‘1984’ has come and gone … or has it?

An illustration from 1983 article about "1984" from a microfilm copy.

An illustration from 1983 article about “1984” from a microfilm copy.

In the waning days of 1983 while working as the city editor of the Shreveport Journal I penned one of those tried-and-true mainstays of the journalistic craft — a soft feature tied to the anniversary of some event. In this case, it was the republication on the 35th anniversary of the original publication of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984.”

I thought I would wipe 30 years of dust off and see how the book and the feature hold up to the mirror of time. It ran as doubletruck, newspaperese for the facing pages in the center of a section. The headline was: “Big Brother is watching you.” It included interviews with professors and politicians.

Here is the first excerpt in what may become an occasional series on this blog. Parenthetical comments are from 2013:


Journal City Editor

Life is about to confront art. Fantasy is about to face reality.

When the new calendars go up on the wall Sunday, they will read 1984. How close will the year resemble the dark vision of a tubercular writer who spent his dying days on a Scottish island 35 years ago writing a modern classic — “1984”?

Ramirez cartoon about Julia.

George Orwell’s 1984 is one in which the telescreen bleats constant propoganda and from which Big Brother’s Thought Police spy. His 1984 is one in which dissidents are beaten and brainwashed until they believe the Party line. His 1984 is one in which the language is being butchered in the name of political orthodoxy. His 1984 is a humorless nightmare in which man has become a cog in the machine of the state. (Sort of like Julia. No, not Orwell’s Julia. Obama’s Julia from the online commercial about cradle to grave government aid.)

Orwell’s book is an excursion into an anti-utopia where reality is a moving target: On Monday Big Brother reduces the chocolate ration to 20 grams a week and on Tuesday there are demonstrations in the streets, people thanking Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to 20 grams. (Sort of like Obama on the sequester. Nov. 21, 2011: “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending.” Feb. 19, 2013: “Now, for two years, I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts.”)

Cybersnooping by the NSA

The setting is a dilapidated London, now called Airstrip One. Big Brother and the Party rule Oceania, a nation with a vague geography along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a nation constantly at war with one or both of the other two superpowers. It is a world which smells of boiled cabbage, oily Victory Gin and sour beer. It is a drab world where the color comes from giant posters. “It was one of those pictures,” Orwell wrote, “which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.” (Rather like an infrared equipped drone or huge network of cybersnooping computers. Let’s call it Perfect Citizen. Or as one internal Raytheon email seen by a Wall Street Journal reporter said, “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”)

The book made the terms “Newspeak” and “doublethink” a part of the political lexicon. (Like White House spokesmen who refuse to even admit the drone war exists.)

“1984” has outgrown even Orwell’s broad mindscape. The reality of the book, in an Orwellian twist of events, has become a moving target. “1984” has become the bible of anti-socialists, though Orwell himself was a socialist. The image of Big Brother is drawn like a gun to oppose every technical advance, although Orwell was aiming at political and intellectual changes, not science or technology.

Has life imitated Orwell’s art?

Are politicians raping the language? Is tax hike really a revenue enhancement? (Is government spending really an investment?)

Is Big Brother watching? Or just tapping the phone? Or peering down from the security camera on the wall? Or breaking into your computer file?

Speaking Newspeak

George Orwell respected language and railed against its abuse. He was particularly offended by the propaganda — some of which he helped to write for the BBC in World War II. He saw firsthand the way the press was tricked and subverted for political purposes in the Spanish Civil War. Battles that never happened. Heroes who became traitors. (Moveon.org ad: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”)

One of the major themes of “1984” is the abuse and manipulation of language and information for the purposes of the state. Big Brother dictated: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Orwell dubbed this doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory attitudes simultaneously. (Blacks overwhelmingly voted for Obama though the unemployment rate for blacks is 13.8 percent and blacks account for 25 percent of workers who have been unemployed for longer than 99 weeks, though blacks are only 12 percent of the labor force.)

To Orwell the world of politics was a “sort of subatomic or non-Euclidean world” in which two and two may equal five. (Where a slowdown in the increase in spending is a savage budget cut.)

Few Orwell-watchers can resist calling up Reagan’s changing the name of the MX missile to Peacekeeper. (And a pre-planned, organized, RPG- and mortar-armed terrorist attack on a consulate in Benghazi was really just a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamist movie.)

Dr. Joseph Koshansky, an assistant professor of history and political science in his fifth year at Centenary (College), is one of those who can’t resist.

Peacekeeper missile launched from silo.

Koshansky said one of Orwell’s warnings is that if one leaves the definition of words to a group or the state, then the group or state will define thoughts and actions.

Of “1984” Koshansky said, “I think this book, a lot times, people will say, ‘Oh yeah, I know about this book, we can use this book to talk about the Soviet Union.’”

But Koshansky said “1984” can be used to talk about any government, whether it is democratic, pluralistic, monarchial, parliamentary or totalitarian.

Orwell, Koshansky says, was warning us of what could happen, that the use of a word or name for something it is not eventually will be accepted and believed. “We forget that they (words) are tentative, creative, ephemeral and sometimes fictional accounts of what’s going on.”

When the president says the MX missile is a Peacekeeper, Koshansky said, he wants us to accept that definition as truth, as reality.

To be continued … maybe.

50 comments on “‘1984’ has come and gone … or has it?

  1. Steve says:

    Then again, we have tech too.

  2. Athos says:

    Interesting video, Steve. Probably filmed in states that don’t permit concealed weapons, eh?

  3. Steve says:

    I bet a concealed weapon would have little or no effect on any of those cops. In fact I think the video cameras are a much stronger weapon in those cases.

    Time to do what the Russians do. (Funny just how fast they figured out capitalism and freedom isn’t it?)

  4. Nyp says:

    “enhanced interrogation techniques”

  5. Steve says:

    Darn good thing your guy in the White House supports those huh Nyp?

  6. Rincon says:

    So what’s the cause? It’s fairly simple. Poor people tend to vote liberal, rich vote conservative. The middle class votes both ways, but the poorer they are, the more likely that they vote liberal. Because the rich have been able to suck up vast amounts of money in the past 30 years, leaving very little for the less well to do, the number of people that are struggling financially is increasing and they tend to vote liberal.

    The answer is to go back to the laws of the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s when the rich weren’t so heavily favored and Corporations were on a shorter leash. Bring back a thriving middle class; then more people will vote conservative.

  7. Steve says:

    So we need another world war that destroys all the competition Rincon. Great idea.

  8. Athos says:

    Rincon, I would like to give you something to consider. Having been born in the 50’s, I remember getting our first TV. We read, played card games, chess, checkers and generally, entertained ourselves. One bathroom (inside, of course) 4 bedroom 2 story home (under 1500 sf) and no garage. No A/C (except for the stick in the window kind my folks used at my dad’s office)

    Compare how our generational welfare people live today.You’ve seen the stats. In the 70’s I never lived in an apartment that cost more than my cell phone bill today. What’s the point? EVERYONE IN AMERICA HAS GOTTEN RICHER OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS! Especially in medicine. Miracles are being performed every day in our hospitals, that were only a dream when I was growing up.

    Of course, give that Chicago Thug a little more time, and Harry Reid more “green money to Algore’s bank account” and I’m sure we’ll all be poor again.

    But you already know that, don’t you?

  9. Athos says:

    By the way, do you think Hugo Chavez wished he went to America to get his health care instead of that socialist bastion in Cuba??

    Oh, that’s right. Dr. Utopia (the Chicago Thug) is fixing that one, too, isn’t he?

  10. Nyp says:

    Wrong, Steve — he banned waterboarding.

  11. Rincon says:

    WW II destroyed competition, which can explain our income growth, but I don’t see how it insured that a large portion of it went to a burgeoning middle class at that time and why it doesn’t now.

    You’re missing a very important part of the equation, Athos. Moms in my neighborhood generally stayed at home with the kids. Today, that is a luxury. Even if a tiny portion of our growth has gone to the middle class, the bar gets higher. The poor and middle class are far richer than those of 200 years ago as well, but explaining that to them won’t make them vote Republican.

    Yes, if you’re rich like Chavez, our health care system is wonderful. It’s only problem is the ridiculous expense.

  12. JudgeSmales says:

    Good point, NYP. After all, Obama moved right past “enhanced interrogation techniques” and went straight to the drone-first-and-ask questions later. And he doesn’t particularly care if the target is a U.S. citizen or if the drones are flying over U.S. soil.

    But of course, you already knew that, but chose the standard lefty misdirection, projection and good ol’ intellectual dishonesty. Good job — take two gold stars out of petty cash, comrade.

  13. Steve says:

    Nyp didn’t say anything about “waterboarding” in his post, did he? Did I miss that part somehow? OR did it get lost in the internet…

    More likely its just Nyps way of muddling discussion. JudgeSmales got it, thanks your Honor!

    Rincon missed the bit about the competition not being able to manufacture their own stuff anymore, this is what made the USA the worlds manufacturing base and what made it possible for the labor force to band together. It had no competition either. Today labor is competing with a world labor force fully capable of making stuff and selling it WAY cheaper to us. This is raising their standards of living while lowering ours.

  14. Drone strikes are so much more humane that waterboarding and removes any possibility of gaining valuable intelligence.

  15. nyp10025 says:

    Rincon: you are completely wrong in contending that “WW II destroyed competition, which can explain our income growth.” No reputable historian believes that the immiseration of foreign markets for American goods resulted in an increase in domestic per capita income.

  16. nyp10025 says:

    Steve: you appear not to understand that “enhanced interrogation techniques” was the Bush Administration term for waterboarding. Contrary to your assertion above the President does not support “enhanced interrogation techniques.” By issuing an executive order banning waterboarding, he barred the use of such “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

  17. nyp10025 says:

    JudgeSmales/Mr. Mitchell:
    1. Most people believe that in warfare it is acceptable to kill you enemy, but that it is not acceptable to capture your enemy and then rip out his fingernails or waterboard him in search of useful information. You apparently disagree with that.

    2. Mr. Mitchell also apparently believes that, upon identifying a group of armed Taliban fighters in South Waziristan, the US military should, instead of attacking the enemy with stand-off missiles, risk the lives of US soldiers by airdropping them into enemy territory on a capture mission, in hopes of finding someone to waterboard. I disagree with that.

    3. Mr. Mitchell & JudgeSmales also apparently believe that, if Osama Bin Laden had happened to have held dual US-Saudi citizenship, Zero Dark Thirty raid would have been wrong and illegal. I disagree with that as well.

  18. HuffPost: “The Obama administration believes it could technically use military force to kill an American on U.S. soil in an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ but has ‘no intention of doing so,’ U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter disclosed Tuesday.”



  19. nyp10025 says:

    The Obama Administration is absolutely correct. The President is legally authorized both by longstanding statutory authority and by the Constitution itself to use military force to kill an American on US soil in an “extraordinary circumstance.”

    It isn’t even a close question.

  20. And we have those highly lauded examples of Waco and Ruby Ridge.


  21. Steve says:

    Nyp defines “reputable” as people who NYP considers such. Nyp had to define “enhanced interrogation techniques” to fit Nyp’s argument.

    If Nyp means “waterboarding”, Nyp should say “waterboarding”.

  22. nyp10025 says:

    Steve: you are incoherent. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” is the Orwellian term used by the Bush Administration for waterboarding. I mentioned it b/c Mr. Mitchell’s post was ostensible about Orwell, (although that was actually just a pretext for the usual loopy attacks on President Obama’s policies.) If you did not happen to know what “enhanced interrogation techniquess” refers to, that is perfectly OK. But do not suggest that very clear and straightfoward comments from me were unclear or misleading.

  23. nyp10025 says:

    Mr. Mitchell – Waco and Ruby Ridge were law enforcement operations, not military operations. They may or may not have been well-advised or well-executed. But they have nothing to do with your erroneous suggestion that under no circumstances does the Executive Branch have the statutory and constitutional authority to use military force against US citizens on US soil.

  24. Steve says:

    If Nyp wants to say “waterboarding” Nyp should say “waterboarding”. Not a suggestion because Obama used it too. Unlike NYP I do not make blanket claims and accusations.


  25. To the average observer, those sure looked like military operations.


  26. nyp10025 says:

    That is actually an interesting point. Police actions have become increasingly “militarized,” and police forces have begun to resemble para-militaries. The face shields, helmuts, body armour, advanced weaponry, etc.
    Often deployed against people engaged in political demonstrations.
    I don’t know what to do about that, but it can be disturbing.

  27. On that we can agree, Petey.


  28. Athos says:

    petey also makes the point that big government approval is dependent on the personality (or party persuasion) of “who’s in power”. If Jorge and Darth Vader are in power, then big government policies are bad.

    But if an enlightened one, like Ø, is in power, then everything is fine.

    But then, living with contradictions is the liberal way. You need only look at Sean Penn’s love affair with Hugo Chavez.

  29. nyp10025 says:

    No, that’s not right at all. If Obama was waterboarding suspected terrorists prisoners I would disapprove. When President Bush used Preditor drones against terrorists and members of the Taliban (albeit in a more limited way and not in Pakistani territory) I did not disapprove. Neither did Democratic Party foreign policy leaders.

  30. As Vin says:  ‘Something the administration has not called for …’



  31. Athos says:

    Never let it be said that a good liberal propagandist can’t bend his mind in ways that defy logic!

    Pretzel logic, maybe?

  32. I believe, Athos, you are looking for the word “doublethink.”


  33. nyp10025 says:

    always nice to see a Steely Dan video.

  34. Steve says:

    ” If Obama was waterboarding suspected terrorists prisoners I would disapprove.” Much better Nyp.

  35. Steve says:

    I thought Nyp “doesn’t do videos”

  36. nyp10025 says:

    Good music — probably.
    Tendentious echo-chamber lectures — no

  37. Steve says:

    “Tendentious echo-chamber lectures — no”
    So a speech with Obama at the table would not be one of those… Enjoy.

  38. nyp10025 says:

    I’ve heard about that one. It is particularly tendentious.

  39. Steve says:

    Wiped the smile right off Obama’s face.

  40. nyp10025 says:

    I’m glad you obtained pleasure from knowing that.

  41. Steve says:

    Pleasure from seeing him take it for a change, his smile fits that old song. I always look at his eyes. burr.

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