A television adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World is currently on NBC’s new streaming service Peacock, and it is a fresh take on a tired genre. Often compared to George Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World is also considered to be a work of political prophecy, and is, in my opinion, at least, far more worrisome, mainly because of a single widely known phrase: “opium of the people”.
Originally said by Karl Marx, the “opium of the people” he was referring to was organized religion, criticizing it for how it reduced the immediate suffering of the oppressed with a pleasant illusion, keeping them in their low status and preventing them from seeing that they’re being oppressed in the first place. While in Huxley’s Brave New World religion is an extinct practice, the “opium of the people” is replaced with something new, and a far more literal interpretation of the metaphor: soma, which is a pharmaceutical drug that the population take regularly to chemically alter their brains and make unpleasant thoughts disappear.
The show largely follows the same plot as the book, where a woman by the name of Lenine Crowne and a man by the name of Bernard Marx take a vacation to what are considered the “Savage Lands”, which are the few areas on the globe where the authority of the World State does not reach, and where the people still live by our current practices, including but not limited to monogamy, family, currency, and religion, which are all considered to be primitive and outdated by the people of New London. There, Bernard and Lenine meet a woman named Linda and her son John, and through a series of events I won’t spoil for you, John ends up in New London, and must learn how to adapt to living in a strict social hierarchy where any privacy is forbidden and love is considered a sickness.
Compared to George Orwell’s 1984, I personally consider Huxley’s Brave New World to be a far grimmer depiction of our future. In a society where emotion is chemically castrated, art is dead and virtues such as generosity and sacrifice are non existent. It is an empty society, one of no culture and one that holds no values. In this way, Brave New World is not so much a political prophecy but a societal one, and one that the show adapts to television quite well, not overburdening the audience with copious amounts of exposition but instead devoting enough time to the characters for them to organically address Huxley’s themes of societal segregation, rampant consumerism, the incompatibility of happiness and truth and, of course, the dangers of an all-powerful state.