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George Orwell > Pleasure Spots > Essay

Pleasure Spots


Some months ago I cut out of a shiny magazine some paragraphs written by
a female journalist and describing the pleasure resort of the future. She
had recently been spending some time at Honolulu, where the rigours of
war do not seem to have been very noticeable. However, "a transport
pilot. . .told me that with all the inventiveness packed into this war, it
was a pity someone hadn't found out how a tired and lifehungry man could
relax, rest, play poker, drink, and make love, all at once, and round the
clock, and come out of it feeling good and fresh and ready for the job
again." This reminded her of an entrepreneur she had met recently who was
planning a "pleasure spot which he thinks will catch on tomorrow as dog
racing and dance halls did yesterday." The entrepreneur's dream is
described in some detail:

His blue-prints pictured a space covering several acres, under a series
of sliding roofs-for the British weather is unreliableand with a central
space spread over with an immense dance floor made of translucent plastic
which can be illuminated from beneath. Around it are grouped other
functional spaces, at different levels. Balcony bars and restaurants
commanding high views of the city roofs, and ground-level replicas. A
battery of skittle alleys. Two blue lagoons: one, periodically agitated
by waves, for strong swimmers, and another, a smooth and summery pool,
for playtime bathers. Sunlight lamps over the pools to simulate high
summer on days when the roofs don't slide back to disclose a hot sun in a
cloudless sky. Rows of bunks on which people wearing sun-glasses and
slips can lie and start a tan or deepen an existing one under a sunray

Music seeping through hundreds of grills connected with a central
distributing stage, where dance or symphonic orchestras play or the radio
programme can be caught, amplified, and disseminated. Outside, two
1,000-car parks. One, free. The other, an open-air cinema drive-in, cars
queueing to move through turnstiles, and the film thrown on a giant
screen facing a row of assembled cars. Uniformed male attendants check
the cars, provide free aid and water, sell petrol and oil. Girls in white
satin slacks take orders for buffet dishes and drinks, and bring them on

Whenever one hears such phrases as "pleasure spot", "pleasure resort",
"pleasure city", it is difficult not to remember the oftenquoted opening
of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan".

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But it will be seen that Coleridge has got it all wrong. He strikes a
false note straight off with that talk about "sacred" rivers and
"measureless" caverns. In the hands of the above-mentioned entrepreneur,
Kubla Khan's project would have become something quite different. The
caverns, air-conditioned, discreetly lighted and with their original
rocky interior buried under layers of tastefully-coloured plastics, would
be turned into a series of tea-grottoes in the Moorish, Caucasian or
Hawaiian styles. Alph, the sacred river, would be dammed up to make an
artificially-warmed bathing pool, while the sunless sea would be
illuminated from below with pink electric lights, and one would cruise
over it in real Venetian gondolas each equipped with its own radio set.
The forests and "spots of greenery" referred to by Coleridge would be
cleaned up to make way for glass-covered tennis courts, a bandstand, a
roller-skating rink and perhaps a ninehole golf course. In short, there
would be everything that a "lifehungry" man could desire.

I have no doubt that, all over the world, hundreds of pleasure resorts
similar to the one described above are now being planned, and perhaps are
even being built. It is unlikely that they will be finished-world events
will see to that-but they represent faithfully enough the modern
civilised man's idea of pleasure. Something of the kind is already
partially attained in the more magnificent dance halls, movie palaces,
hotels, restaurants and luxury liners. On a pleasure cruise or in a Lyons
Corner House one already gets something more than a glimpse of this
future paradise. Analysed, its main characteristics are these:

1. One is never alone.
2. One never does anything for oneself.
3. One is never within sight of wild vegetation or natural objects of any
4. Light and temperature are always artificially regulated.
5. One is never out of the sound of music.

The music-and if possible it should be the same music for everybody-is
the most important ingredient. Its function is to prevent thought and
conversation, and to shut out any natural sound, such as the song of
birds or the whistling of the wind, that might otherwise intrude. The
radio is already consciously used for this purpose by innumerable people.
In very many English homes the radio is literally never turned off,
though it is manipulated from time to time so as to make sure that only
light music will come out of it. I know people who will keep the radio
playing all through a meal and at the same time continue talking just
loudly enough for the voices and the music to cancel out. This is done
with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from
becoming serious or even coherent, while the chatter of voices stops one
from listening attentively to the music and thus prevents the onset of
that dreaded thing, thought. For

The lights must never go out.
The music must always play,
Lest we should see where we are;
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the dark
Who have never been happy or good.

It is difficult not to feel that the unconscious aim in the most typical
modern pleasure resorts is a return to the womb. For there, too, one was
never alone, one never saw daylight, the temperature was always
regulated, one did not have to worry about work or food, and one's
thoughts, if any, were drowned by a continuous rhythmic throbbing.

When one looks at Coleridge's very different conception of a "pleasure
dome", one sees that it revolves partly round gardens and partly round
caverns, rivers, forests and mountains with "deep romantic chasms"-in
short, round what is called Nature. But the whole notion of admiring
Nature, and feeling a sort of religious awe in the presence of glaciers,
deserts or waterfalls, is bound up with the sense of man's littleness and
weakness against the power of the universe. The moon is beautiful partly
because we cannot reach it, (lie sea is impressive because one can never
be sure of crossing it safely. Even the pleasure one takes in a
flower-and this is true even of a botanist who knows all there is to be
known about the floweris dependent partly on the sense of mystery. But
meanwhile man's power over Nature is steadily increasing. With the aid of
the atomic bomb we could literally move mountains: we could even, so it
is said, alter the climate of the earth by melting the polar ice-caps and
irrigating the Sahara. Isn't there, therefore, something sentimental and
obscurantist in preferring bird-song to swing music and in wanting to
leave a few patches of wildness here and there instead of covering the
whole surface of the earth with a network of Autobahnen flooded by
artificial sunlight?

The question only arises because in exploring the physical universe man
has made no attempt to explore himself. Much of what goes by the name of
pleasure is simply an effort to destroy consciousness. If one started by
asking, what is man? what are his needs? how can he best express himself
? one would discover that merely having the power to avoid work and live
one's life from birth to death in electric light and to the tune of
tinned music is not a reason for doing so. Man needs warmth, society,
leisure, comfort and security: he also needs solitude, creative work and
the sense of wonder. If he recognised this he could use the products of
science and industrialism eclectically, applying always the same test:
does this make me more human or less human? He would then learn that the
highest happiness does not lie in relaxing, resting, playing poker,
drinking and making love simultaneously. And the instinctive horror which
all sensitive people feel at the progressive mechanisation of life would
be seen not to be a mere sentimental archaism, but to be fully justified.
For man only stays human by preserving large patches of simplicity in his
life, while the tendency of many modern inventions-in particular the
film, the radio and the aeroplane-is to weaken his consciousness, dull
his curiosity, and, in general, drive him nearer to the animals.

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