Orwell’s 1984 and Its Impact on Culture
In 1949, George Orwell created a dystopian novel 1984 about the totalitarian society, which gave the world such images and concepts as Big Brother, the Ministry of Truth, Thought Police, Doublethink, and Newspeak. The new society, which has replaced capitalism in 1984, completely rejects the autonomy and the freedom of an individual, suppresses and controls everyone. The novel takes place in London, the capital of the provinces of Oceania, which is under the leadership of the sole leader, Big Brother, who is at war with neighboring Eurasia and Eastasia (Gleason et al. 67). Orwell deliberately made London the center of the totalitarian regime to show that its emergence is possible in every state. He was convinced that the idea of government surveillance could live in the minds of intellectuals everywhere. Therefore, he wanted to emphasize that the English-speaking nations are not better than other ones and that totalitarianism, if not combated, can win in any country. The protagonist of a novel Winston Smith, a member of the Ministry of Truth, does not share the ideals of the party and doubts everything that the government is imposing on the society. He manages to find allies, a girl Julia and a member of the party O’Brien, who is not an oppositionist in fact, but a state agent. Eventually, Winston and Julia are caught by the police, and after physical and psychological tortures, the principal character renounces his love to the regime and becomes devoted to the party and Big Brother (Gleason et al. 289). This paper focuses on discussing the impact of Orwell’s novel on different cultures, mainly the British and the Chinese societies, as well as on the recent resonance that the book has had in the United States. In sixty-eight years after George Orwell published his novel 1984, the dystopia has acquired new colors in various countries and still produces a strong impression on the public.
1984 and British culture
Considering the influence of Orwell’s novel on the British culture, it is important to note that the writer helped to create new dystopias that aim to warn the humanity of the terrible consequences of totalitarianism. He described the methods of controlling people and their personal life, the non-existent leader on posters and the constant state of war in such a realistic manner, that it had a great impact on different cultures and societies, in particular Britain. Orwell’s influence is great as his image of the dangerous, harmful effects of various social experiments encourage people to think about terrible outcomes of total surveillance of any model.
One of the British films in which Orwell’s impact is quite evident, is Brazil, a 1985 dystopian movie by Terry Gilliam. The oppressive spirit of the totalitarian state has been borrowed from 1984. Similar to Orwell’s characters, people in Gilliam’s movie do not have the right to personal life. For example, public service workers can easily enter the apartment without the owner’s permission.The protagonist Sam Lowry, like Winston Smith in 1984, rebells against the party defending his freedom, love and dignity (Campora 124). However, he is not a revolutionary but an honest, sincere person who simply causes sympathy. While Orwell’s characters lose their individuality and feelings, in Brazil, love is bright and genuine. In both 1984 and Brazil, the system confronts and destroys the personality, but Gilliam’s movie illustrates no breakdown, the external violence is not domineering over the inner world.
Another influence of Orwell’s book on British culture can be seen in a television commercial 1984 directed by Ridley Scott. It introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer. The title and the plot are taken from George Orwell’s novel to show that 1984s social conditions, in reality, will not be similar to those in famous dystopia. In this commercial, shaven-headed people in identical dark gray clothes are sitting in the hall in front of a huge blue screen. They see the head of a man, Big Brother, who makes a speech about the anniversary of the “Information Purification Directives” and the “Garden of Pure Ideology” (Berger 28). At this time, a young woman in bright orange shorts, pursued by policemen, with a hammer in hands runs into the hall. She throws a hammer at the screen while the man says “We will win,” thus showing the revolutionary spirit of modernity. At the end of the video, there are titles denoting that Apple will introduce Macintosh, and people will see why Orwell’s 1984 is just a fiction (Berger 28). Using the themes of control versus freedom, Apple sparked people’s curiosity before the release of the product. The main idea was that this new technological advancement will change people’s minds and bring freedom instead of control.
In addition to the representation in popular culture and mass media, the truth of Orwells world can be found in the life of ordinary British people. The government implements new reforms that allow the significant expansion of surveillance in the United Kingdom. British Internet companies save twenty-month logs with a list of websites visited by their clients (Lanchester 8). These data represent the personal information that reveals political, sexual and religious preferences, medical problems and other personal details that can be used to control an individual. The government states that the data will be viewed only to determine whether someone has the access to the illegal website. However, it does not guarantee that authorities will not overuse their powers, as described in Orwells novel. The police will be able to access the logs without the permission from the court. British intelligent agencies conduct a total surveillance of the United Kingdoms residents with the help of internal communication lines. This monitoring is based on the Telecommunications Law that has been used since 1984 to secretly obtain information from communication companies in the interests of the national security and the international relations (Lanchester 7). Thus, the totalitarian state from 1984 is now a reality all around the world, and Britain is not an exception.
Big Brother and realities of 1984 in China
The reader or the viewer may think that the described society in 1984 is nothing more than a fiction and stay calm like after watching a horror film. However, dystopia is to awaken people, as it is more realistic than it seems to be. For example, the term Big Brother is now the reality in China. Terrible parallels can be drawn between the fictional world of Orwell and the life in this country. 1984 describes the frightening future, in which Big Brother is constantly watching the citizens through television screens and has a complex system of the social control (Gleason et al. 133). However, the Chinese Communist Party has surpassed Orwell’s fantasies. It can be seen in the example of the spyware used in the state.
Chinese authorities spy on every citizen, including Communist Party officials, with the help of Big Intelligence program, which is run by the Ministry of Public Security. The existence of the program became known in 2014 (Richards 1938). At that time, it operated for almost 10 years. This project has surpassed Big Brother from Orwell’s novel. It collects data from surveillance cameras that are installed everywhere: from taxis to streets and shops. All these tools are used for watching and controlling people.
Social Credit System is another totalitarian regime described in 1984 that oppressed people for independent thinking. In Orwell’s fantasy novel, citizens are persecuted for thought crimes. The similar phenomenon exists in the Chinese Communist Party. Even agreements for users of large technology companies prohibit thoughts and ideas that are contrary to the rules of the Communist Party. Social Credit System collects accessible information about every citizen and then determines the reliability according to the established rating. This assessment affects the possibility of finding a job, receiving a loan, or buying a house (Richards 1941). The program decreases the status of a citizen if he or she has friends or relatives with a low rating. The information about the life and the activity of a citizen comes from municipal, commercial, law enforcement or judicial bodies into a single information center, where it is processed with the help of big data technology, and the citizen’s rating, respectively, either increases or decreases.
In terms of the Internet freedom, China takes the last place due to the presence of the Communist Partys agents who monitor discussions on the Internet, block unwanted content and report users to the authorities. In addition, they propagandize the party line on the Internet and attack the dissenters. In China, a person can be officially arrested by the Internet police for spreading rumors. Usually, it includes criticism of the authorities, a message of the events versions that contradict official news, and the protection of subversive ideas like democracy. In addition to cameras and the Internet surveillance, the Chinese authorities have the intention to force drivers to carry electronic ID cards that track the vehicle (Richards 1942). The device listens to conversations and records the movement of a car. There are also spy devices in gadgets. For example, monitoring phone calls is becoming more common. The Communist Party states that these programs are designed to prevent terrorist attacks, but the Chinese authorities often justify spyware programs by combating terrorism.
Recent resonance in the United States
Orwell’s 1984 about the states repression is experiencing a new wave of popularity in the United States in the light of the debate in the American society about whether the government’s program of monitoring terrorists violates the rights of ordinary citizens to privacy. Sales of Orwell’s cult book have sharply increased in the state recently. The scandal that arose in the USA in connection with the information that the US Intelligence Community is controlling Internet users and telephone companies led to an increase in sales of the famous dystopian novel by the British writer George Orwell (Diglin 610). The revealed facts that intelligence agencies are engaged in the surveillance of millions of people has caused a huge public response in the United States. Human rights organizations as well as many Americans understood it as an attempt to eradicate their civil rights and inviolability of the private life.
Though sixty-eight years have already passed after it was published, Orwell’s 1984 is now included in the list of bestsellers on Amazon. As this novel tells about the pervasive control of the masses consciousness, people become more interested in this dystopia nowadays as a result of the spread of information that the US National Security Agency has accumulated millions of phone records of ordinary Americans and foreigners and watched their Internet correspondence (Diglin 610). Americans try to look for the answer to the question whether the government has gone too far with its monitoring program, or the US authorities simply try to protect their citizens fearing a repeat of the terrorist attacks.
American media also relate the increased public interest in the book with the inauguration of Donald Trump. At the first conference for journalists, Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s press secretary, accused reporters of creating fake news (Rodden 2). According to him, the inauguration of the new US president was the most popular event and gathered the largest number of viewers in the history of the country while journalists filmed empty seats on the square. President’s adviser Kellyanne Conway supported the spokesperson adding that he offered alternative facts (Rodden 2). This phrase reminded the public of the Big Brother Party members rhetoric, characters of the dystopian novel by George Orwell. Before and after his inauguration, Trump had been experiencing numerous accusations. Thus, political opponents of Trump stated that he allegedly intended to found an authoritarian state or even start a nuclear war. Therefore, after the scandalous press conference, the metaphor of “alternative facts” forced to draw parallels with Orwell’s 1984.
Being one of the defining novels of modern times with such notions as Big Brother becoming used on a daily basis, 1984 gave George Orwell a unique place in the world literature. Despite the fact that the genre of dystopia warning of the threat of totalitarian regime was formed before the publication of George Orwell’s work, 1984, author’s name and the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” often serve to denote the catastrophic consequences of totalitarianism and government surveillance. 1984 had a great impact on many societies around the world. As the author stated, totalitarian regime and monitoring can become the reality in every state. Long before modern video surveillance systems and Internet technologies came into the common use, allowing intelligence agencies to collect the detailed information about a person and, if necessary, monitor each step, Orwell described this total surveillance in his dystopian novel with an intention to awaken the mankind and make people think about the possible future.