Saturday, 1 October 2016

1984 - The Perception of Truth

Well, it has been a while since I have posted anything on this blog (okay, I have already posted a couple of things, but that was because I finally had some time to sit down and go over one of the old posts I had sitting there waiting to be published and have finally gotten around to finishing a second one that was partially written while sitting on a plane between Singapore and Frankfurt), but now that I have returned to Australia and have some more free time (namely because I have discovered that when I am travelling the last thing that I really want to do is write blog posts because they can actually be pretty time consuming) to actually go back to publishing stuff on my blog, and what better way to start it off again than to publish a review of a play that I saw in London. Actually, when I'm in London I tend to make a habit of seeing as many plays as possible, though I have to be honest that the whole 'West-End experience' is starting to get a bit dry. In a way it seems that the plays, and musicals, that appear in the major theatres in Theatreland are pretty much the mainstream, but then again having seen Wicked and Les Miserables three times already I'm not in a huge rush to go and see it again.

Theatre Land
In a way there has always been something mainstream about Theatreland

However, while I was wandering around down near Charing Cross station, walking past the Playhouse, I noticed that they were advertising a theatrical version of 1984. Well, upon seeing this I pretty much made the decision straight away that this was going to be my destination that evening. For some reason I didn't go and buy tickets straight away, but then again this is London, which basically means that if you aren't going to get tickets on the night, you aren't going to get tickets (and some limited performance plays do sell out pretty quickly, particularly at the Globe, which does surprise me because it is actually one of the most uncomfortable, and annoying, theatres to actually watch a play - but people still go there, and their plays still sell out months in advance, so they are probably doing something right). Actually, once again I arrived in London to discover a play at the Wyndham Theatre that starred Ian Mckellan and Patrick Stewart, and not surprisingly the show was completely booked out - it happened to me the last time I was there as well, though that happened to be a play starring Rowen Atkinson. However, I did manage to see a play starring Michael Crawford, so I guess I haven't missed out on all that much.

The Playhouse
I'm glad it was what I thought it was

Anyway, it seems as if I was rambled on enough as it is, so I probably should get on with my review (if that is what you want to call it) of 1984 (the theatrical version). So, I'm sure many of us already know the story of 1984, which happens to be a picture of a dystopian future where everybody is being monitored by an entity known as Big Brother and that peoples' thoughts and beliefs are being manipulated by the party through the construction of a language known as Newspeak. The thing with this world is that individual thought has been forbidden and the people can only think about things that they are told that they can think about. Further more the world has been divided into three superpowers (though there is a suggestion that these three superpowers are all controlled by Big Brother): Oceania, East Asia, and Eursia, which corresponds with Russia and Europe, China, and the Anglo-American sphere. However there are other parts of the world which simply exist as eternal battlegrounds between these superpowers, such as the Middle East and Africa. However, information is very tightly controlled, so people only know about things that they are being fed by the party.

On the topic of Newspeak here is an interesting video I found on the definition of Orwellian.


Orwell's Time

Okay, Orwell lived, and was writing, both before and after World War II, however it is the period immediately after the Second World War that is of particular interest as this is the setting in which the book was written. The reason I point this out is because I remember somebody suggesting that the thing about 1984 was that it wasn't actually written about a time in the future but rather the time period in which Orwell was living. Sure, there may not have been constant surveillance, or the manipulation of the language to the extent that we see in the novel, but we are seeing the beginnings of what would turn out to be the cold war.

Orwell at the BBCThe thing with this time period is that we see the rise of three superpowers - the Anglo-American sphere, the Soviet Union, and Communist China. While in Orwell's book all of Europe had been conquered by the Soviets, when Orwell was writing this was still a distinct possibility, and it has even been suggested that if Stalin had wanted to send his troops through the Iron Curtain then there wouldn't be all that much we could do to stop him (with the exception of lobbing some nuclear bombs at him, however rocket technology hadn't been sufficiently developed at this stage, and the Russian airforce probably could have dealt with any allied bombers flying towards Moscow).

The interesting this is how the Cold War played out over the 1950s with the rise of Macarthyism, and the whole reds under the bed paranoia. Sure, it may not have been happening at this stage, but the two allies from the Second World War were pretty quickly starting to become enemies. In a way without Hitler to unite them, the rift in the ideologies of Stalin and the West began to show. In fact, when Stalin refused to pull his troops out of Eastern Europe, and Churchill saw the Iron Curtain descend, it was clear that we were entering a new phase of hostilities. While there had been agreement as to what a post World War II world would look like, when the reality came about things didn't turn out as expected (but this isn't surprising considering both Capitalism and Communism are inherently expansionistic).

What we began to see in the 50s, as mentioned, was the whole idea of the Reds under the bed. In fact my American history lecturer suggested that during this time there were more people hunting for communists that there were communists in the United States. However, we also see the doublespeak that Orwell was predicting in his book, especially with the concept of freedom. The thing is that the idea of America being free, unlike the communists in Russia, was bandied about everywhere while at the same time anybody that held even a slightly left of centre viewpoint was ousted as a traitor. The thing was that people were free as long as their politics aligned with that of the majority - if they didn't then you could find yourself blacklisted, or even worse.

The Red Menance
Yep, them reds were everywhere

Then there is the idea of individualism. In a way we are encouraged to be individuals, but only to the extend that we are like everybody else. In fact we see their criticism of American society appearing quite regularly, especially with the hell of suburbia. The idea with suburbia is that while one's home may be one's castle, there is no privacy, and if you are living a private life (and aren't Harold Hughes), then you are obviously up to no good. In fact the idea of the collective is another subtle form of doublespeak - the individual is praised, as long as the individual conforms with society - if you do things that a bulk of society doesn't do (such as watching trains, or dressing slightly differently), then you are a dissenter, or even a trouble maker.

Information is Power

Information is the key to controlling the population, which is why the internet is so dangerous, and why there is a huge push from the corporate elite to restrict what people have access to. When the means of mass communication was limited to television, radio, and the print media, then those who had the resources to produce this information basically held all the power - people could only find out about things that the media barons were willing to let them know about, and anybody, such as the guy at the railway station that would hand out copies of the Green Left Weekly, or the Socialist Times, would be painted and an extremist loony. This meant that even if the people that walked past him agreed with the contents of his newspaper, they would reject him off the cuff based upon how the mainstream media shaped him.

1950s Lounge RoomThe thing with Big Brother is that he controls all of the information to the point that it is illegal to write anything down, or to even own a non-sanctioned book. Everything that the citizen is to know to played out through the television screens that are literally in every room in the house. In fact there is nowhere anybody can hide from these screens. Further more these screens are two way, which means that while we are being hand fed everything that Big Brother wants us to know, Big Brother is gathering countless amounts of information about us.

History is also forbidden, or if there is history it is only what Big Brother allows us to know, and if history needs to be changed then Big Brother will change it and nobody is allowed to question it. In fact because nothing can be recorded nobody actually has any record as to what was true last week, let alone last year. In a way Orwell knew how our minds would become lazy when everything is spoon fed to us. For instance back in the Ancient World, before writing took hold, stories were passed down by word of mouth, and recall was incredible. However when books, and now the internet, have become the basis of our memory (I don't need to remember that because I have it bookmarked on my browser), then we forget things much quicker. This is what Big Brother relies upon, especially since the citizens are constantly being fed something different, any contradiction is immediately written off as a mistaken belief.

This sort of reminds me of what I have begun to see on some of the railway stations around Australia, particularly in Melbourne Central Station. A company has installed large television screens on the wall opposite the platform which constantly blurts out information. Originally it was just advertsing, but over the last couple of weeks (since I have been back in Australia) all I have seen was one continuous add for Sky News which, if anybody knows, is fully owned by Rupert Murdoch. In fact all of the commentators that are being bandied about on these screens are well know right-wing commentators. This is the thing with capitalism - it really only has one narrative, and since they control not only the means of production, but also the information, it is that narrative that we are constantly being bombarded with.

Station Advertising
An example form one of the stations - though this is a proper advert

I'm sure we have all heard of the saying - it may not be a good system, but it is the best that we have - which simply exists to not only reinforce that narrative, but to destroy any hope, or belief, that the system may need, or even have any chance of, reform. Also, for an interesting take on Amazon's domination of the internet, there is this rather interesting review that I stumbled across.

Memory is Deceptive

I have already mentioned about the idea that our memory doesn't serve us all that well even at the best of times, and since we have become so reliant on the internet to produce information at the touch of the button almost instantly, then it is only going to get worse. In fact there was a time when most people scoffed at Wikipedia because, honestly, how could you have a reliable encyclopedia that anybody can edit. However, it seems that Wikipedia is now quite highly regarded, despite the fact that anybody can still edit it (though companies also employ staff that will regularly review, and update, their company's wikipedia pages so as to portray them in the best light possible (though I do note that the Monsanto page does deal with the company's controversial side).

Wikipedia Censorship

However 1984 also works on the deceptiveness of our memories, and at times leaves us guessing as to whether something really happened, or whether it was only in Winston's imagination. For instance we have a scene at the beginning when Winston begins writing, only to scrub it out, but when he returns to the book a little later he discovers that it is full of 'Down with Big Brother'. However there is also the book that Winston is given, and there is a suggestion that this book may have actually been written by him, it is just that the nature of society means that Winston is actually quite unsure as to the origin of this work.

We also have the scene in the cafeteria at work, which is played over and over again (well, only twice, but it is done in such a way that we are lead to believe that the exact same thing occurs in the lunch room every day). The thing is that the same thing goes on again and again that we end up losing track of time. In fact we end up losing any concept of history. However, at one point one of the characters is removed, and disappears, and because of this people pretty quickly forget about this person's existence. Further, Winston's job is to remove all reference to 'disappeared people'. Without any record, and without any trigger, these people literally disappear.

One thing I have noticed, especially in the modern office environment, is how quickly we actually forget people who move on. In a way once you leave the office, you are pretty quickly forgotten, especially if the office environment never actually changes. Sure, this is not the case in the book - it is much more stratified here - however once you appear you literally become part of the furniture, and once you leave you pretty much are forgotten. You might be lucky and land up in an office where there is a strong connection between the employees (or have formed friendships with them, even if it is only a Facebook friendship), but in reality our work connections do tend to be tenuous at best.

Which then brings about the idea of the trigger. I remember a friend of mine from my old job sending me an email saying hello. Apparently something appeared on a TV Screen in her office that reminded her of me. This is why Big Brother goes to extraordinary lengths to remove these triggers, because all we need is a single trigger to bring a flood of memories back to the front of our mind. The ancient epic poets would you similar things when telling their stories, which is why a poem as long and as complex as The Odyssey, was able to be remembered. The same is with us, which is why we have photos, and collect souveniers from holidays - we live in constant fear that we will forget the good things in our lives, and the good people that we knew, and thus we do whatever we can to retain memories of them. This is especially true of loved ones who live at a distance, or have passed on from this world.

The Individual is the Collective

The interesting thing about the world of 1984 is that the individual identity is outlawed - everybody forms a part of the collective and it is the collective that counts. Mind you we see this in our culture today where there is a constant war between what counts for us as individuals and what counts for society as a whole. I'm sure we have all heard of the saying of 'there is no I in team'. In a way I find this an interesting statement because despite the fact that our working environment is apparently based on this collective ideal, in many ways it is the individual that ultimately counts because in the modern world when a company succeeds it is not necessarily the people that make up the company that see the rewards, but rather the shareholders and investors.


However, no matter how often the mantra of 'there is no I in team' is repeated we do not escape the fact that we live in a society that is focused on the individual and on individual satisfaction and pleasure. Yet this is probably one of the biggest flaws in our society because in many ways our pleasure comes above and beyond almost everything else, though the propoganda machine that is advertising and marketing really doesn't help all that much. It is this danger that is perceived by big brother because when one is allowed to see oneself as an individual thes this proves to create a rift in society as a whole.

This is why the anti-sex league exists, and it is interesting that the play suggests that the anti-sex league is made up entirely of women. I guess this harks back to George Bernard Shaw's idea that the woman holds all the power in a relationship because the woman has the power to say no. Mind you, this probably doesn't look as such in a male dominated society, and this appeared to be very much the case in Shaw's time, but he was also flagging the beginning of the feminist movement which was to arise after World War I. Anyway, this idea also suggests that women have much more control over their sexual desires than do men, and as such by having the woman form the anti-sex league works to keep the male portion of the population under control.


Consider also the two aspects of the party - the outer party and the inner party. The outer party is under the control of big brother - their thoughts are controlled, they are kept in a state of poverty that allows them to survive but not to the extent that they are able to enjoy life (which is in contrast to Huxley's world where the population is actually given luxuries so as to make them unwilling to rise up against the system). Sex is only for procreation because if it were for pleasure then that would be an individual desire, and by fueling the individual the collective becomes threatened. However, notice that the inner party have their luxuries - their wine, their books, the ability to turn off the camera. That is because they can be trusted, but it is more than that - they are trapped by their own lifestyle. They can't simply turn against Big Brother because they are Big Brother, and the status quo suits them perfectly, which is why I am baffled that Winston chose to actually trust them.

Big Brother's control over sex also works to control reproduction. One can only reproduce when Big Brother deems it necessary, and the child does not form part of a family. In fact the family, even an extended family, is really dangerous - families are insular, and by being insular they threaten the cohesion of society. This is why children are raised as a part of the collective, and one cannot have a child unless Big Brother deems it necessary. Remember sex is banned because sex leads to individual pleasure, and sex for procreation also leads to pleasure, though this time familial pleasure. This is something that Big Brother wants to control (though Big Brother wants, or rather needs, to control everything anyway), and a part of this control is also what the child is taught - a family has control over what the child is taught and what the child comes to believe, which is a threat to the collective. This is the reason why the family cannot exist in this society.

And they are the Elite

Truth is Relative
One of the interesting things about 1984 is the nature of truth. For instance the sum two plus two pretty clearly makes four - the is no other way about it. Yet in 1984 Big Brother insists that 2+2=5, despite the fact that this would bring about the collapse of everything. However what this tells us is that in the world of Big Brother if you are told that 2+2=5 then you are not in the position to question it because this is what Big Brother has ordained, and because this has been ordained then this is now the truth. This idea of relativity is not the idea that I believe in one truth and you believe in another truth, this is that the only truth is what Big Brother says is the truth, and if tomorrow Big Brother decides that something contrary is now the truth, the that contradictory truth is now the new truth.

In this world the truth is dictated by the state, and because the state is infallible, or at least viewed as being infallible, then the only truth is what the state tells us is the truth, and we are not in a position to question the state as to what is true because the state has told us what is true. Mind you, it seems that sometimes this is what is happening in our world, with the mainstream media giving us its version of the truth. Mind you, we are not at the stage where we are ignorant of the truth because the state controls all of the information, however many of us willing accept what we are told through the mainstream media because as far as we are concerned they have no reason to lie. In fact we are more likely to believe the opinion on the front page of a newspaper than we are an academic text book - and climate change is one prime example of this.

In this world things don't change, and if they appear to have changed then we must have been mistaken. In a way the past only exists based on what we are told existed in the past, not what really happened. Take for instance the Iraq War. We were told that we had to go to war in Iraq because Sadam Hussain was attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction, and was planning on using them against the United States. However after the invasion no such weapons were found, therefore the reason as to why they went to war was changed - it was regime change, but it always was. Mind you, they could get away with that because the invasion had already happened, and they couldn't back peddle on it, however what they did was make it appear that we agreed to the war because of regime change, not because of the belief that he had weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq War

The Enemy is Out there
While I could write about the idea of how Big Brother is watching us, and that in the world of social media we are willingly giving all of our information not only to corporations like Facebook and Google, but also to the government, and we are not only doing it willingly but we are doing it for free (which leads to the saying that if we are getting a service for free then the company is not selling a product to us, they are selling our information to advertisers - the same is the case of the media - they aren't selling things to us, they are selling us to the advertisers), quite a lot has already been written in that sphere so what I will finish off here is by saying a few things about the manufactured enemy.

The thing is that there is always an enemy out there, somebody who is lurking in the shadows waiting to undermine the security and the prosperity that we are told that we are enjoying (even if we aren't actually enjoying it). Mind you, these days it isn't just the enemy wishing to do us harm, it is also the bludgers that are making money off of our own hard work, though it is usually the welfare recipients that are blamed, while the corporate hand outs are completely ignored. But that is beside the point because what is needed to distract us from the corruption and cronyism that is occurring on our doorstep is an enemy that we need to be protected from.

I am not going to go down the road of the conspiracy theorists who claim that the World Trade Centre was an inside job (and whenever somebody goes down that road I generally turn off anyway), because as far as I am concerned that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the government didn't do near enough to actually prevent it from happening. It is the same with Pearl Harbour - it wasn't that Roosevelt invited the Japanese to attack, it is just that he didn't go out of his way to stop them, with the exception of moving all of the aircraft carriers out of the harbour so they didn't get caught up in the attack.

The thing is we always need an enemy - an enemy keeps us on our toes, and creates a need for the government because the government exists to protect us from the enemy. The thing with the enemy is that they want to take away our prosperity, our freedom, our ability to live comfortable lives, but to protect us from this enemy the government needs more power to protect us, to keep an eye on us, to collect information about possible threats. This leads to survellaince of the public places, and monitoring of private places. They need access to smartphones and email accounts because somebody might be plotting another attack.

Before we know it we have surrendered our freedom for our security, and while there is a television in every room, there is also a camera - but that camera is for our protection because, who knows, there just might be a red under our bed.

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1984 - The Perception of Truth by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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