“The Marching Morons,” C. M. Kornbluth, 1951 — A real estate agent from the 20th century (John Barlow) is revived in an over-populated, media-suffused future where slogans such as “I’d buy that for a quarter!” are eagerly consumed by the IQ-challenged populace. In the background, futilely attempting to lower the birth rate, is a small group of intellectual elites pretending to be simpletons. “The world seems mad to Barlow until Tinny-Peete [an elite] explains the Problem of Population: Due to a combination of intelligent people not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people, the world is full of morons, with the exception of an elite few who work slavishly to keep order.” (Wikipedia)
When he’s not demanding money, Barlow imagines himself in the center of some kind of individual v. society drama: “They’ll get you–mind-reading machines, television eyes everywhere, afraid you’ll tell their slaves about freedom and stuff. They don’t let anybody cross them, like that story I once read.” They use his atavistic penchant for violence, his ability to scam others into buying real estate, and his megalomania to set into motion a scam that will eliminate a large segment of the populace.
Comments: See Wikipedia for an explanation of the title and it’s connection to the “Marching Chinese” theory. A bit disturbing in its use of a kind of genocide or eugenics. Also interesting for the portrayal of the man’s racism as ignorant and old-fashioned, as one of the elites is of mixed race, and the man refuses to deal with him: “It’s not that I’m prejudiced, you understand. Some of my best friends–” But the elites humor him and move to the next topic. Read in Nightmare Age.
Wikipedia: “In the ‘Introduction’ to The Best of C. M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl (Kornbluth’s friend and collaborator) explains some of the inspiration to “The Marching Morons.” The work was written after Pohl suggested that Kornbluth write a follow-up story that focuses on the future presented in the short story The Little Black Bag. In contrast to the “little black bag” arriving in the past from the future, Kornbluth wanted to write about a man arriving in the future from the past. To explain sending a man to the future, Kornbluth borrowed from David Butler’s 1930 science fiction film, Just Imagine, in which a man is struck by lightning, trapped in suspended animation, and reanimated in the future. In The Marching Morons, after the character John Barlow is told how he had been in a state of suspended animation, Barlow mutters, ‘Like that movie.’”
Author: Wikipedia: “Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923 – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a notable member of the Futurians.” Interested readers: “Re-reading Kornbluth” by Robert Silverberg. See also James Sallis’s review of C. M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary (2010) in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.