This Perfect Day was published in 1970 by Ira Levin–whom you probably know better through his other books, Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil.
The book is considered a “cult classic” which means most people haven’t read it. Not being a devotee of Ira Levin books (and being ten years old when it originally came out), I had never heard of This Perfect Day until recently. Happily, it’s a) back in print, and b) available on Kindle. Or, I hope, available at your local library.
Wikipedia has a fairly accurate plot summary, so I won’t waste time re-hashing it. You can read it here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The Cliff’s Notes version of the summary: It’s a utopian community where all individuality is being snuffed out by the central programmers of UniComp, who have taken over all societies and blended us into a big Family.
Everyone’s chemically happy. Aggression and thinking for yourself are evil and selfish. Doors are not locked. You do the job Uni assigns. You request stuff from Uni.
Want to visit your parents? Request a trip from Uni. Want sketch paper and charcoal? Request it; you may or may not be approved.
Levin’s creation of this utopian community is eerily prophetic. Except of course, that we still have aggression and thinking for ourselves–at least somewhat. It’s the background and environment Levin creates that I find prophetic.
Repressing the Masses
First: Television. Interestingly, in Uni, several hours of TV are required each night, and if you slip out early, your absence is noted and discussed with your adviser, similar to a probation officer except that everyone has one. In 2013 America, of course, TV is not required, but it sure is damn addictive. Newton Minnow was right.
Second: Chemical Happiness. The treatments in This Perfect Day are required, monitored by Uni, and adjusted upon consultation of one’s adviser. In 2013 America, treatments are not required, but are widely available. It has been estimated that 20 percent of Americans are depressed. And you see the drug ads on TV for Cialis, Chantix, Abilify, et al. Doctors are encouraged, and indeed, in league with drug companies to offer and recommend these drugs. Shut ’em up and make ’em happy.
Third: Easily available Sex. In the book, sex is introduced to students at around age 12. They go nuts with it for a while, and then their treatments are adjusted so that they get into the routine of one ten-minute quickie on a Saturday night with whomever you choose as your partner. Your partner is, of course, required to report if you can’t get it up. That means you’re not happy, your treatment is off. But it means you need help from Uni. In 2013 America, with easily available birth control, abortions, and slut walks, it’s there. Not required, but there.
Fourth: Scanners. Levin has his Uni members wearing steel bracelets with a member’s nameber (e.g., Li RM35M4419, our hero’s nameber). You’re required to pass your bracelet over a scanner when you go by it. Again, these are required, and occasionally changed on your linkday, celebrated like a birthday. We have these in 2013 America. They’re cellphones. And car GPS’s. And right now, they’re still optional.
Fifth: Revisionist History. In Uni world, Jesus and Marx are equal (both having been sacrificed). And they’re equal to the other two saviors, Wood and Wei. Not much is said about Wood, except that he was a politician. Wei is the Programmer.
There are a number of other prophetic similarities to today, but those are the most striking.
Cultural anomaly 1970 vs 2013
Since this was written in 1970, some forty-plus years ago, the book’s most striking anomaly comes not in the prophecies, but in one of the plot devices. Gratuitous rape as a plot device is a very late sixties/early seventies phenomenon. (Watch old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns as a case in point.)
Levin wanted to show sex by the male and female protagonists, Chip and Lilac, AFTER they were off the mind altering chemicals. They had not had sex with each other while they were under treatment.
Now that they were back fully in charge of their hormones, the “good girls don’t have sex” rule applies as they are traveling across AFR toward Majorca. Hence the rape plot device. He rapes her, and suddenly it’s okay for them to have sex. (Guess it wasn’t “rape rape.”) This doesn’t take away from the story–although it did stop me in my tracks and really question the heroics of our hero. It is a glaring cultural difference between novels of 1970 and today. Today’s girls don’t need an excuse.
The best part of This Perfect Day is the description of the utopian community and the action up until Chip and Lilac reach Majorca (aka Liberty). The story loses some of its energy, and just doesn’t have the clear strong images of the first half.
But all in all, well worth reading. I highly recommend it, especially if you liked Brave New World.