Last Thursday marked the 100th birthday of Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell. Even 54 years after his most famous book 1984 was published, his work is still relevant, possibly now more than ever.
Orwell lived through times that featured the biggest totalitarian regimes, be it Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini or Hitler, he knew what he was talking about.
He also got a taste of wartime news propaganda while he worked for the BBC during World War II.
Commonly associated with the catchphrase “Big Brother is watching you,” a symbol of the government keeping an eye on its citizens, 1984 was a worst-case scenario of what the world could look like if a totalitarian regime runs havoc without opposition.
And even though 1984 is safely tucked away in the fiction section of libraries, today’s America exhibits a number of signs of a totalitarian regime gaining a foothold.
Orwell’s masterpiece features a number of government organizations that are designed to keep the population in check and from speaking out against the government. All of these organizations have euphemistic names contrary to their actual agenda. The Ministry of Truth for example, is responsible for news and information, although their broadcasts are heavily editorialized and basically propaganda, espousing the good deeds of the government while never pointing out their flaws.
In modern America, Fox News and Clear Channel operate radio stations with Rush Limbaugh and their collective blind support of the Bush Administration. And while it’s not as extreme as the Ministry of Truth yet, it’s getting closer and closer to it every day.
Other news outlets are also often not questioning why we went to war, or if they do so, only very, very carefully.
Certain methods in the “war against terror” (Orwell would have loved this term) in the United States are also criticized for being named for something they do not stand for. The Patriot Act limits the freedoms and protections of citizens and grants unprecedented powers to national security agents, hardly a cause for pride in one’s country. Meanwhile, those that speak out against it are branded unpatriotic.
The Department of Homeland Security is also something of an Orwellian nomenclature. Unfortunately, their penchant for raising the terror alert status — orange seems to be their alert of choice — leaves the general populace feeling anything but secure.
Big Brother Society also trumpets three very hollow, but often repeated, slogans reminiscent of the “United we stand” slogan that was drummed into us after 9/11.
The Pentagon’s label for the war on Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom (almost as believable as 2+2=5), somewhat echoes Orwell’s “War is peace.” That portions of the media chose to adopt the title for their war coverage speaks volumes about their supposed neutrality.
In the post 9/11 months, the American flag was as omnipresent as Big Brother’s portrait in 1984. If it moved, it had a flag on it, the most ironic example being the star-spangled toilet paper that I saw at Publix.
Orwell’s message remains an important one: Fascism and other extreme forms of government are most likely to occur when people think “these things could never happen.” Once these regimes are in place, however, their very nature makes dissent difficult and often downright dangerous. It should, therefore, be the duty of every citizen to cast a critical eye over the actions of those in high office. Contrary to what Big Brother says, ignorance is not strength.
Sebastian Meyer is the Oracle Opinion Editor email@example.com