From the October 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are living in a Brave New World and the invisible dictator is Walt Disney. After the death camps came the theme parks: in the first human bodies were cast into furnaces, like so many offensive animals to be slaughtered; now they cast human sensibilities into the mind-numbing, culture-eroding cartoon community of Mickey Mouse and make the victims pay to get in. No longer is total power sought, at least by the sophisticated, by means of the cudgel and the bullet. Now the slaves are condemned to prisons of fabricated fun. (Has it ever occurred to those who declaim against prisons being turned into holiday camps that this says more than a little about holiday camps?) From the phoney friendliness of Radio One (where we all have Fun) to the cheap and sloppy outpourings of Hollywood's hypnosis industry', fun is for sale; illusion has become one of the fastest-growing commodities of world capitalism. You want happiness? How much can you afford?
Brave New World
In this Brave New World, which is indeed the same old world with its same old system and single old agenda of profits before life, there is a celebration of the ephemeral and the unhistorical. The beauty of Disney, the first theoretician of cultural excretion, is that nothing he produces (produced by others, of course) exists within real history. From Bambi to Aladdin to Peter Pan and assorted talking animals, every thing is ripped from the context of materiality, like a drunk's view of the night before An epidemic in the use of banned drugs, pathways to escape, plagues the inner cities where a passage from reality can be fixed for a price. But the legal illusion-sellers, the merchants of here-today-gone-before-you-know-it Fun, are the market leaders with their drip- drip-drip of manufactured escapism designed to make you forget what you are and why you are. Disney does this well. Not for nothing did they call his corporation an Empire. Not for being jolly good fellows did the Disney Corporation (now in the midst of internecine executive warfare over its future leadership) make $3.6 billion in 1993, as against a mere $244 million in 1984.
Speaking of which . . . Orwell’s novel was basically wrong. In parts chillingly predictive of the sinister world of security cameras, "intelligence services" and news manipulation which modem capitalism has become. Nineteen Eighty Four was essentially a scare story for people who could only recognise an oppressor if he looked like Hitler or Stalin. This has been the great self-defence of liberal capitalism: well, at least we’re not Hitlers or Stalins. Examine and scrutinise as much as you will the smarmy, offensive, unctuous grin of a Clinton and there can be no doubt that the funny little moustache just isn’t there and neither is the Stalinist stare or the goose-stepping crazies with medals and ministerial powers.
"Big Clinton Is Watching You"? No, it just does not ring true. Clinton is a product of the Brave New World, more at home in a Disney theme park with the Three Blairs, Captain Kohl and Major the Mouse (that couldn’t roar) than in any Ministry of Truth worthy of Orwell’s ink. In the Clinton World Empire nobody is sent to Room 101; we send ourselves into a dazed captivity of MTV where music has become a hostage to star-selling, or CNN where news happens so fast that it is invented before history has had time to take place. In Orwell’s nightmare at least you would know where you were. Or if not, at least the simplicity of brainwashing (never a convincing explanation of the ideological process, incidentally) could be blamed for not knowing where you are. But Maoism is as obsolete now as the Ford Popular and dental care on the NHS; Orwell was the prophet of a disaster which had already largely happened when he forewarned us of it.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which predated Orwell’s by a decade-and-a-half, is the story of what has happened to capitalist culture. It is a critical guide-book to DisneyWorld. It is a tale of death by a billion laughs. It and Crome Yellow may well be the only successful novels which Huxley wrote, and to be sure The Doors of Perception (which gave its name to a rock band and an air of intellectual legitimacy to a drug culture) was the product of a mind rotten with empty Californian culture [sic] and devoid of the slightest reference to the capitalist system. Had Huxley directed his eminently scientific brain towards the nature of the profit system which can only ever employ science unscientifically he might have left us more. As it was he died on the day that JFK was shot (by several hundred people if the books and films are to be believed) and did not even make the News. "What were you doing when you heard that JFK was shot?" (Perhaps one of the more inane cliches of our century.) "Reading Brave New World and wondering if things can get any worse." They did get worse and here we are. The novel is still worth reading.
Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death (a book replete with insight, but feeble on vision) supports what has been stated here:
“What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxley an prophecy. Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility".
Leaving aside questions of spirits and nations (both themselves artificial products), the analysis is not to be dismissed lightly. Persuading the victim to find the strength to break free is one thing, but persuading happy slaves that they are not really happy is quite another.
In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley, writing in 1958, displayed prescient sagacity in spotting the cultural signs which contemporary jumbled-up minds have thrown into the lucky-dip theory called Postmodernism (of which more some other time): In Brave New World non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature (the feelies, orgy-porgy, centrifugal bumble-puppy) are deliberately used as instruments of policy, for the purpose of preventing people from paying too much attention to the realities of the social and political situation . . . A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time on the spot, not here and now in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.
"Instruments of policy" In an age where sound bites and cultivated images subdue larger populations than armies could dream of regimenting, we should think more and more about just what these "instruments of policy" are all about. Look again at that robotic, idiot's grin on the face of the American President and ask yourself how safe you feel with Mickey Mouse’s foam-filled fabricated finger on the fun-packed, all-action, bang-bang-bang nuclear button.