Music for the Apocalypse #34: Brave New World, by Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden have been suggested to me several times for this series, and this song in particular. I was waiting until the moment was right, and I feel the time has come. Rock out, ladies!

I did wonder whether ‘Brave New World’ really counted as apocalyptic. The lyrics certainly have an apocalyptic ring:

Dragon kings dying queens, where is salvation now
Lost my life lost my dreams, rip the bones from my flesh
Silent screams laughing here, dying to tell you the truth
You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world

But the book on which the song is based, Brave New World is more dystopic than apocalyptic, and this comes out in the lyrics, too: ‘Dying to tell you the truth / You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world’. This is clearly about trying to get a message of warning (the truth) out about the dangers of the dystopic society – nobody really lives in a world where their lives are ‘planned’ out for them by the state.

Of course, there are a lot of songs in this series that are not strictly apocalyptic in nature, but which we have recommended to you as a good soundtrack for the apocalypse nonetheless. However, it seemed an interesting question to me: just what is the relationship between the dystopic and the apocalyptic. They certainly share key themes. Brave New World is concerned with the apparent dichotomy between civilisation and nature. The old theme that the civilised world corrupts, that technology that seeks to interfere too much with nature risks ‘damning’ us, either because it is seen as an attempt to interfere with God’s plan, or because nature itself is venerated. Apocalyptic fiction, art, and music is similarly concerned with the themes of civilisation and nature. Where dystopia explores this by positing ‘over’-civilised worlds, apocalypse does so by destroying civilisation and forcibly returning us to a state of nature. In this case, however, nature is rarely kind. There is usually some descent in to barbarism as warring tribes battle it out for resources and territory.

And yet, I suspect this dichotomy of apocalypse and dystopia is as artificial as that between nature and civilisation. They idea that anything could become ‘unnatural’ has always puzzled me – after all, human beings are natural creatures; why should their actions in some cases be deemed natural and in others (typically those concerned with creating advances technology or novel political systems) not? Close examination of apocalyptic texts reveals that they are usually more complex and nuanced. In The Stand after the initial outbreak of looting and vandalism, most survivors seem concerned with rebuilding civiliastion – regardless of whether they side with Abagail Freemantle or with Randall Flag. The factionalism arises because of differing ideals of what it is to be civilised. Even in films like Mad Max II and III, which might seem archetypal of the descent into barbarism and ‘state of nature’, the tribes war over possession of gasoline, which is itself a product of and enabler of civilised technologies (chiefly, transportation – so crucial in the barren Australian environment for people unused to surviving in the Outback*).

Equally, in dystopic fiction, the dystopia is often set against the backdrop of a savage outside world, from which the inhabitants are walled off for their own safety. Thus, in Logan’s Run, the world outside the domes is an overgrown wilderness that had been abandoned following some catastrophe. The rigidly stratified world where people are killed once they reach 30 has come into existence in order to deal with the constraints on resources forced by the retreat into the domes. Brave New World similarly suggests a world where a happy, comfortable life is preserved via population control and a rigid caste system, but a ‘savage’ world still persists outside the boundaries of that system. Moreover, a recurring theme of dystopic fiction is a sort of stagnation born of such oppressive societies that might be seen as the end of one sort of world: the death of imagination.

Are dystopic and apocalyptic fiction the same? No, but they are flip-sides of the same coin. Dystopia can arise out of apocalypse and apocalypse can ‘free’ us from dystopia, but in such cases the one hangs in the background of the other, asking questions. Is it really that awesome to be ‘freed’ from responsibility? Is it really so great to be ‘freed’ from civilisation? 

Play this song when you’re feeling sad about the world that has been lost. If you’re stuck in a post-apocalypse world it can be good to blast out a song with an angry beat to remind you that not everything that’s gone was good.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *