Week 12 – Stock Footage

Time to roll out the clichés. Let’s talk about 1984.

I’m not sure there’s anything new to be said on this book. We’ve all been down this road. I justify talking about it with the arguments that a) nothing all that new can be said about any book and b) some people still manage to hate this one.

This is sacrilege and I will not stand for it. Let’s rant.

Okay. 1984. A story set in a totalitarian dystopia that challenges everything you thought you knew about reality, morality, society, and pretty much any subject ending in -y. That’s a terrible summary. All summaries of this book are. There’s too much stuff in it. Orwell himself couldn’t fit everything he wanted to say into his narrative – so he threw in one of his patented essay-splosions and dubbed it ‘The Book.’ Everyone always hates this bit. It was one of the best parts.

Orwell is an essayist. He is good at what he does. 1984 is incredibly well written in its story – but when The Book comes in, Orwell allowed himself to stop hiding all his points in Winston’s musings, and just get down to business. The man made points. He had rules about what made good writing and he stuck to them. Don’t waffle on. Make your point concise and understandable. The Book is so amazingly coherent a piece of writing about so complicated a topic that it staggers the mind. Orwell sat down and wrote out a piece of text that made War into Peace.

That was always my favourite of the Party’s points. ‘War is Peace.’ It ended up working so perfectly. The eternal arms-race between the three nations operating to create in constant changing warfare – peace. This is art. ‘Freedom is Slavery’ was also brilliant. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ I think I just think less of because it sounded the most obvious in my head when I read it. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you think about it it’s just as brilliant a satirical statement about society as any of the others. Orwell’s a genius essay-writing savant and I hate him for being so damn intimidatingly talented. Grrr.

There’s always all the speculation about how 1984 is so close to reality. And I can appreciate that. I also figure that – if 1984 ever really did come true – we’d all already be too brainwashed to care. Oceania is a happy place. Winston is a madman. This is what I think when people tell me the book was depressing. I feel like they’re missing out on the best part of the story. The Party had their contradictions written on the walls of the Ministry of Truth. But they were always missing the biggest one. ‘Oceania is Utopia.’ Forgive me my failure at slogan-writing. The point is – yes, it could be depressing. If you have faith in humanity or God or your government or pretty much anything else, this book’s just going to undermine your beliefs and you’ll feel all unstable. But Winston’s view of Airstrip One is only told to us because he’s the one person in this society we can relate to. He would fit in in our current world. He would be sane.

But in the context of the world within the book, we are reading the accounts of a madman. A psychopath hellbent on destroying the perfect society. We look at The Party and we condemn them for watching everyone and editing history and all that. We hate them for essentially being Stalinist Russia. Which is fine. From our perspective. If you look at the society within 1984 as a whole, most people are happy. The proles don’t care, the Inner Party are living it up, the Outer Party get by. They’re all fueled by their love of Big Brother. And yes, it’s based around killing people for questioning the government. You might ask ‘Utopia, at what cost?’ But look at us. Australia went and helped America shoot people in Iraq because of imaginary nuclear bombs. We’ve tried to build our own communist utopias, and they haven’t worked. The society’s we live in today kill people all the time. At least the Party does it with the vast majority of the world living happily.

The reason we hate Stalin is because he couldn’t brainwash people. He didn’t have duckspeak. So we question him and so we hate what he did. And that’s cool. I’m not saying I want 1984 to happen. I think the fact that everyone is happy in Airstrip One would be appalling if it actually happened. Orwell was mocking us. Showing us we’re only a couple of steps away from total hive-mind oblivion. It’s a satire of contemporary society and Stalin’s government – not necessarily a warning. In order for the world he describes to become a reality, the majority of us must by definition be happy about it.

And that’s my rant. Did I say anything new? I listed the Party’s contradictions in order of preference, so I guess ‘Shallowest evaluation of the text’ could go to me. ‘Does this political satire make my butt look big?’ Anyway. Hope it was a fun ride.

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