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In August 1927 Aldous Huxley wrote an article entitled “Entertainment for the Masses”. In his article he explains, “that increased leisure does not lead to increased culture […]”(1). In 1933 he published the novel Brave New World in which he tries to prove this thesis.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, happiness is supposed to be achieved by increased leisure, such as the consumption of mass-products, by doing sports like electromagnetic “Obstacle Golf”, by frequent sexual encounters with changing partners, "the feelies", and of course the utopian wonder-drug “soma”. All these institutions and means have been developed for the society to satisfy basic, human needs.
Soma causes a feeling of content and helps to prevent negative emotions, the community sing substitutes religion, different sports are there for the sake of fitness and feelings of success, the feelies are a substitute for a variety of feelings and the desire for sex is satisfied by frequent sexual encounters. In the following text these different possibilities of entertainment are explained.
The word “soma” could be derived from the Latin word somnium which means “the dream” or from somnus, “the sleep”. Another possibility is that the name refers to the plant “soma”, which the Hindus produce a drinkable, intoxicating drug from.
In the brave new world soma is one of the most important scientific inventions. It is a drug that causes a longer or shorter time of well-being, depending on the amount swallowed. Unlike alcohol or tranquillisers soma works positively on the human mind without having side effects or causing hangovers. For many people in the brave new world taking soma is like a short holiday after work. This fact especially appears in the case of the lower caste people. They get their soma-ration every day and swallow it although it shortens their lives. With soma the citizens of the brave new world can compensate emotional stress. If they feel sorrow, pain, anger, jealousy or other negative emotions the universal solution always seems to be soma. So soma is a remedy to reduce aggression and discontent to a minimum and it helps to keep the social stability in the brave new world. It helps to prevent emotional amplitudes, which means that all citizens are on a constant level, never feeling really good or extremely bad. Soma keeps people away from dealing with their problems or having a critical look at them. Mustapha Mond claims that “You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle”(p.235).
But soma does not give more than a cheap thrill to the intellectual Alpha Plus Bernard Marx, nor does it make him happy with his circumstances in life.
This stands in contrast to Lenina who takes large portions of soma. Whenever she has emotional difficulties or is not able to cope with a situation, she escapes into the dream world of soma. An example of her escape from her surroundings, is the situation when she and Bernard Marx visit the reservation. Just because she is bored by the warden’s speech she swallows half a gramme of soma to flee from the boredom of the warden’s speech. Because of soma she seems to pay attention, but in reality she does not listen nor does she think at all.
Another purpose of the drug is the usage of soma for sick and dying people. In hospitals patients get huge concentrations of soma to ease their suffering and pain especially before death. Soma makes death as pleasant as possible. But the consumption of soma also causes these patients not to be able to think clearly any more, and stay drugged until they are dead. The exaggerated consumption of soma can lead to death, like in Linda’s case. She needs to take huge portions of soma just to repress memories of her past in the reservation. This is an extreme example of how people escape from reality by taking soma. But there are far more other drugs offered by the Internal and External Secretion Trust, which is in charge of hormones and medicines to keep people fit, young-looking and happy.
As the technical development has progressed in the brave new world there is also a new form of cinema, which is called “the feelies”. The difference between cinema today and the feelies in the brave new world is that the impressions one can get are not only conveyed in the visual and auditory way, but also by the sense of touch and the sense of smell. At the beginning of the movie a scent organ spills a diversity of fragrances through the theatre and delights the audience by smells of rosemary, lavender or sandalwood and new-mown hay. After that a music machine produces sounds of synthetic music and warbling human voices that changes its heights every couple of seconds to fascinate the listeners. The “feely” effects are caused by metal knobs on the arms of “pneumatic” chairs.
Lenina likes this form of movie very much. That is why she invites John to such an event. Sitting comfortably in their pneumatic stalls, among six thousand other spectators, they are waiting for the beginning of the movie.
[ … ]then suddenly, dazzling and incomparably more solid- looking than they would have seemed in actual flesh and blood, far more real than reality, there stood the stereoscopic images, locked in one another ’ s arms, [ … ] (cf. p.169)
A special technique conveys a very vivid picture of the action. From this sentence one could think that Huxley already had an idea of the 3D technology which was actually invented decades after he had written the book.
The coloured movie “Three Weeks In A Helicopter”, which has an extremely simple plot, is a genre-mixture of eroticism and action. John thinks that this film is horrible and superficial, but for Lenina, as a typical inhabitant of the brave new world, it is brilliant, as it is a substitute for real feelings.
As in the real world people may not have intense feelings, especially negative feelings like hatred aggression and pain, it is the main purpose of these feelies to enable people to experience these sensations in a safe place. The masses in the brave new world are not able to develop real feelings because the state policy tries to prevent them from committing such offences in any way. For example it is not acceptable for a couple to have a relationship lasting more than a few weeks, because stable social relationships mean instability for the state (cf. frequent sexual encounters).
The importance of the feelies is also shown by the enormously large Hounslow Feely Studio which covers seven and a half hectares.
Obstacle Golf and other Games
Obstacle Golf, centrifugal bumble-puppy, escalator squash and Riemann-surface tennis are popular activities in the brave new world. What is remarkable about these sports is that the equipment needed for them is very elaborated and is constantly improved and easy to break. The reason for this is that the state wants to increase consumption (cf. consumption, p.5).
Obstacle Golf is mentioned for the first time in Chapter 4, when Henry and Lenina play this game. The game is based on electromagnetic technologies, which means that the metal ball rolls into the hole almost automatically. This self-cheating game is good for fast feelings of success, nobody ever loses. That is important because no feelings of depression or disappointment are provoked and negative feelings can be compensated. All the other games are only mentioned in passing without being described in further detail.
Nevertheless these activities are of great importance. The inhabitants of the brave new world are supposed to take part in these games. That is the reason why Bernard feels guilty about confessing to not having played anything that afternoon when he is asked by a girl at the Solidary Service what he did (cf.p.89).
Frequent sexual encounters with changing partners
“Everybody belongs to everybody else”, that is the brave new world’s motto concerning the relationship between men and women. Romantic love is discouraged in order to prevent permanent relationships that lead to lasting love.
In fact, there are no stable relationships in brave new world, just short sexual affairs for mere fun. Already in their childhood the inhabitants of the brave new world are indoctrinated with the state’s ideology. Therefore children are encouraged to play the “Erotic Play”, in which they explore one another’s bodies. This game has been induced to lead them to an uncomplicated, natural relation to their bodies and to prevent any adult feelings of guilt concerning sex.
John realizes that the only meaning of sex in the brave new world is lust, but love does not play any role. This stands in contrast to his life in the reservation, where monogamy, faith and love are among the highest values. That explains John’s “strange” behaviour towards Lenina. The society of the brave new world is loveless, because love between men and women and love within a family is taboo. Families do not exist any more, because children are “decanted”, raised and educated by the state.
In Chapter 5 (cf.pp.88) Bernard goes to the fortnightly "Solidarity Service" at the Fordson Community Singery which is organized regularly for the Alphas and Betas. This is a parody of religious centres in our “real” world.
On a Thursday he arrives a little late and takes a seat in the group. There are twelve men and women taking their seats around a table. All of them take some soma in its liquid form and as tablets. After the soma has taken effect they begin to shout like in ecstasy. Although he does not feel anything, Bernard pretends to be overwhelmed by the appearance of “Ford”, the equivalent of God of the brave new world. In order to praise him they all dance around the table and shout "orgy-porgy" in a frenzy.
After they have fallen back into their seats exhaustedly sexual relations conclude the "service". In the end all except Bernard have a feeling of total satisfaction and common perfection.
The Solidarity Services are the new form of religious services in the brave new world. It is supposed to strengthen peace and solidarity among the participants. Human beings always tend to believe in superior powers. The World State has recognized this fact and misuses these religious urges. Soma is used to induce this "religious" feeling. In contrast to Christian services in reality the Solidarity Services in the brave new world do not convey any message, they are rather orgies. Consumption is the “new” religion of society. Therefore Henry Ford is praised as the new god. He is the pioneer of mass-production representing the ideals of the brave new world. The Christian "Lord" is replaced by "Ford", and instead of the cross a “T” is used.
The system of the brave new world is based on production and consumption. The inhabitants of the brave new world are encouraged to increase their consumption of mass-produced goods.
First of all a certain demand must be created. Additionally, consumption must be held up. This is supported by the state’s slogan “Ending is better than mending”, which means that people ought to buy new products instead of repairing old goods. These two factors drive the economy. It goes even that far that the children are manipulated to dislike nature because people who like nature do not consume enough products. Thus, for the majority of the brave new worlders the only motivation for working is to consume more and better products. Consumption is regarded as beneficial to society. People are conditioned to believe that more consumption means that the more goods will have to be produced. This will increase the number of jobs and keep the society fully employed.
All the institutions mentioned above have one aspect in common: they are supposed to distract the people’s attention from their lack of freedom. There seem to be parallels to Neil Postman who claims that “[…] people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”(2)
With regard to “Brave New World” this means that the world-controllers have managed to make the “oppression” of the inhabitants as pleasant as possible. That is why Huxley thought that “[…] truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance”(2), which means that the inhabitants are given no time for spiritual contemplation. They simply are too busy being entertained.
According to Huxley, the dictators of brave new world have finally discovered “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.
This can - to some extent - be compared to the living conditions in the Roman Empire. At its climax the masses were turned away from the political instability of the system by an abundance of various kinds of amusement.
But improved technology and increased leisure do not lead to increased culture according to Huxley (cf. 1).
It is a fact that society can be “overloaded” with entertainment, so that improved living conditions rather lead to blindness towards problems and real culture. An example of such developments in our time is current entertainment structures like the TV-shows “Big Brother” or “Girls Camp”, which are superficial, voyeuristic and have hardly any sense. The success of these shows seems to underline Huxley’s thesis.
Consequently the crucial question seems to be, whether a life without war, violence and disease, and with never-ending fun and distraction is worth a total lack of freedom.
1.)Aldous Huxley, Brave New World; Stuttgart 2000, (Ernst Klett Verlag GmbH)
2.)Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death; London 1985 (William Heinemann Ltd.)
3.)Aldous Huxley, Entertainment for the Masses, in Harpers Magazine, “ The Outlook For American Culture”, August 1927, p.26.
(1) Aldous Huxley, Entertainment for the Masses, p. 26
(2) Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, pp. vii-viii
- Quote paper
- Jan M. Groth (Author), 2001, Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World - Entertainment for the Masses, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/106155