Ever since the inception of dystopian fiction, it has been a common trend to point at the direction a country is going in and liken it to a fictional dystopia better left in print. By far and large, the most common dystopia used in these comparisons is the one in George Orwell’s “1984.”
For those who are not familiar, “1984” describes a bleak totalitarian society. An omnipresent figure known as Big Brother is said to loom over the citizens of Oceania watching their every move. It’s a popular comparison, used by both the left and the right. The left is quick to point out the fascist overtones, while the right is eager to counter with the communist implications. Either way, the important part of “1984” is that its society is controlled greatly by fear.
Every president, every political change and every new decade brings with it cries that the new “regime” will lead the U.S. into an Orwellian state.
To this we counter that the fate of the U.S. will more closely resemble another dystopian novel, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”
Let’s look at the facts. A big part of “1984” involves control by fear at the hands of a totalitarian government seemingly ruled by a single entity. One of the main themes of “1984” involves controlled media, where only facts that the government has approved and distorted are revealed to the public, and the very language itself is modified for the government to best control people. Let’s be real though. While this comparison does hold for the former Soviet Union and North Korea, there’s little chance that the U.S. will fall to such measures, especially not with the checks-and-balances system that has kept our government running for so long — and with our divided media. Sure, there are outcries that certain outlets lean one way or another, but the fact is there is outcry.
Enter “Brave New World,” which is not as common in the high-school reading curriculum, but remains another staple of dystopian literature. This novel describes a society where everyone’s pleasures are met. No one has to worry about war or famine. There’s plenty of entertainment, and citizens are encouraged to indulge and consume in excess. From the moment they are conceived, they are told what they want and are given it. This is a society controlled by desire. No one questions their limited personal freedom — after all, what’s the point in complaining if you’re being provided everything you could want?
Think about where the U.S. would fall in this kind of world. Information in the society of “Brave New World” is not withheld. It’s just that no one cares enough to access it. In our society, serious, heavy news stories may capture our attention, but soon enough some celebrity is having a baby or some popular TV show has killed off another character, and everyone latches onto that instead. If the U.S. is heading toward one of these dystopian futures, it’s not toward the bleak, totalitarian one, but the flashy, mass-consumerist one — where the people are kept sated and quiet.
Social critic Neil Postman says in “1984,” Orwell feared “the truth would be concealed from us,” and in “Brave New World,” Huxley feared “the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” Looking at the news, where the top headline for weeks has been fixated on what musicians are and are not going to play for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, well, it’s just a little uncanny.