Academic journal article Extrapolation

Perennial Rule of the Masses

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Perennial Rule of the Masses

Article excerpt

In a 1932 essay entitled "Japanese Advertisement," Aldous Huxley described an interesting polemic against having multiple children:

In the center of the page, surrounded by the columns of incomprehensible hieroglyphics, was the picture of a small box, whose contents, according to a manufacturer's label in very legible English, consisted of certain birthcontrol appliances. Above were two drawings, representing the interiors of two Japanese houses. Home Number One pullulated with howling children; the mother was weeping; the father seemed on the point of suicide; the dishes on the table were almost empty; the windows were broken; everything, in a word, testified to unhappiness and poverty.

Family Number Two had evidently invested in one of the little boxes, for there were only three children; the table was loaded with food; the mother smiled; the father (a most exquisite touch) was dressed, not in native costume like his unfortunate counterpart in the other picture, but in the nattiest white flannel trousers and tennis shirt. The final symbol of luxurious superfluity was a bird cage containing several canaries. (qtd. in Sexton 75)

The point of the advertisement is that "population control supplies the key to perfect health and an abundance of material goods" (Meckier 277). Mustapha Mond, the antagonistic World Controller in Brave New World, declared the same thing. Of course, Mond is the leader of a dystopian regime which is in power specifically because of population control. The population of Earth in the year AF 632 is entirely created and regulated by the government, and the results are horrendous. It would seem that population control was as distasteful to Huxley as wholesale genetic engineering, sexual promiscuity and subliminal conditioning, the other satirized values in the year AF 632. However, the "Malthusian belts" of Brave New World that prevent unnecessary pregnancies may be one of the very few Fordian "improvements" with which Huxley agreed. In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley's 1958 treatise exploring the unfortunate progress of society towards Brave New World, he talked at length about the horrors of overpopulation, writing that "Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse still, it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable" (BNWR 7). The idea seems straightforward-in Huxley's view, overpopulation must be controlled to ensure a prosperous future.

However, the truth of Huxley's view of overpopulation is more nuanced; the difference between the two pictures in "Japanese Advertisement" is not simply that one family has more children than the other. Instead, responsible and irresponsible breeding produce scenes strikingly similar to commonly held stereotypes about upper-class, intellectual, and aristocratic life and the life of the proletariat. The advertisement used time-tested images of class and wealth to show that too many children among the lower classes clearly make things worse for everyone. The happy family has an overabundance of food and a cage full of canaries representing conspicuous consumption; the unhappy family cannot even afford to replace broken windows. The happy father dresses in the latest Western fashion, while the overburdened, unhappy father has to make do with "native costume." Thus, the happier family is also imitating Europeans, while the unhappy family is much too native in dress and habits. To be happy, the picture implies, people must imitate Europeans in both style and reproduction.

Huxley called the Japanese advertisement "absurd" because of its heavyhanded propaganda, and says, "there is no Western country, so far as I know, where you can find such an advertisement in such a paper" (qtd. in Sexton 75). By "such a paper" Huxley means "cheap little magazines evidently intended for popular family consumption" (qtd. in Sexton 75). …

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