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Is 1984 Possible?
Many people believe that a totalitarian society such as George Orwell’s 1984 is impossible. However, with the incorporation of new surveillance technology into our everyday lives, a set standard for normality, governmental control economically and politically, and mass advertisements on our televisions that influence our mentalities, a society like 1984 is far from impossible
The main aspect of control in 1984 is the fact that they are able to monitor all people in Oceania using surveillance technology in the form of telescreens. As Winston states, “You had to live-did live in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, ever move scrutinized” (Orwell 3). This is now true of our society today. In this day and age, we have not only developed advanced surveillance systems, but our government has allowed them to be placed in the homes of those that they find suspicious. The Patriot Act expanded the “pen register” exception in wiretap law to allow monitoring without reasonable cause and without the person’s knowledge. Due to this fact, we are one step over 1984 because the people of Oceania had knowledge that they were being watched, whereas the people today are kept in the dark. The whole aim of INGSOC’s surveillance of Oceania was to get rid of any people who might commit treason against the government. The government of our time has the same objective. The main point of using surveillance technology is to take down anyone who is plotting against or to destroy our government.
One key point of influence in 1984 is all of the propaganda messages shown on the telescreens which are always on and where everyone can see and/or hear them. This is important because what we see and hear everyday affects our mentality and our beliefs. The messages that are constantly flashed at the people of Oceania are “Hate Goldstein”, “War against Eurasia/East Asia”, “The Party does everything for YOU”, and “Rebellion is the ultimate form of sin”. It is no wonder the people of Oceania never think to rebel with these ideas continuously being drilled into their subconscious. Today we have modern ideas constantly burned into our heads, also done via the media. We constantly see and hear that “materials possessions make you more important” or that “being skinny is being beautiful” and, we are so influenced by this that people are harming themselves just to conform to what society tells us is “normal”. Some go to the extent of depriving themselves of proper nutrition or stealing from a close friend or relative in order to attain money to buy objects with. If media can be this influential over us about our “images”, it can surely be used to influence our opinions and beliefs, such as in 1984.
In Orwell’s Animal Farm, it states “That all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings” (30). This is exemplified through the fact that the Inner-Party has everything that they ever need and more while the Outer-Party has to suffer through their lives on the bare necessities. All the wants and the needs that they suffer spring from the Inner-Party’s need to control them. If the Outer-Party believes that the Inner-Party is supplying them with food to sustain life and are kept in ignorance of the fact that there is more than they have, why risk rebelling and losing the only source of nourishment that they have? This is the same with our society, nowadays, people have to pay about $4.00 for a gallon of gas and this is difficult for us because it is expensive and many hours of hard work go to waste on gas money. Meanwhile, major executives of gas companies are rolling in money and want to keep their “power” over gas going in order to keep the cash flowing. The people have no other source of fuel, however, and that is why we continue to buy gas and allow the executives to stay in power.
Another point in Orwell’s Animal Farm is that “He [man] is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will keep them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself” (29) This is visible through the fact that the Inner-Party collects all the benefits of the Outer-Party’s work and keeps the main part of it for themselves while giving the Outer-Party just enough to stay alive. As stated earlier, man is power-hungry and selfish and that is why the Inner-Party is in power- because they have the resources to control whereas, the Outer-Party doesn’t. This concept is evident in the fact that there are many people out there who cannot afford to live; they are provided enough money, through welfare, to purchase the bare minimum amount that they need to survive while the upper-class is spared any extra taxes and are able to maintain their over-gluttonous lifestyles.
In Barron’s in-depth analysis of Orwell’s book entitled Orwell’s “1984”, it tells us the ideals of the Party by stating that, “the party frowns on art, on sex, and on the life of the mind” (Kit 11). Due to the fact that the beliefs of INGSOC tell everyone that these are wrong, these actions are found suspicious and unnatural in the world of 1984, and that is why they are frowned on. The same thing is true of our society. We are constantly being told what is proper and what is not or what is right and what is wrong, so whenever we see someone go against these “standards of society” or we ourselves go against them, we feel unnatural or outcasted from society. This is the goal of both INGSOC and our society today. In INGSOC, they want to make one who has any thoughts of rebellion to relinquish them out of fear that they will become singled out and removed from their “group” a.k.a the Party. The people find safety and normality in numbers. In our society, we want one who acts out against our behavioral beliefs to feel abnormal and spot-lighted so that they will reconsider their actions and return to being “normal”. Our standards of behavior are standards of normality and we often feel uncomfortable when we are stamped as “different”. This is our society’s and Oceania’s society’s way of keeping us in control and from stepping out of the lines.
Language is the main source of communication and knowledge for humans. If a word is eliminated from our vocabulary and we had no knowledge that it existed, there would be no way to communicate that concept. By using Newspeak, they are eliminating words everyday which eliminates the need for emotion and intelligence. Since everyone in the party uses Newspeak, it is considered proper. This relates to us today because we now are a society that is reliant on cell phones. We are now communicating through text messaging, along with this mode of communication comes a “language” of its own. This “language” known as “text speak”, allows us to shorten words and eliminates our need to spell words correctly. This is affecting our intelligence and the intelligence of today’s youth. In an article by Amanda O’Connor, a teacher states that, “My students were trying to communicate fairly academic, scholarly thoughts, but some of them didn't seem to know it's "y-o-u," not "u" (O’Connor). This shows how “text speak” is slowly eroding our ability to think clearly and to communicate what we need or how we feel. Also, by using an impersonal method of communication, (through phones instead of face-to-face) we remove all intimacy of communication and therefore get rid of the need for emotion. Also, this “language” has been embraced by teenagers as “the norm”, and since this is true, many teenagers use it to be considered normal or cool.
A point of control for the Inner-Party that people often overlook is the fact that the Inner-Party, the few ideal party members, are beautiful and youthful. In reality the Outer-Party members who compose most of Oceania are quite ugly. The Outer-Party tries to make up for this by becoming the best party members they can be. It is the same today because the ideal image of what a person should be is represented as young, beautiful, and thin as a toothpick. However, these people are few. This causes the majority of people to work harder so that they can satisfy themselves with materials and success or to risk anything in order to attain the perfect appearance. Both societies convince us that we are not normal and should strive to look better or be better in order to fit in.
With all the of the factors set in our lives that control our actions, watch our every movement, and influence our opinions and beliefs, it is not inaccurate to state that a society such as the one in 1984 could happen and quite possibly is already in the making.
O'Connor, Amanda. Instant Messaging: Friend or Foe of Student Writing? University of
Washington. U.S.A: New Horizons for Learning, 2004. 6 June 2008
Orwell, George. 1984. New York, NY: Penguin Company, Inc., 1948. 1-328.
Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York, NY: Penguin Group, Inc., 1954. 1-104.
Reed, Kit. Barron's- George Orwell's "1984" Barron's Educational Series, 1984. 1-118.
"Surveillance Under the USA PATRIOT Act." American Civil Liberties Union.
3 Mar.-Apr. 2003. 12 June 2008