The “big three” dystopian novelists, I believe, are Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury. In many ways we live in Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia; in many ways we live in Bradbury’s book-burning dystopia; but I think Huxley and his soma-induced dystopia may be closest.
Here is a magic pill to take away your pain; here is a magic pill to make your sex life better; here is a magic pill to clear up your skin, to clear out your lungs, to help you sleep, to keep you awake, to lift your spirits, to focus your mind, to deaden your soul, to conquer your fears, to keep your heart beating, to help you lose weight, to overcome your addiction — there’s a magic pill for everything.
Every few moments there’s an ad for something you need to rebalance your body chemistry so you can live a normal normal life. I don’t have a quarrel with legitimate medicine, but seriously, there’s a pill for every real and imagined disease, and imagination conjures newer diseases and more magic pills every day.
And magic pill manufacturers have placed themselves among the most powerful folks in our society, right there next to the politicians. Follow the money: If you were a media mogul, would you listen to calls to take money out of politics, knowing that the money in politics purchases millions and millions of dollars worth of advertising on your platform? Would you have your news department investigate whether a certain magic pill or vaccine is killing people, knowing that every other non-political ad is for a magic pill?
Or would you hire “fact checkers” to certify that people who criticize certain politicians or question the magic pill makers are spreading misinformation?
Our real dystopia combines elements of Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley, in fact. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the surveillance state is omnipresent. In Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others. In Fahrenheit 451, TV screens are so big they take up entire walls, and ideas that make people uncomfortable are illegal. And in Brave New World, magic pills make everyone so comfortably numb that they don’t notice they’re living in dystopia.
All is not lost, of course. The words of Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley are still available, and people are still reading them. I suspect that’s why The Powers That Be have doubled down on dystopia the last couple of years: More and more people are waking up.