On Making Orwell Fiction Again because “It Depends on You”

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

I’m not one much for political signs, bumper stickers, or wearables, but I recently purchased a T-shirt with the slogan, “Make Orwell Fiction Again” because to me the expression is a tribute to the message of one of the most brilliant satirists of the last century whose writing exposed the failed totalitarian experiments that left millions in their collective, murderous wake.

The Orwell alluded to, of course, is George Orwell,  author of Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949), the tale of a dystopian futuristic society named Oceania ruled by socialist-styled totalitarians following an anti-capitalist revolution.

The story’s ruling elite mandate everything down to what citizens say  and how to say it (Newspeak) and how and what to think (Doublethink–example below) in a society where real history is negated and its cultural representations destroyed.

In Oceania there is only the ideology, language, culture, political party, and thought of now.

In Orwell’s fictional world all of this is carefully monitored by Big Brother, the ubiquitous overlord surveilling all via two-way “telescreens” as part of the ruling political party’s way to make sure no one thinks or acts independently. (This was long before the advent of Political Correctness and today’s level of surveillance technology both of which make this much more plausible.)

On the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the novel’s publication journalist Dorian Lynskey comments on the impact of the novel both then (because it was drawn from the realities of such regimes as Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia) and now, offering the following insights:

When Nineteen Eighty-Four was published 70 years ago, it was compared to an earthquake, a bundle of dynamite and the label on a bottle of poison. It can still deliver a terrifying jolt, especially when you remember that much of it was drawn from real life rather than Orwell’s imagination.

Anyone who reads Nineteen Eighty-Four today should see it as neither a 70-year-old prophecy nor simply a work of fiction, but as both a warning and a reminder.

“The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one,” [Orwell] said in one of his press statements. “Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.” It still does.

To many serious observers and historians what we are viewing today in the United States of an Orwellian nature is, in many alarming ways, the outward reveal of the anti-capitalist, pro-socialist political, ideological, and intellectual entrenchments that have been slowly corralling thought and behavior for nearly one hundred and twenty years and influencing virtually every aspect of society.

The current manifestations, having acquired shape, form, henchmen, and weapons and having come down from ivory towers to street level, are increasingly frightening.

Consider the parallels of today’s real goings-on with just a few from Oceania’s fictional reality (in boldface):

  • “War is Peace”–The looting, arson, violence, and blood in the trashed inner cities in today’s America is, they insist, to attain “peace and justice”.
  • “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”–What your eyes and ears tell you is going on in the inner cities via 24/7 live coverage is a lie. “Riots are myths,” says one influential politician. They are “peaceful demonstrations,” says another, backed by media.
  • “The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth”–According to certain 21st century ideologues, the United States didn’t begin in 1776 as historical documents attest, but in 1619 as the revisionists insist. Book burnings to follow? At least one vanguard city of the New Oceania, as it were, Portland, Oregon, has already begun the burn pile, the Bible being one of the first books to spark into flames.

When Nineteen Eighty-Four first came out it was banned in many places, particularly where totalitarians didn’t approve. Given the “cancel”  and PC cultures in today’s America, I fear the novel might soon be joining Bibles and history textbooks on the burn pile in certain locales, perhaps even on college campuses that used to be the bastions of free speech. I certainly hope and pray it won’t come to that.

But mostly, my takeaway on the slogan “Make Orwell Fiction Again” is what Orwell himself said: “It depends on you.”

How?

Vote.

And whatever other involvement in the resistance against the further spread of the socialist brand of totalitarianism in America comes to mind lest, if the similarities between America 2020 and Oceania 1949 continue to add up, we soon experience what they experienced then.

As put by one Oceania “Inner Party” member, O’Brien, to Winston, the main character,

There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

— Part III, Chapter III

~~~~~

Source of book cover, first edition, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

 

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