August 22, 2013 by NowhereButPop
The concept of a bleak future is nothing new in the world of literature, as books about dystopian future societies have become somewhat commonplace after the industrial revolution. Part of their appeal comes from the fact that most of these books start out rather ideally, but as we continue onward we realize that things are much worse behind the veneer of utopia. The future is a concept that will always pique our interest, and dystopian novels play up to these usually by using the present as a breakpoint from which the seeds of this future environment were sown. It’s a fictional and vicarious way to see how our existence and our society of today will affect tomorrow. Positively or negatively, it makes us matter if we know our actions will have future repercussions.
For some reason books about dystopian futures have become a part of the American scholastic curriculum. Children not much older than 10 are being introduced to the concepts of a dystopian and a shitty tomorrow, which is something that will remain with them throughout their educational career. In elementary school it was The Giver, in middle school it was Shade’s Children, in high school it was Brave New World, and The Handmaids Tale, and in college came 1984. Regardless of whatever their targeted age group was, all of these books emphasize the nature of sex and the role of human sexuality in a twisted and dark version of the future. If you think about this, human procreation and sexual activity is a part of most dystopian future works. This is borne from a desire to take the oldest thing in the world and seeing how it will survive in the future. Truth be told, there really isn’t anything more fascination that the creation of life. Within the realm of the dystopian subgenre, we literally see a distorted and twisted version of human sexuality and reproduction that keeps in line with the general feelings of dehumanization, alienation, and commoditization of life depicted in these dystopian novels.
In the futures presented in The Giver, The Handmaids Tale, and 1984 sexuality is all but suppressed with sex only being utilized for reproductive purposes. By comparison in Brave New World, the global society condones and encourages outright sexual behaviors and activities as it is a source of continuous pleasure. Sex is strictly for pleasure and not reproduction as children are not grown in test tubes. Orgies are commonplace while monogamy is conditioned out of existence. While these examples show two extremes of sexual interpretation, it’s done in a way to highlight the dehumanization of a very human feeling and action. In Brave New World, sex means nothing; it’s just an activity that’s done to feel good. There is no emotion as it’s predicated upon baseless and physical attraction. In the future portrayed by Aldous Huxley sex becomes a derivative and wholly hedonistic pursuit enacted by unfeeling, borderline inhumane individual, processed as machinery.
In The Giver (a children’s book), and 1984, sex is solely a tool used to keep the human race afloat, nothing more. In The Giver, procreation and childbearing is an actual job given to certain women once they come of age. The children are then assigned to a married couple, who they themselves have been assigned together. One boy and one girl per family; it’s a very cold and unfeeling bastardization of the nuclear family. This gets to the crux of what a dystopian novel is all above: contorting the familiar, bastardizing the known, and distorting the comforting. By taking a very known and familiar concept, especially one as inbred and personal as sex and taking it to one of two extremes, these authors aim to make us as uncomfortable as possible by taking a thing that can be construed in a number of ways, and sequestering it as an absolute.
This is most hauntingly achieved in the overrated 1984, by George Orwell, in which the ruling party seeks to completely dismantle sex and replace it instead with reproduction. As anyone knows the two words sex and reproduction are not synonymous, nor are they exclusive. By the climax of the novel, it’s revealed that the ruling party wants to remove both orgasms and any emotions from the act of reproduction. They want to remove the human element and turn it into a process, a mechanical function. While this is the complete opposite rationale, the outcome is quite similar to that portrayed in Brave New World.
In both books, sex becomes a thing, nothing special, just a thing that is done in everyday life. In the one example it’s done for pleasure, and only for pleasure. In the other it’s done as a “necessary evil” as it is explained, something that is done because there is no other choice. In both cases however, sex becomes absolutely dehumanized and inhuman as it loses the emotional component. Even in The Handmaid’s Tale, which in all actuality is just a liberal’s exaggerated point of view of a future cultivated under the growing trend towards conservativism that abounded during the 1980s, while sex is a focal point of the novel, it occurs as a highly ritualized and completely dehumanizing process for the handmaids. The sole purpose is not pleasure, or love, but strictly to procreate. In the novel, everything revolves around human reproduction as a mass extinction level threat has left the majority of the human race dead or sterile; as a result a right wing fascist government takes control and essentially bureaucratizes sex.
In all of these examples, the authors take something familiar and contort it into an extreme and unpalatable version of itself to make us uncomfortable. The idea is to illustrate the strangeness and bleakness of the future by dehumanizing and mechanizing a very human trait. In Brave New World, sex becomes an activity that the rest of the day is based on, devoid of any meaning at all save for the pursuit of pleasure. Brave New World represents the scariest aspect of sex, namely that it can mean absolutely nothing save for a primal and meaningless instinct. 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale take sex and swing it in the opposite direction and make it all about procreation. Those in charge literally turn it into a process and by association turn people into machinery through the dehumanization of a very human experience. It’s frightening in a way, to see humanity stripped away by braking down the higher human associations until all that remains is the act itself. Instead of sex being fornication as is the case in Brave New World, it becomes reproduction.
Intent is the key here in these novels. The intent of sex is what separates how it is utilized within the confines of the story. The outcome however is the same: the destruction of basic humanity through the familiar. In some examples sex is used at its most primal, pure and simply fucking. It’s for this reason that we look down on other animals, because they can’t associate sex with higher concepts such as love and intimacy. In other examples sex is used at its most literal and logical, as a means to procreate, as a necessity and nothing more. This is where the break between reality and fiction occurs. In the fiction sex is turned into an absolute that means nothing more than what it is, however it is utilized. It simple is what it is. In reality sex is much more complicated as its meaning (if there is one) is purely situational.
Dystopian novels take advantage of our fears of the future by bastardizing known and terrifyingly distort the comfortable. In the examples provided, and many more I’d suspect, sex is the most visible facet of this paradigm. I read The Giver when I was 11, and 1984 when I was 20. I started to see similarities between these books and other when I was 22. In hindsight it’s kinda funny, the things you don’t pick up on as an 11 year old.
 That’s not to say you love everyone you sleep with, but you do like someone a lot more after they let you have sex with them.
 Last week in fact.