New Internationalist

Private Passions

Issue 118

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THE FAMILY [image, unknown] Sociologists' theories

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Private passions

British science fiction writer Bob Shaw introduces super
consumer Maisie Bunce and the family of the future.

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Children, are you floating comfortably on your anti-gravity Rest-Eezi couches? Then I’ll begin...

For today’s lesson in the Freaking Out On History series we’re going to take a look at what was in the news in one day in Britain long before you were born, away back in the year 2102 AD.

Prominent in the newscasts of the day were holopics of Maisie Bunce, the recently chosen Ms World. At the age of twenty Maisie weighed nineteen stone and as well as consuming 8,000 calories worth of food — was smoking 120 No-Carc cigarettes and drinking two bottles of gin daily. She could also burst the seams of any garment in a matter of hours, wear out a pair of spike heels in a single stroll, and had been known to reduce quality furnitare to matchwood in a week.

These attributes made her one of the most desirable women ever to enter the marriage market, and when she announced her intention of having a baby she attracted a record number of entries in the sperm lottery.

I'm sure all that sounds very strange to you, children, so I will explain.

Firstly, you must remember that this was in the days before the Robotic Rights Charter. In those times production by the multinationals had spiralled to record levels thanks mainly to automation and each citizen was required by law to consume a stipulated fraction of the GNP, thus keeping demand at the requisite astronomical level, and generating the vast tax revenues which the State needed to pay the disemployed their living allowances.

It is also important to recall that by the beginning of the 22nd Century the historic nuclear family had totally vanished. People lived for the most part as individuals, in electronically cocooned insularity. This was partly because they had been conditioned into accepting that all activities from politics to sport were not for participation, but for watching as images on a screen. It was also because as individuals they achieved their maximum potential as consumers. Each citizen was a separate customer for a refrigerator, cooker, stereo, car, television, computer, etc all the consumer durables which would formerly have been used by a family group.

And with the advent and perfection of sensurround holovision systems, which could feed sensations directly into nervous receptors, physical sexual relationships had become a thing of the past. Nobody wanted the uncertainties, disappointments and responsibilities of the real thing when it was possible to remain snugly at home and have as far as the evidence of all the senses was concerned ideal relationships with an unlimited variety of ideal partners.

How then, some of you will be asking, did our race manage to continue?

Well, children, the Government of the day consisting of one representative from each of the 300 largest business houses was very alarmed by a drastic drop in the birth rate which threatened an equally drastic drop in demand. You will remember that it was the duty of each citizen to consume his share of the GNP.

Even with a high degree of planned obsolescence in all products, it was difficult for the average person to use up his quota. For example, it was common for people to suffer ear damage through having outsized stereos playing in every room.

The Government’s plan was simple but effective. It decreed that 25% of the consumption of any child would be credited to each of its parents for the first fifteen years of its life, thus enabling them to clock up extra Good Consumer Points. When you consider that a youngster could legally be on the road in an eight-cylinder Kiddylac convertible from the age of six, this was a powerful incentive to have children.

Of course, regardless of inducement, nobody was going back to old-fashioned procreation, so a new system was developed. When a woman wanted a pregnancy her picture and personal details were televised, and interested men applied for the role of father by sending in quick-frozen semen samples. The winner was chosen by computer and through artificial insemination fathered a child without the inconvenience of actually meeting the mother. For a short time the ancient standards of desirability in women prevailed, then new and more relevant criteria came into force. Large women who ate great amounts of food were likely to produce similar off-spring infants who had a head start in the consumer race. They were also capable of wearing out goods very quickly. Maisie Bunce had an added attraction in that her children would be born with a built-in craving for nicotine and alcohol champion consumers from the start and that is why she was so popular.

And that, dear children, is why the average weight of a human being almost doubled in less than a century. Generations of roly-poly human beings lived out their solitary existences in artificial private worlds devoted to consumerism. It was all a far cry from the type of family life which had been the norm for millennia, and it was fortunate for us that the trend did not continue.

Next week you will learn how industrial robots were given more and more intelligence to increase profitability, with the result that they eventually developed selfawareness and formed their own trade unions to fight for a shorter working week.

Worth reading on... THE FAMILY

The Anti-social Family by Michele Barrett and Mary Mcintosh; Verso Editions / NLB, London 1982. Just 164 clearly-argued, elegantly-written pages providing an incisive summing up of socialist and feminist debates on the family. The text veers occasionally towards rarified sociological theory but it’s well worth sticking with for the refresh ing rigour of its analysis.

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State In Marx and Engels: Selected Works, London 1968. A classic. Many of Engels’ facts are now in question but the argument remains as fresh as ever,

Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged by Christopher Lasch; New York: Basic, 1977. An influential book unpopular with feminists for its nostalgic view of the patriarchal family. Good analysis of family as a consumption unit in a materialist world.

Sanity, Madness and the Family by R.D. Laing and Aaron Esterson; Pelican Books. Schizophrenic family case studies. The parallels with 'normal' families do not need to be spelled out

Of Marriage and the Market Edited by Kate Young, Carol Wokowitz and Rosalyn McCullagh; CSE Books, London, 1981. Collection of readings by women about family life in its wider social context with particular third world emphasis.

Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions Edited by Barrie Thorne and Marilyn Yalcom; Longman, New York 1982. Self explanatory. Excellent set of readings with an interesting chapter by veteran sociologist William Goode entitled ‘Why Men Resist’.


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