The Orgone Box is a half-forgotten invention of the late Dr. Wilhelm Reich, one of Sigmund Freud's more brilliant disciples, who in his middle years turned into an almost classic specimen of the mad scientist. The device was supposed to gather, in physical form, that life force which Freud called libido and which Reich called orgone, a coinage derived from "orgasm." The narrow box, simply constructed of wood and lined with sheet metal, offered cures for almost all the ills of civilization and of the body; it was also widely believed to act, for the person sitting inside it, as a powerful sex stimulant. Hundreds of people hopefully bought it before the U.S. Government declared the device a fraud in 1954 and jailed its inventor. And yet, in a special sense, Dr. Reich may have been a prophet. For now it sometimes seems that all America is one big Orgone Box.
With today's model, it is no longer necessary to sit in cramped quarters for a specific time. Improved and enlarged to encompass the continent, the big machine works on its subjects continuously, day and night. From innumerable screens and stages, posters and pages, it flashes the larger-than-life-sized images of sex. From countless racks and shelves, it pushes the books which a few years ago were considered pornography. From myriad loudspeakers, it broadcasts the words and rhythms of pop-music erotica. And constantly, over the intellectual Muzak, comes the message that sex will save you and libido make you free.
The U.S. is still a long way from the rugged debaucheries of Restoration England or the perfumed corruption of the Gallant Century in France. But Greeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddesses, silken and seminude, in a million advertisements. Indians who have seen the temple sculptures of Konarak can only marvel at some of the illustrated matter sold in American drugstores; and Frenchmen who consider themselves the world's arbiters on the subject, can only smile at the urgency attached to it by Americans. The U.S. seems to be undergoing a revolution of mores and an erosion of morals that is turning it into what Reich called a "sex-affirming culture."
Two Generations. Men with memories ask, "What, again?" The first sexual revolution followed World War I, when flaming youth buried the Victorian era and anointed itself as the Jazz Age. In many ways it was an innocent revolution. In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald alarmed mothers by telling them "how casually their daughters were accustomed to being kissed"; today mothers thank their stars if kissing is all their daughters are accustomed to. It was, nevertheless, a revolution that took nerve, and it was led by the daring few; today's is far more broadly based. In the 1920s, to praise sexual freedom was still outrageous; today sex is simply no longer shocking, in life or literature.
The difference between the '20s and '60s comes down, in part, to a difference between people. The rebels of the '20s had Victorian parents who laid down a Victorian law; it was something concrete and fairly well-defined to rise up against. The rebels of the '60s have parents with only the tattered remnants of a code, expressed for many of them in Ernest Hemingway's one-sentence manifesto: "What is moral