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Why BRAVE NEW WORLD Could Work Eerily Well on TV

Why BRAVE NEW WORLD Could Work Eerily Well on TV

While Nineteen Eighty-Four became the king of authoritarian nightmares, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World continued quietly winking in the background, a subversive masterpiece. Written nearly two decades before Orwell’s masterwork, Brave New World has always offered something dangerous that Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s savage tale of governmental omnipresence doesn’t: a reason we might love the horrifying reality between its pages. Everyone, including those in control, are miserable in the scarred Dystopia of Ninety Eighty-Four, but Brave New World lulls you in with a large group of characters who are overwhelmingly happy to float through easy white collar jobs, microdose on the hallucinogenic Soma, and then engage in some consequence-free sport fucking. In Huxley’s cracked Utopia, the upper class of Alpha Pluses has it made.

Neil Postman nailed it when he wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “What Orwell feared 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.”

For those who haven’t read it (or if you need a refresher since Freshman year lit class), the book explores a world where genetic engineering allows for test tube babies that are pre-ordained to fit into one of several classes (from the privileged Alphas to the illiterate Epsilons). Everyone is kept blissful in their societal roles thanks to feelings of superiority and drug use, or, in the case of lower classes, distractions and drug addiction. The baton passes between two protagonists: Bernard, the Alpha with an inferiority complex thanks to his shorter height and inability to catch the eye of the gorgeous Lenina; and John, the “savage” who quotes Shakespeare and wants to experience the “civilized” world where his human emotions chafe against the rigid, unfeeling, casual culture.

Brave New World has been made into two TV movies (in 1980 and 1998), and both versions sharply truncate the story and its themes to fit on the screen. A new adaptation is in the works at Syfy, with graphic novelist Grant Morrison and Bryan Taylor (of Crank fame) at the helm, but this time it will be a series.

That feels right. Not only for the density of the plot, the breadth of the invented world, and the cadre of characters, but also for the room needed for proper consideration of the philosophical questions at hand. Mentioning them all would make this piece a few hundred paragraphs longer, but consider that Brave New World is a direct mirror of our own world, where people are overt and honest about where others belong on the social hierarchy. Imagine West World with disposable people instead of robots.

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Come to think of it, West World is exactly where Alphas might go blow off steam.

That’s one reason why a Brave New World TV show may be the exact kind of show we need right now. A worrisome political climate has given a boost to shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, and Huxley’s universe exposes the corrupt nature of power (or, at least, the weighty price we all have to pay to support its existence). It’s simultaneously an analysis of the horror of slavery and the near-permanent status at the bottom for families who are kept out of wealth generation. The length of a TV season would allow for full consideration of those ideas, a large ensemble cast, and a hell of a lot of drama.

Yet, beyond politics, Brave New World may have a lot to say about the myth of perfecting society. Huxley was writing in response to the outsized promises of the industrial revolution and the factory streamlining of products of his own era (which is why Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud are the twin gods of his book). What he would have thought of Elon Musk, right? There’s an inherent mad scientist aspect to anyone with a brain that big claiming they can put humans into the proper order, to shove life onto an assembly line, to make life itself efficient for efficiency’s sake. Brave New World warns us to be wary of perfection.

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It’s a strong candidate for getting the TV treatment. Too long for a single movie, too dense for cinematic compression, but too brief for a theatrical franchise, Brave New World should fit perfectly (too perfectly?) into a Syfy season. As with any adaptation, fans should brace themselves for changes and the possibility that Morrison and Taylor will aim for expanding the world beyond the novel. Plus, Syfy may be a strong home for it; any network that takes The Expanse that seriously deserves the benefit of the doubt for translating this smilingly dark sci-fi classic.

Huxley wrote a treatise called Brave New World Revisited thirty years after initially publishing wherein he posited that society was running headlong into his imagined False Utopia much faster than he thought possible.

That was sixty years ago. Morisson, Taylor, and Syfy now have a great opportunity to show us just how closely our worlds have collided.

What do you think?

Image: Chatto and Windus (London)/ art by Leslie Holland, Hulu, HBO

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