Uncommon Sense: The Rise Of Huxley And The Demise Of Humor
Have you noticed how -- with the exception of most political campaigns, beer ads on TV and Epcot Center -- the 20th and early 21st centuries produced no utopian visions for the future at all?
Dystopian visions, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen, and can be found on multiple screens in any cinema multiplex at virtually any time. (Case in point, last weekend’s box office bonanza, The Hunger Games.)
In his wonderfully readable book, "Amusing Ourselves To Death," media ecologist Neil Postman memorialized the debate between the top two dystopian
visions of the
20th century -- Orwell’s Big Brother of "1984" and Aldous Huxley’s anesthetized society of "Brave New World" -- in a series of couplets.
“What Orwell feared,” he began, “were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell,” he continued, “feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.
feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial
culture, preoccupied with some equivalent
of the Feelies, the Orgy Porgy and the Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.
In "1984," people are controlled by inflicting pain. In "Brave New World," people are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short,” he concluded, “Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”
What the hell happened? Little aberrations like a couple of world wars, genocides, famine, viral epidemics and natural disasters aside, one might think that the weightier minds of the past 100 years and change might find some reason to forecast rosier times. Apparently not. Maybe.
We’re all just cranky because we can no longer speak our minds without getting sued or shot -- or both. Not that bad, you say? Consider how few of the great sitcoms of the 1950s and '60s would be tolerated for even a split second in today’s politically correct climate of smiling fascism.
Why? Because they all made fun of authority. Real authority, guys with guns. They went after cops and spies and the military, all of whom are strictly off limits these days. Can you imagine a "McHales Navy," "Bilko," "F Troop," "Get Smart" or "Car 54" playing in prime time today?
The great ones that didn’t elicit laughs at the expense of
cops, spies or the military poked fun at poverty and ethnicity instead. They would be equally silenced by the same patently
unfunny political correctness. Think "All in the Family" (“You Polack meathead!”) or "Sanford and Son" (“Ya big dummy!”)
So who’s left to make fun of?
Only frat boys, the political right and hapless middle-class fathers. As Holden Caulfield would say, “Very big deal.” Jed Clampett would shake his head and mutter, “Pitiful, jes’ pitiful.” Talk about easy marks. Jon Stewart wakes up every morning and thanks God for Rush Limbaugh. That makes two of them.
But the political and financial elites that rule the world wouldn’t have it
any other way. They know that the great lessons from the 1960s had less to do with
freedom and liberation and more to do with crowd control. Of course, they’re gonna need it -- especially if we can’t find ways to make fun once again of who we are (and everyone else) without getting shot or sued.