mulberry, Gammas wear leaf green, Deltas wear Khaki and Epsilons wear black. It seems from the book that all the Alphas are male. The women we follow, particularly Lenina and her friend, Fanny, are Beta and date Alphas. They discuss the Alpha males they will hook up with.

Discomfort or dissatisfaction are dealt with through drugs (Soma) and by Pavlovian conditioning wherein caste members are trained to feel contempt for lower castes, but also a sense of relief they are not burdened with the responsibilities of the people in higher castes.  People are constantly concerned about their levels and may feel the need for different graded strengths (graded by color) of Soma to deal with problems.

The world is united as a World State with ten World Controllers located in key cities. World Controllers are selected from people who display unconventional thoughts. There exist savages who are on reservations in New Mexico, Samoa and islands off of what was New Guinea. People who do not fit into the World State society or do not wish to live there go to the Falkland Islands, Iceland or the Marquesas Islands. Languages like Polish, French and German are dead. Parents and the nuclear or even extended family structure do not exist in the World State. Monogamy is frowned upon because it is counter to the World State motto of “Community, Identity, Stability.”

When Lenina and Alpha Plus male Bernard take a trip outside of New London, they visit the Savage Reservation, it is clearly in New Mexico and Lenina comments on the smell.

A padding of soft feet made them turn round. Naked from throat to navel, their dark brown bodies painted with white lines (“like asphalt tennis courts,” Lenina was later to explain), their faces inhuman with daubings of scarlet, black and ochre, two Indians came running along the path. Their black hair was braided with fox fur and red flannel. Cloaks of turkey feathers fluttered from their shoulders; huge feather diadems exploded gaudily round their heads. With every step they took came the clink and rattle of their silver bracelets, their heavy necklaces of bone and turquoise beads. They came on without a word, running quietly in their deerskin moccasins. One of them was holding a feather brush; the other carried, in either hand, what looked at a distance like three or four pieces of thick rope. One of the ropes writhed uneasily, and suddenly Lenina saw that they were snakes.

The novel includes descriptions of an old man because in the World State people aren’t allowed to grow old. Lenina is also repelled by women breast feeding because children are raised by the state, not mothers. The novel depicts Native Americans in the pueblo as lacking hygiene with dirt, piles of rubbish, dogs and flies. A woman is picking out lice from a girl’s hair.

For Lenina this is horrific and she protests, “But cleanliness is next to fordliness”, but Bernard also reminds her that these people have lived this way for 5 thousand years and must be used to it and that “civilization is sterilization.”

Bernard is considered flawed in a society of perfect people due to his short height.  Lenina has been cautioned earlier about maintaining an exclusive sexual relationship with Henry Foster, an extremely attractive Alpha Plus.

At the reservation, Bernard and Lenina discover John the Savage, a man born from the union of an Alpha and a woman who was left behind during a visit to the reservation. Linda as a Beta is promiscuous and looked down upon by the people of the reservation because while the men may enjoy clandestine sexual encounters with her, the values on the reservation is one of monogamy.

John has been educated by his mother through the complete works of William Shakespeare, but he is caught between the world of his mother and the attitudes of the culture on the reservation toward her. The novel centers around Bernard and John the Savage as John reacts to the World State, and as Bernard guides him into the norms of the World State, presenting John the Savage as a curiosity which improves Bernard’s social standing. The latter part of the novel focuses on John as he fights his sense of morality and his attraction to Lenina whose promiscuity horrifies him. The title of the novel comes from a speech by Miranda in “The Tempest”: “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in’t!”

The Miniseries

In the Peacock miniseries, we welcomed to New London and the inter titles tell us that in New London:

We have three rules.

No privacy.

No family.

No monogamy.

Beta Plus Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay) is called into the office of her superior, Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd), who reproaches her “selfishness” for maintaining a monogamous relationship with Henry Foster (Sen Mitsuji) for almost two months. Citizens of the World State have eye contacts with a slithery hair-like attachment that allows the controllers and everyone in the World State to see what you see. So images of Lenina fornicating with Henry are conjured up as holograms.

Others have noticed with one telling Lenina, “If you see Henry Foster again, I swear, I’ll report you.”

Lenina talks with her friend, Frannie (Kylie Bunbury), who is Black.  Lenina decides to join Bernard at the trashy amusement park place called Savage Lands. For political correctness, this is White trash, red-necks putting on a show for the tourists and not a Native American reservation. You can sense the careful crafting of the casting for diversity and yet John is still White (Alden Ehrenreich).

The miniseries doesn’t show us babies at the INFANT NURSERIES. NEO-PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING ROOMS (Chapter 2). Instead we glide through clean rooms where young people work in regimented assembly lines or where young people of various races–none looking the slightest bit like an Albert Einstein–intermingle and have no-strings attached sex.

In a post-AIDS crisis, current COVID-19 world, these scenes of casual orgies (“Did you let them start the orgy without me?) and people wandering through life in a Soma drugged calm (“Yellow? It sounds serious. My levels are fine.”) might unwittingly seem like freedom and more attractive than ominously sterile.

The year 2020 is probably not the time or the era to contemplate “the selfishness of two people engaged in monogamous” relationships. Monogamy and attempted chaste courtships might have been the norm for the 1930s, but pre-COVID-19, the rules seemed to be a 5-date-to-sex scenario or even the casual hook-up of the internet age–no date, just straight to the carnal embrace. In “Brave New World,” the ending of an intense sexual relationship is trivialized (“Don’t be silly. Ending is better than mending.”) but that sentiment might fit in easily with the casual sexual hookup crowd in pre-COVID-19 2019. The soft porn quality of the miniseries undercuts the novel’s support of monogamy.

Worse is that the concept of the Alpha male has been corrupted and become every day parlance to signify both misogyny and paternalism and justify the right to rule. You can see the concept of Alpha males used in family-friendly cartoons without anyone but perhaps animal behaviorists voicing concern.

The racism that Aldous Huxley displays in the novel can’t easily be erased and during a time of racial reckoning, one that is largely binary, the question of racism superiority and the breeding of a populace can’t help but exist under the shadow of racism and other prejudices. The most intriguing part of “Brave New World” is that it choses a half-Japanese man to the elegant and attractive Alpha Plus, Henry Foster.  How often is an Asian or partially Asian man presented as the object of desire? Not often enough.

Yet Africa is a large continent and Asia has about 60 percent of the world population. One-fifth of the world population is Chinese and one-fifth of the population is Muslim. I can’t help but wonder what happened to all the Chinese and how they feel about the World State. Does this World State indicated fear of fascism or fear of being swamped by other immigrants in uncontrolled mixing of races?

In 2020, we have a variety ways of creating babies, dogs have been cloned and racism continues to be a problem. The “Brave New World” process of artificial reproduction of babies is not so far from reality and that has already raised ethical questions. COVID-19 has divided residents of the US into people who embrace or disregard science and for those who embrace science, the importance of monogamy becomes more prominent in the struggle for survival. We do face a brave new world, but we’re more like Prospero than Miranda and it seems impossible to extricate the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter questions from Aldous Huxley’s novel. Some of those concerns are addressed in casting in the miniseries, but continue to overshadow the tale that is told.

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