Categorized | Books

Brief Review: 1984

In a way, the coinage of “Big Brother” was a detriment to the legacy of 1984. As much as the book was about the unseen hands of power stirring us wherever we fit best in their scheme, it was also about the dangers of memetics in the supposed subordinates. Apple made history with their iconic 1984 commercial where the woman interrupted a haunting propaganda film via a flying sledgehammer, but in the context of the book, they benefit greatly from a similar logic. Think about all the inventions we have today solely because of popularized opinion: the HD-DVD lost out to Blu-Ray, Betamax to VHS, and hundreds of competitors to iTunes. At any point in the novel, the inhabitants of Oceania could have decided that Big Brother was hokum, but they would have had to do so collectively, just as they decided that Big Brother was not hokum collectively. George Orwell was not ignorant of this – he was far too smart – and, in fact, it may have been his point. He wrote the novel as an attack on totalitarianism, but we may need to examine who was behind the totalitarianism. The terrifying vision of this dystopia becoming a reality is not that there are all-seeing cameras behind every wall, nor is it that McCarthy was right and everyone is a spy. The terrifying reality is the one we currently live in: what we decide is what we cannot escape. Right now it’s harmless to shun someone who didn’t like Inception (looking at you, Shelby), but think of the ramifications if it doesn’t end there. And, really, why would it end there? The world is linked through the internet, and the internet just got a taste of how powerful it can be when it single-handedly put a stop to the SOPA bill. The lawmakers expected opposition from Google and Wikipedia, but they never expected the internet to collectively believe in the danger of the bill, much less care about it. This could pan out two ways: we could be the comical sort of power hungry, which is the Nacho Libre version (“Don’t you wanna little taste of the glory? Just to see what it tastes like”), or we could be Tony “The World Is Yours” Montana and bring our collective opinion all the way to our bloody fountain.

Where it gets scarier is that how we save ourselves from that scenario is also what Orwell depicted. Big Brother didn’t get to decide things with Minitrue. Big Brother got to decide things because they put out a false image of their surroundings. Some people I’ve talked to thought that the most boring part of the book was The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, and I could not disagree more. Big Brother wouldn’t stand a chance if they tried to merely suppress the populace, as O’Brien led Winston to believe. They had to keep their people in line by having them believe that the other side was so cruel or so farcical that it would be pointless to defect. If the words “Fox News” and “MSNBC” haven’t entered your mind yet, you’re probably new to electricity. We are indeed living in a society where love and hate, war and peace, truth and falsehood are the same thing, at least with regard to the media. Hating Fox News is the same as embracing its opposite, unless you proclaim to hate both, but then you are embraced by the somewhat accurately self-proclaimed intellectual groups who get their news elsewhere. Not believing Bill O’Reilly has become akin to believing “the truth”.  And all the while, we’re not realizing the immense power of collective thinking because we’ve been so violently turned from being “sheeple”. With a divided anger toward Democrats and Republicans, rather than a divided anger toward the specific acts of the government, party notwithstanding, a Big Brother scenario is effectively created. They’re too powerful to touch when they’re subcategorized into a million niches. Do you remember what Julia said to Winston in the end? “You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.” In their parting, not once is the blame directed toward Big Brother, and it’s the most honest moment of the book. “I betrayed you,” she said. “I betrayed you,” he said. They weren’t admitting that Big Brother got to them in the sense that their pervasive, freedom-less society finally turned them into something they weren’t; they were admitting that Big Brother got them to unlock what they had always held: contempt for humanity. That’s Big Brother’s big ploy, not surveillance or torture. When Winston admits to loving Big Brother, he admits to loving a subconscious, congruous ideology more than a sexually and emotionally arousing woman. And that the reader could finish the book and direct the blame toward Big Brother means that Orwell was already right.

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About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12, Chapman '15) recently finished a Screenwriting MFA. He has written for Livestrong, CBS, and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: otool102@mail.chapman.edu