Our Consumer Addiction & Huxley’s “Brave New World”

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Confession: I don’t really know what the Superbowl is. In my defence though, I’m a Brit with zero interest in sports of any kind, so you can hardly blame me. Still, even I’m aware of the general concept: man throws ball, other men grunt and dive for the ball in a Certified Heterosexual way to establish dominance as crowds scream around them… or something like that. More specifically, I’m aware of the EVENT that the Superbowl has become. I’ve heard of the parties people will throw to watch the game, the hype of the mid-play performance, and the adverts from companies spending millions to seduce the biggest television crowds of the year into buying their product(s).

Oh, the adverts. Now that’s a concept I’m intensely aware of. I suppose the UK equivalent would be the advertisements we get around Christmas; always specifically targeted to pull at our heartstrings- small children and cute animals are always involved one way or another. In a strange way, you could argue that our anticipation for iconic adverts is almost an event itself. After all, if it doesn’t make you want to cry- and more importantly, spend a ton of money for your loved ones- is it really a Christmas advert at all?

Consumerism is not a new concept. As long as money can be made, there will always be people willing to exploit others, and more people willing to be exploited. But in a world where an entire family can openly build successful careers off a single sex tape, perhaps we should be more aware of our addiction to this blatant consumerism.

“Addiction” might seem like a strong word to use here, but I think it’s a fairly accurate definition. We have the entire world at our fingertips, and whilst I believe technological advancements have been hugely beneficial in many aspects, like all things, there’s also an underlying side of drawbacks that come with this. “Addiction” means always craving the next hit and never finding true satiation with the last dose. We’re always chasing the latest trend, the shiny new toy that we get to play with before throwing it away in boredom. And for many of us, consumerism is the hit we crave again and again and again.

In Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, civilians are conditioned from a young age to believe that a high level of consumption is perfectly natural, and even the “right” thing to do: “Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches…” is one phrase repeated to the civilians to further perpetuate the idea that they cannot be happy without surrounding themselves with material goods. Sound familiar?

It’s striking that Huxley’s depiction of a detrimental society was not an evil dictatorship nor violent oppression. Indeed, social critic Neil Postman spoke of the author: “Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism… [he] feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance… [he] feared we would become a trivial culture.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985). It’s difficult to deny the similarities of the novel with the modern world today. The easier our access is to material goods, the less value they seem to have. Whilst we grow bored of the latest fad, what becomes of the exploited workers or the natural resources used up to try and satiate our fickle appetite? Furthermore, we have access to, quite literally, global information in a small hand-held device, and yet many of us choose to ignore most of it, whether it’s because we’re desensitised or they simply don’t catch our attention for whatever reason. I know I’m certainly guilty of apathy towards many of these issues. Like spoilt children, we’ve become listless and bored.

In the novel, the character of John “the Savage” is taken a step further: he becomes the personification of consumerism. Born and raised outside the seemingly utopian World State, he’s a fascinating new object for the civilians who have never known anything different from the lives they are used to. The voyeuristic interest in celebrities is something we’re all quite familiar with, I think. Even more so is the way he quickly becomes disillusioned with his newfound fame and the luxuries he discovers in the World State. Unable to cope, his eventual suicide is a grim reminder of the way we sometimes perceive a rejection of consumerism as odd or inferior; the light house where John commits suicide is further significant as it is traditionally used to guide those lost at sea to a fixed location. Perhaps a rather depressing interpretation of the authors’ warning.

“Brave New World” was Huxley’s conjecture of what the world would become in the future. But thirty years later, he wrote “Brave New World Revisited” and admitted the real world was becoming more like the fictional one much faster than he had anticipated- and “Revisited” was published in 1958.

The message in “Brave New World” is clear: Consumerism drives out identity. As the real world bears such a strong resemblance to Huxleys’ fictional one, the warning isn’t difficult to understand. The real danger is not an external force but our easy access to information and internally choosing to grow bored of it. 

However, the civilians in “Brave New World” have limited access to knowledge. They’re essentially brainwashed to constantly consume but never question why. In most part of the world, we don’t have that same limitation. Whilst we’re constantly surrounded by messages of indulgance and blind consumption, we also have the opportunity to reject this ideaology too. We can choose to acknowledge and refuse the excessive consumerism that prevails, or we can contribute to the trivial culture that Huxley feared. 

Take your pick.

Best wishes,

Jia

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