GeorgeOrwell and Contemporary America Society
Literaryworks have been some of the most fundamental aspects of thecontemporary human society. Indeed, they are mainly compiled with theaim of entertaining, informing and educating the readers. It has beenwell noted that literary works have, since time immemorial been usedin initiating social changes. This is especially in instances wherethey highlight the social ills pertaining to the societies withinwhich their authors live. In most cases, literary works are inspiredby their experiences in their societies and usually write with theaim of highlighting the negative aspects of their societies andpossibly creating ideas pertaining to how better societies can becreated. This is the case for George Orwell’s “1984”, a novelthat details a man’s struggles against oppression and autocracy bythe state. While there may be differing opinions, Winston`sexperience of immense surveillance and monitoring are quite prevalentin the contemporary human society and have been used to limit themost basic civil liberties.
1984is set in Oceania, an omnipresent state that is under the rule of BigBrother and is permanently in war currently with Eurasia with the aimof keeping the masses illiterate and enhance capital accumulation forthe rich and wealthy rulers. The Ministry of Truth ceaselesslybroadcasts to the population through its numerous telescreens, whichnot only pervade every other aspect of the people’s lives but alsohas the capacity to monitor everything they say or do. These devicesare a component of an intricate surveillance system that haspersistently been used by the ministry of Love, as well as itsfearsome agents, the Thought Police with the aim of meeting one goaleliminating the “thoughtcrimes”. The main protagonist is WinstonSmith, a party worker who works in the Ministry of Truth’s RecordDepartment (Orwell 12). This department is responsible for themodification of historical news archives so as to ensure consistency.At one time, Winston comes across inconvertible proof showing thatthe party has been lying, in which case he embarks on aself-questioning journey. He starts questioning the validity of theparty alongside its doctrines such as no sex for joy but only forprocreation, as well as the ever-present telescreens that monitor hismovement every time. Orwell notes that “Thetelescreens received and transmitted simultaneously. Any soundWinston made above the level of a very low whisper would be picked upby it moreover, so long as he remained within the field of visionwhich the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watchedat any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Policeplugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. But at any rate,they could plug into your wire whenever they wanted to”(Orwell 4-5). In essence, Winston feels that the Party isoverpowering restrictive of free will and thought, which he sees asfundamental to human beings. However, he is also afraid of theThought Police who make patrols on the heretical thoughts ofindividuals, often leading to their disappearance if they are seen asthinking negatively about the party or even its leader, The BigBrother (Orwell 14). He is, nevertheless, concerned that at one time,no one will know the true history as the Party changes it whatever itwants whenever it wants. Winston meets Julia, who not only becomeshis mistress but also joins him in the arduous journey of fightingthe Party. Together, they arrange with Obrien, who they assume is anInner Party member, who leads them to an underground organizationcalled “Brotherhood” that is dedicated to combating the evils ofthe Party. Their friendship, however, comes to an end when theydiscover that O’Brien was actually an agent Party and was simplysetting them up so that they can be discovered and eventuallyre-habituated (Dice43). Eventually, Winston and Julia are captured and taken to theMinistry of Love, which is responsible for the maintenance of law andorder in the country, where they endure endless torture to the pointthat Winston’s thoughts are modified from hatred of the Party tounceasing love for the same, as well as its purpose in the control ofmasses. Indeed, Winston becomes a new man who is entirely loyal tothe Big Brother and the Party, in which case the Party is seen ashaving conquered humanity.
Onedistinctive similarity between Orwell’s 1984 and contemporarysociety is seen in the telescreens used for monitoring the actions ofthe citizens. It is said that the telescreens were bi-directional, inwhich case they transmitted and received images, thereby pushingpropaganda while functioning as security cameras in every other place(Blyand William44). These telescreens could not be shut off. “Therewere no telescreens, of course, but there was always the danger ofconcealed microphones by which your voice might be picked up andrecognized.”This may be compared to the surveillance cameras that have beeninstalled into every corner, apparently, in an effort to enhancesecurity. Indeed, scholars have noted that social media and theinternet track the actions of every person, while built-in webcamsmay even track the directions in which an individual’s eyes arelooking so as to offer the best image. Recent times have also seendevastating revelations pertaining to the surveillance carried out bythe United States’ government on every communication channel thatcitizens use in an effort to avert the possibility of another 9/11(Tzouliadis 47).
Inaddition, the surveillance is not limited to the things that anindividual is doing but also what they may be thinking. In 1984,Orwell states that “Itwas terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were inany public place or within range of a telescreen”.Individuals could be given away by the smallest thing includinghabits of muttering to oneself, subconscious anxiety, nervous tics orthings that suggested abnormality (Blyand William54). This was usually called Facecrime. This is no different from thesituation in the contemporary human society where the United StatesAir Force has developed omnipresent surveillance technology that isaimed at monitoring suspicious behavior. This system incorporatescameras that have the capacity to biometrically track the facialmovements of an individual so as to establish a psychological profileof the person under surveillance (Tzouliadis 34). It is stated thatthe facial muscles alert Big Brother via behavior analysis to thepresence of a suspicious person who is thinking about committing acrime.
Further,the surveillance was (and still is) not limited to machines, ratherindividuals were encouraged to report their kin to the authorities.Indeed, this may be seen in the fact that Obrien was not afraid ofsetting his friends up for arrest. It is also noted that the peoplewould be afraid of their own kids. Orwell notes that “hardlya week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describinghow some eavesdropping little sneak — ‘child hero’ was thephrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark anddenounced its parents to the Thought Police”(Orwell 140). In addition, he states that “thechildren, on the other hand, were systematically turned against theirparents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. Thefamily had become, in effect, an extension of the Thought Police”(Orwell 140). This bears quite a distinctive similarity with thesituation in the present times especially considering the launch ofthe See Something, Say Something program by the Homeland Security.Indeed, Americans endured bombardment from every quarter includingfootball games, hotel rooms and even grocery stores with messagesthat encourage them to report any of their kin who is carrying outsuspicious activity. These activities may include mundane tasks suchas wearing hoodies, taking to law enforcement agents, using cameras,opposing surveillance or even making cash payments (Huxley 32). It isalso well noted that educational institutions have been convertedinto training grounds for eco-spies, where children are encouraged toreport the bad recycling habits of their children and even re-educatethem to compliance.
Onthe same note, anyone in the hypothetical world created by GeorgeOrwell could be an agent of the state or a member of the ThoughtPolice. This could be a co-worker, neighbors’ children,store-keepers and other people who may be observing and reporting onthe behavior of their fellow citizens. This meant that everyone wassuspicious of every other person. This is the reality in today’sUnited States, where researchers are refining a recent discovery thatallows them to derive images from a person’s mind, in which casethey can listen in on the internal monologue of an individual(Akdeniz et al 45). Is it any wonder that social media platforms asktheir members to say what is on their minds? In a world whose everyspace is occupied by cameras that can follow their users’ eyemovements, it goes without saying that the thoughts of an individualmay form the last refuge for anyone’s privacy as it can still bediscerned and known, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy. As muchas such technology is not always used for enhancing security but alsoin determining the appropriateness off marketing strategies, it goeswithout saying that they are an immense impediment on privacy.
Akdeniz,Y. Taylor, N. Walker, C., Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (1): State surveillance in the age of information and rights.CriminalLaw Review,pp. 73-90. 2001, Print
Bly,Robert, and William C. Booth. ALittle Book on the Human Shadow.2009.Print
Dice,Mark. BigBrother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True.San Diego, CA: The Resistance, 2011. Print.
Huxley,Aldous. Propaganda in a Democratic Society in “BraveNew World Revisited”.New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1958. Print
Orwell,George. NineteenEighty-Four.Fairfield (IA: 1st World Library – Literary Society, 2004. Print.
Tzouliadis,Tim. TheForsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin`s Russia.New York: Penguin Press. 2008. Print