- "Soma" is the name of a seemingly all-purpose drug that is used in the new series, Brave New World.
- The drug, which was featured in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel of the same name, has also been referenced in writings and pop culture throughout the years.
- Brave New World is now streaming (for free) on Peacock.
It's a big time for NBC/Universal, which just launched a major new streaming platformPeacockwith a major new sci-fi show of it's own, Brave New World. Based on the 1932 Aldous Huxley novel of the same name , Brave New World tells the story of a future utopian society where monogamy, family, and privacy are all outlawed to make for a society that functions without issues. As the first episode shows, this also leads to some bizarre happenings: No one is allowed to have sexual relations with the same partner for an elongated time, and, well, orgies seem to be a pretty standard form of recreation.
But another way that people in New Londonthe man-made society that Brave New World depictsget through things is by continually popping a drug called "Soma." Soma might sound familiar because, well, Huxley's source material is nearly 100 years old and it's been referenced quite a bit. (There have also already been TV film adaptations in 1980 and 1998; at one point in the late 2000s, there was a plan for a theatrical feature film where Leonardo DiCaprio would star and Ridley Scott would direct, but those plans never materialized into a film).
But now that Peacock's Brave New World has made it into the worldthe first two episodes are streaming now for freeit's imperative to understand what Soma is, and how it fits into two different worlds: Brave New World's, and our own.
So what is Soma in Brave New World, anyway?
Even for people who haven't read Huxley's book, the show gives clear enough context to be able to piece together what, exactly, Soma is: a drug that numbs any sort of discomfort, from anxiety to stress to general uneasiness. And as we see throughout the early episodes of the show, Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) hands it out like candy, offering M&M-like pills to adults and children alike from either a large display in his office, or a small dispenser that he carries around.
Soma is a key facet of life to the elites of New Londonthe utopian society presented in the seriesbut not everyone is on the same page when it comes to usage. While the mainstream culture generally has people taking it to ease any possible discomfortBernard's meeting in the first episode with Wilhelmina (Hannah John-Kamen) in the first episode essentially has "take a Soma" as the answer to every problemothers in society aren't as keen on it. In the opening sequence of the first episode, when scientist Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay) is offered a Soma by Bernard, she declines the offer, insisting that "her levels are fine."
Meanwhile, there's another group of people in Brave New World who don't believe in any of the drug-induced, monogamy-free bliss of New Londonand this world calls them the savages. Among this group is John (played by Solo's Alden Ehrenreich) and his mother, Linda (Demi Moore). The savages reject the New London way of life, and that includes taking Soma to numb anything.
In episode 2, after a confrontation between Lenina (a Beta) and a young boy on a bus (an Alpha; New London classifies people, and their worth, by the alphabetical greek alphabet. The lowest class we hear of are "Epsilons") in Amusement Park-like "Savage Land," Bernard sees that people on the bus are unnerved and on edge. He takes matters into his own hands, at this point, distributing Soma to all who want it, walking up and down the bus' aisle.
The drug itself is described as a "hangoverless tranquilizer," or an opiate. And in many ways, Huxley's writing of Soma back in 1932 was predictive of the way many in society today rely on prescription drugs to function. In a great piece on LitHub , the parallel is broken down exemplifying how predictive Huxley's text was. The piece references a quote from The Tranquilizing of America , Richard Hughes' 1979 nonfiction book looking at America's (even then) increasing reliance on prescription medication.
"[Pharmaceutical manufacturerer Hoffman-LaRoche] created the ideaand doctors bought it that you can have better living through chemistry," Hughes wrote. "They have created what Aldous Huxley envisioned in Brave New World. They have given us soma, and it is called Valium."
Why have I heard of Soma before?
Given that Huxley's Brave New World was published all the way back in 1932, you've probably heard references to Soma before in other pieces of popular culture. In 1993, Smashing Pumpkins released a song called "Soma" on their album Siamese Dream. This song featured subtle references to Huxley's Brave New World drug, and singer Billy Corganwho says the song is about an ex-girlfriendsaid in liner notes of a 2011 reissue of the album that it's directly about Huxley's drug.
"From the Aldous Huxley book Brave New World, it is the narcotic we need to get by all that we cannot stomach to see in others," he wrote. "Or ourselves. A lover betrays his other. He slips into the night."
You can see his veiled references in some of the song's lyrics:
Close your eyes and sleep Dont wait up for me Hush now, dont you speak To me
Wrapped my hurt in you And took my shelter in that pain The opiate of blame Is your broken heart, heart, your heart Soma
Less than a decade later, The Strokes titled a song "Soma" on their debut album Is This It. Their lyrical references are a bit less subtle than those of the Smashing Pumpkins, dialing directly into the references to the "Soma" drug that exists in Huxley's world.
As singer Julian Casablancas croons in the song's first verse:
Soma is what they would take when Hard times opened their eyes Saw pain in a new way High stakes for a few names Racing against sunbeams Losing against fig trees In your eyes
If anyone was a Strokes fan and had never dabbled with the Brave New World novel (or any of its previous film/television adaptations), the opening of that song probably makes a whole lot more sense now.