I’ve been curious about this book for a long time. 1984 by George Orwell was one of my favorite books as an adolescent, and Brave New World is often mentioned in the same breath. So when I found a Brave New World mini-series, I thought I’d check it out.
The mini-series stars Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey), Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen from GOT), and Alden Ehrenreich (Young Han Solo from Solo), and it tells the story of a “utopic” future London where everyone is genetically engineered to serve specific purposes which corresponds with their status as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Alphas run the world. Betas do much of the important work and are bred specifically to be sexually alluring and enticing for other Betas and Alphas. And the rest of the people do the more menial work, the work being less and less prestigious as you work your way down the alphabet.
There are many rules: no monogamy, required parties and orgies, respecting the hierarchy. They all fall under the main values of the society: “Everyone belongs to everyone else,” and “Everybody happy now!” To achieve the latter, all citizens are dosed with “soma,” a mood-altering drug they take when they feel the slightest sense of unease.
Everyone is thrown off kilter when a “Savage” from the “Savage Lands” – kind of a theme park, but more based on the Christian Hell House idea where the various sins and terrible things are on display to reinforce how much better things are now – is brought back to London. His name is John, and having been raised outside of the carefully curated society in London, he brings his ideas of monogamy, love, and autonomy to London, which some find fascinating and others find inspiring.
Anyway, that’s the mini-series. And as I watched it, I became more interested in reading the novel. Turns out they are very different, which I guess is to be expected from a version written in the 1930s and another written in 2020.
The basics are the same. Alphas, Betas, etc. Everyone for everyone. Soma. But the specifics are different. For one, there is A LOT of racism in the book. The “Savage Lands,” which in the mini-series feels like a satire of working class middle America with people of several races, is actually populated by American Indians and Black people. Zulu is among the languages spoken. And instead of displaying the horrors of prison (the house of consequences) and marriage, the people are on display like they’re in a World’s Fair exhibit from the 1800s and early 1900s.
Also, there is A LOT of misogyny – women are for one thing and one thing only. Though they are able to do some important jobs, they are mostly decorative and for pleasure.
In the end, I’m not entirely sure what the message of the novel is. It ends in despair with John being unable to adapt to the “more civilized world.” And in the mini-series, the story ends with a kind of revolution.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the story in either iteration. But if you read the novel version, prepare for some challenging ideas about who is worthy of personhood.