Shortly after President Trump took office Amazon reported that it was sold out of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, as many wondered if his election signaled that the dystopian society depicted in that work of fiction was now reality in the United States in 2017. However, another mid 20th Century dystopian novel – Brave New World – may be the more accurate reference. For example, in a seminal work of media culture the Chair of New York University’s Department of Culture and Communication argued,
There were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble)…. 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. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. vii.
The College of Social Sciences recently hosted the first Dean’s Office Book Club, and we discussed these books and Postman’s analysis. We asked folks for their thoughts on which book is the more accurate reflection of the U.S. today? Both books? Neither? Professor and Anthropology Chair Roberto Gonzalez and I co-facilitated the discussion; Professor Gonzalez assigned both books to his ANTH 136: Thought Control in Contemporary Society class this semester. We had a great discussion!