Orwell Lives!

Several days ago, the British publication The Guardian, busted the U.S. for its ongoing snooping of everyone’s phone calls. Some 29 year-old working for a private security firm as part of our government’s “war on terror” evidently couldn’t handle the moral or constitutional dubiousness of such a “Big Brother” modus operandi, and violated his top-secret clearance credentials by clearing his conscience. Since then, the Obama administration and congress have been practicing damage-control.

Did I mention Big Brother? Certainly, Big Bro is not an entirely unfamiliar moniker, its having been used to denote a government literally watching/listening to its citizenry a la George Orwell’s decades-old dystopian novel 1984. That book was Orwell’s expression of his concerns about the British (or any, by extension) government becoming a bit too, let’s say, control freakish. Big Brother. Totalitarianism. Freedom is Slavery. War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Doublethink. Thought crime. Thought police. Gray, chilling and unfortunately, as time goes by, less and less a cautionary tale, and more of a “I told you so!” from the Great Literary Beyond.

Orwell certainly was on to something back in 1949! Given our digital and hand-held technologies that allow all of us to photograph or video anything, anywhere, anytime for any reason, we’re all a bit of Big Brother-ish in a way. Social media has become a blessing and a curse. Fun and games. Truth–and consequences, sometimes serious consequences. But we smart phone-packing citizens are just moping around thinking that somehow the most mundane of scenarios or events warrant documentation. However, a government systematically eyeballing and/or eavesdropping on us? Now we’re talking Orwell. We’re talking Orwellian. Usually the term Orwellian is followed by the adjective nightmare. And evidently, since the Guardian revelation, barely a week ago now, the super-snooper story it tells has sent shock waves through society. As a result, sales of 1984 have been robust. It went from 11,000 in rank of sales on-line to 100th since the Snowden revelations hit the mass media airwaves. I hope Orwell’s descendants get some royalties on all this action.

My generation (Boomers) is quite familiar with Orwell, including his other well-known tome Animal Farm an allegorical tale of a dystopia that was aimed at Soviet/Satlinist rule. Orwell certainly had a sociopolitical conscience. The books, however, differ in that while both seek to illuminate perceived political and military rule of a rather stringent kind, the Soviet Union and Stalin were hardly projections of a possible future. By the 1930s, they had become stark reality for post-Revolutionary Russia, starting with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and Stalin’s eventual rise to paranoid-driven power . What Orwell wrote of in 1984 wasn’t a blatant development in Great Britain in the 1940s. And thank goodness! Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel, serves to demonstrate the flinty, unforgiving constraints placed on him and his ilk by the Big Brother system of brainwashing or brute force designed to break the will of anyone who dared resist their being expected to be quietly compliant and obedient to the nefarious will of the government. That so many surveillance systems are now routinely part of our daily lives makes George quite a literary prognosticator, indeed.

The fact that Orwell is a bestseller for the moment could be taken as a sign that a lot of “we the people” types want to re-read him or maybe finally get around to getting to know this Big Brother dude. In any case, I have always thought that Orwell should be required reading because it could obviously stir up some awareness of why a government should be afraid of its people, and not the other way around. Better late than never on Orwell book sales. It’s the public, not just our government that needs to engage in some damage control.

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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