The Seventies were a demon-haunted decade, fraught with nightmares both real and imagined. The energy crisis and socio-economic malaise competed with various paranormal phenomena for space in the anxiety cortex of the collective consciousness. Paranoia triggers lurked around every corner, and the mass media wasn’t above amplifying those fears for increased market share and profit.
Killer bees were on a relentless march north, Satan and his cult minions stalked the suburbs, and the world order teetered on the edge of eminent collapse. And the oversized Baby Boomer demographic had begun to edge into its thirties, and that existential crisis provided fertile ground for various projections, deflections, and sublimations regarding the growing sense of their own mortality and its co-morbid contemplation of diminished expectations.
What else was there to do by the latter half of the Me Decade but to send in the clones?
Clones and similar forms of artificial life had been a staple of sci-fi for decades, but they saw a brief uptick in prominence during the tail end of the Carter years. This was partially due to Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil — a potboiler best-seller about fugitive Nazi scientists attempting to resurrect the Third Reich by creating young clones of their fallen Führer. The public’s awareness (and therefore its anxiety) of reproductive manipulation was further heightened by high profile news coverage — and the requisite editorializing — surround the birth of the world’s first “test tube baby” in 1978, which in term triggered a attention cycle stream of sensationalized (if not outright) spurious reports of advancements in genetic engineering.
The issues and anxieties involved were well-tailored for the moment — boomer morality and parental anxiety and the narrowing of horizons and just one more damn way science had gotten ahead of society’s ability to grapple with the implications. The 1979 thriller (and future MST3K fodder) Parts: The Clonus Horror coasted on the heels of Robin Cook’s Coma, shifting the dodgy organ harvesting conspiracy from deliberate medical “mishaps” to a campus full of oblivious replacement parts.
Even major label pop music got into the spirit with a pair of tunes about the perils of asexual reproduction.
Alice Cooper’s “Clones (We’re All)” was a former Teenage Frankenstein’s stab at retaining relevance in a post-Pleasure Principle world. That might be why it’s one of the few songs of his I actually enjoy, though its performance clip appearance on Pink Lady & Jeff and the Epoxies’ excellent cover version shouldn’t be discounted on that front.
“My Clone Sleeps Alone” appeared on In the Heat of the Night, Pat Benatar’s 1979 debut album. It’s a fascinating artifact of the efforts to position the singer as a rockier American counterpart to Kate Bush before she and her band settled into a killer pop-rock groove. (Benatar, along with Dire Straits and AC/DC and, um, Prince, were saddled with the short-lived “new music” tag, which also encompassed more commercial new wave sounds and pretty much any other remotely “off-beat” act which marketers believed could supplant the toppling disco/arena rock hegemonies.) I could just as easily imagine Toyah or Lene Lovich or Hazel O’Connor performing it….which was the point, I suppose.
Both the Cooper and Benatar tracks hearken back to the roots of the sci-fi cloning trope as depicted in Huxley’s Brave New World, where social harmony is established through cold scientific “logic.” It’s not about the genesis of the drone beings — though it never hurts to capitalize on pre-existing buzz — but the faceless, emotionless absence of individual identity. It shares less with marketplace metaphors of Parts: The Clonus Horror than it does with the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That film’s depiction of sleepwalking conformity was more effective because it was presented as an active contagion, in contrast to the hypothetical dystopias predicted by clone-fear narratives.
“In a hundred years, there will be vat grown people devoid of emotion” lacks the immediate kick of “if you nod off for a moment, you’ll become a soulless automaton” — especially when the 1980 election was looming on the horizon.