Next month, George Orwell’s ‘1984’ turns 70 and it feels more prophetic than ever. In a post truth society, this dystopian story about the future in which the ‘Big Brother’ controls every person’s body and mind strikes a nerve in a world where facts are constantly under threat.
It almost feels overused or a bit of a cliché; this idea of fiction predicting real life. However, 1984’s tale of subverting social consciousness through surveillance and media, and its ultimate message of hope is something which this present world would do well to read and keep in mind.
This handbook for the future is a warning about how surveillance can mould a docile society and forecasts how attempts to erode the public trust in facts and historical records can destabilise democracy.
We now live in an era where narratives are dictated by strongmen in most parts of the world—from the United States to Brazil to Turkey to the Philippines to India. They dominate the news cycles, which in turn ensures their omnipresence in people’s minds, and slowly but surely these strongmen and their cohorts drive the narrative of the day. And those that dare oppose revisionist versions of history and reality are left battered, metaphorically and literally.
So is everyone living in Orwell’s dystopian future? Well, no, not exactly. Yes, the rise of social media is the ultimate ‘telescreen’ and almost every PR wing acts like the propaganda machinery of the ‘Ministry of Truth.’ But like in ‘1984,’ there is still hope.
The future that Orwell feared, which was derived from his first hand experiences of fascism and Stalinism in the 1930s and 40s, was never realised because good decent people did not turn a blind eye.
And perhaps that is why 1984’s last chapter, which some consider to be a tad boring, deserves a more careful reading.
It is ultimately a story of hope. When Orwell describes the bureaucratic reports at the end, the protagonist Winston Smith’s narrative documents survive. Hope is not obliterated and after the ‘end,’ the appendix reframes the entire tale.
If anything, Orwell’s tale asserts that so long as there is art, language and literature, the destruction of meaning through the hollowing out of language will not succeed.
Yes, this is the perfect time for kids to be taught ‘1984‘ and for adults to read or re-read the same; but not as a story of something that was destroyed but of something that survived.
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