Monday, 31 October 2016

Chuck - My Life as a Spy

Chuck Title

I have finally managed to watch the last episode of my rewatching of Chuck, a television series about a employee at an electronics store who wakes up one day to discover that the CIA database has been downloaded into his head (which is another reason why one shouldn't open strange email attachments, even if they come from friends - especially friends whose actions resulted in you getting kicked out of university). I have to admit that the series flowed a lot better the second-time around, namely because when I first watched it it was as it was progressively being produced, which meant that when one season ended I would have at wait something like six-months to continue from where the show left off.

Anyway, before I go any further it might be an idea to begin this post with the opening credits.

The Story of Chuck

Chuck, or Charles Bartowski, is basically a geek that works at a big box electronics store known as 'The Buymore'. He's actually a pretty smart kid, but found that his life took a nasty turn for the worse when the answers to an exam were found under his bed, and as a result he was kicked out of Stanford. Oh, his girlfriend, Jill, also broke up with him and then started dating the guy, Bryce Larkin, whom Chuck believes planted the exam papers under his bed. Anyway, down and dishearted, he returns to suburban Los Angeles (though I'm not sure if I can actually consider Burbank to be the suburbs - from what I gather from the show it is actually a metropolitan hub, but then again I don't live in Los Angeles so I only know about the place from what I learn from television shows like Chuck) to live with his sister (and her boyfriend Captain Awesome) and scrape out what life he can through being a techie at a big box retailer.

However Chuck's life completely changes one evening after a rather disastrous birthday party (where he completely bores a couple of young ladies by telling them about his ex-girlfriend, and then spending the rest of the time in his room playing shootem-ups with his best friend Morgan) when he receives a random email from his nemesis Bryce Larkin. As one does when one receives an email from a guy that got him kicked out of university, he opens it, sees a heap of images, and then faints.

The next morning he wakes up, goes to work, and an incredibly attractive young lady suddenly appears at the Buymore and specifically requests that he fix her mobile phone, and then promptly asks him out on a date. Well, things like that don't happen everyday, so he agrees, and suddenly discovers that when he looks at certain things he has this sudden knowledge of stuff that he never knew he had. Then it turns out that this girl who asked him out on a date, Sarah, is actually working for the CIA. What he discovers that the email that he opened has downloaded the entire CIA database into his head, and now he is wandering around with all of this knowledge - basically a very valuable CIA asset, and now has a couple of handlers, Sarah, and an NSA agent John Casey, who are literally watching his every move.

While it would be tempting at this point to go through all of the characters, there are actually a little too many. For instance we have the regulars at the Buy More, but we also have the spy world, and Chuck's family. Instead, I will explore how the show progress, and some of the major story arcs that run through it, while trying to give as little away as possible (even though most people who would want to watch it have probably already watched it).

As I have suggested, the series is about how Chuck lands up with the entire CIA database in his head, and then how he is thrust into the world of esplionage. While in the past the show probably would have simply been a collection of disconnected episodes, with the evolution of the television series we see instead a gradual development of the characters, as well as an overarching story line. At the beginning of the series there are a lot of unknowns - Chuck and Ellie lost their parents when they were young and the both of them grew up on their own, however what happened to their parents remains a mystery.

Further, Chuck starts off as your typical suburban geek - he's not a spy, he works at the Nerd Herd in the Buymore. However as the show progresses you begin to see a gradual change so that by the end of the series he is literally a full blown CIA operative. The other thing is that all of this is supposed to be secret, yet the CIA are kind enough to let him continue his life in Burbank, meaning that he is actually living a double life - we have his civilian life, and we have his spy life - and never the twain shall meet. However the problem is that since Chuck seems to regularly vanish for 'installs', people start asking a lot of questions, especially those close to him, and sooner or later they end up working it out. Mind you, Morgan was always going to be brought into the fold, even though it took two and a half seasons for that to eventually happen.

Bring on the Baddies

Every spy story has to have a villain, or a villainous organisation. James Bond has Blofeldt and Spectre, while Austin Powers would regularly be going toe to toe with Doctor Evil. Mind you, while there are a number of James Bond references scattered throughout the series, you never seem to hear of Austin Powers (which would have added a little more spice to the show, even if it was only once - though a Mike Myers Cameo would have been pretty cool). However, that is beside the point because I was talking about the bad guys, and Chuck surely has plenty of them.

The interesting thing with Chuck was that while it aired between 2007 and 2012 there was some hints, but not huge ones, on events that were occurring at the time. For instance we never saw, or even heard the name, of the current President of the United States, and there was very little mention of the war in Iraq (though by 2008 this had started to wind down significantly). There were a few comments about being in a recession, and the Buy More did close down (though that was because it blew up as opposed to going bankrupt, though there were suggestions in season five that the Buy More brand was still around). However, while the Iraq War didn't get a mention this didn't mean that there weren't all that many bad guys going around - and very few, if any, of them were Islamic Fundamentalists (which I have found make very boring antagonists anyway).

The thing with Chuck is that the first seasons simply has the 'bad guy' or 'mission' of the week, that is until we get to the final episode (though the season finished early due to the writer's strike) where we are introduced to an organisation known as Fulcrum. We did hear about them earlier, however it was this episode when we first meet one of their agents, and when we hit the second season their activities become more and more apparent until we get to the final three episodes which are the climax of the season.

The thing with Fulcrum, and the antagonists in Season 3 - The Ring - is that they aren't actually external enemies - they are internal - which makes it much more interesting. The thing is that the CIA in the world of Chuck is rife with factions, and these factions are all trying to vie for control over the organisation. It appears that the faction that Chuck is a part of tends to be more defensive, and conservative, in nature, while Fulcrum, and the Ring, tend to be more offensive in their desires. One believes in defending democracy, whereas the others see democracy as a threat to security and that security trumps freedom.

I won't go into seasons four or five however as I will leave that for you to either watch the show, or simply read the Wikipedia post.

Just Another Superhero?

When I sit back and look at the series as a whole I wonder whether Chuck, or Charles Bartowski, is really just another superhero. Consider this - he is an ordinary guy that suddenly came upon some extra-ordinary powers that set him apart from the rest of society, and he also lives a double life - one where he is a lowly techie at a big box electronics store, and the other where he is some sort of super spy and secret weapon of the United States Government. Is this not what a lot of the superheroes are, in one form or another?

Yet for some reason I seem to find Chuck a lot more appealing than your typical super-hero show. In a way he doesn't seem to fall into the same genre, despite the fact that he portrays the characteristics of many of the superheroes that happen to grace our screens and the pages of our comic books (though on the other hand most superheroes are also vigilantes - something that Chuck is not). Another thing that seems to set him apart is who he is - ignoring the fact that he has a supercomputer in his brain (that becomes more powerful as the series progresses), he still comes across as that regular geek that many of us relate to. However, this still seems to put him back into the Superhero category.

Let us consider Peter Parker for instance (since he is probably one of the superheroes that is closer to Chuck, considering that he is not a multi-billionaire like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark) - in many ways he is actually a lot like Chuck. Okay, Chuck doesn't run around in a fancy suit shooting webs out of his hands, and he isn't known amongst the populace either, however there are actually a number of similarities between the two. First of all they both come from less well off backgrounds, and both of them also have lost their parents (though the identity, and location, of Chuck's parents are revealed as the show progresses). Also, both of them gain superpowers through a freak event (though I would hardly say that Chuck got his powers through an accident).

The other thing is that they are both geeks, though it is interesting that Peter Parker doesn't go around fiddling with computers or playing video games. Even in the later Spiderman movies we don't have that aspect of Peter Parker come about. The reason for that is that Spiderman is basically a child of the fifties and sixties, and the idea of the geek (or the nerd, though  there is apparently a difference between the two terms) didn't come about until the 80s (and one might suggest that the term Nerd was probably popularised in the film Revenge of the Nerds).

The thing is that both characters are actually quite similar, it is just that they appeared in two different eras, which is why Peter Parker is a photographer working for a newspaper (though it is also suggested that he is pretty smart when it comes to science) while Chuck is working as a techie at a big box convenience store. However there is also another major similarity between the two, which I will explore a little deeper - both of them lead double lives.

The Double Life

It seems to be the nature of the superhero to lead double lives - that is the life that everybody knows about and the life that only a select few know. We see this with quite a few (though not all) superheroes (mainly because there are some whose identity aren't divorced from their superhero role, or have made a public statement that they are actually the superhero). We can actually list a few of them - Superman/Clark Kent, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker/Spiderman (though not being a huge comic book fan my list pretty much comes to a halt here). In the same way Chuck also has a double life, the one where he is a super spy wielding the goverment's secret weapon, and the other where he is a university drop out working behind the counter at the Buy More (though later on in the series he seems to be rarely, if ever, behind that counter - though this is actually explored when people start to become suspicious that he is always out of the store).

However this is what I consider to be one of the genius parts of the series - the double life - we actually have two shows effectively running concurrently: the show where Chuck is a super spy, and the show which simply follows the ordinary, but somewhat amusing, life at the Buymore. Mind you, at first it is only a very select group that knows about Chuck's secret identity, however as the show progresses this group becomes larger - though the key characters at the Buy More (Jeff, Lester, and Big Mike) are always kept in the dark. This is important as it works to keep the nature of the double life alive, and even when the Buy More becomes the property of the CIA, and later Chuck and Sarah, this divide remains active (despite the fact that Chuck is no longer a member of the CIA and is running what is effectively a private security firm).

Mind you, the Buy More and the CIA operation are not always kept apart - as I mentioned at one stage the CIA purchase the Buy More as a part of the operation, and to keep Chuck's cover intact. Mind you, having a store staffed by highly efficient operatives does start to back fire a bit, especially since the store seems to be just a little too perfect, to the point that within two weeks the store wins an award for efficiency. Of course, the problem is rectified by bringing back the old staff, if only to create some realism about the place.

However, since the Buy More is a cover for the CIA, whether it is owned by the Buy More brand, or a cover for the CIA, it is going to attract a lot of attention, especially from Chuck's adversaries. As such it becomes a common sight, especially during some of the busiest shopping periods, that the store is evacuated because some enemy agent is either in the store, or threatening to blow up the store. In fact, as soon as Big Mike (who begins as the store manager, though finishes up as the assistant manager) makes an announcement that this particular day is the biggest (or one of the biggest) shopping days of the year, you can expect that by the end of the show the store will have been evacuated.

Life as a Millenial

Another interesting aspect of the show that I read about somewhere (it was on the internet, but it was quite a while back, which means that it has probably been lost in the countless number of other posts on the show - though it is interesting that a number of shows, including Chuck, have their own wiki page - though this is not surprising considering the one thing about the internet is that it enables fans to write stuff about their favourite shows, such as I'm doing here) was that the show explores the lives of the 20 somethings as they move from high school and university and into the real world. Mind you, the term that is used now is the Millenial (or it could be generation Y - maybe the millenials are still at high school and university and the post GFC world that they looking to enter is appearing quite bleak).

As I mentioned above the idea of the geek has changed a lot since the 1950s. Back then the geeks would be writing for the school newspapers and wearing cardigans and thick rimmed glasses. That changed somewhat during the eighties, as while they still wore their cardigans and their thick rimmed glasses, they are now firmly entrenched in the computer lab as opposed to the school newspaper. Come the turn of the Millenium the geek has now taken the form of Chuck and the guys from the big bang theory. With Chuck gone are the glasses and the cardigan, and now we simply have a normal guy that happens to be good with computers.

A house of Nerds

However lets look at our millenials - one the one hand we have Ellie and Awesome, the two successful doctors (one a heart surgeon, the other a neurosurgeon). On the other side we have Chuck and Sarah. In both cases neither of them know, or are in regular touch with, their parents. In fact Sarah doesn't even have a real identity - we do learn that her real name is Sam, however the only identity that Sarah has is her identity as a spy. The same goes with John  Casey (though he is actually a lot older than the others - technically he is a generation Xer, not that he actually looks that old) - his identity as John Casey actually isn't his true identity, but it is an identity that he has taken and made his own.

This is the thing about the world in the new millenium, and that is the idea of identity. Sure, there has always been pressures from outside attempting to (and in many cases succeeding) in shaping our identity, however with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the United States as the sole superpower, this fluidity in our identity has come to the fore. In fact there is this constant tug of war in our lives as to what our identity is - is it our job, our family, our hobbies, our interests? In the commercial world in which we live our identity is inevitably based upon the job we do - in fact it is pretty much the second question that is asked when we meet somebody (after their name of course). However, this identity is problematic, especially in Chuck's case, as not only to his friends and family is his identity tied to his role at the Buy More as opposed to his role in the CIA, but his identity changes depending on the mission he is currently undertaking.

The Security State

I want to finish this post off on how pervasive the CIA seems to be in Chuck - basically everybody is a spy. Well, not everybody, but the tentacles of the security state seem to stretch far and wide in this series. In fact we regularly encounter celebrities (including Stan Lee and Bo Derek) who are actually spies, though they are both allies and enemies. This is the nature of the security state, and one of the constant struggles within a democracy - the concept of freedom, yet an extensive security state that arises to protect that freedom, which means that while one may be free, one may not have a private life because to protect that freedom one must be willing to allow one's privacy to be invaded so that those who threaten that freedom may be exposed.

Which then raises the question of whether that is actually freedom, and what they actually mean by freedom. Is freedom the freedom to do what one wants? Well, there are certain things (in fact quite a lot of things) that we cannot do - like park a truck in the middle of a motorway, and then proceed to have a barbeque. Is it the freedom to choose who will govern us - well every so often we get to chose who will govern us, but you can be assured that at least half of the population won't be happy with who the other half selected (and as we see in the Brexit referrenda, 48% of the population of the United Kingdom are unhappy that their views will now be ignored). However, the freedom that I suspect they are actually referring to is freedom from the government interfering in trade or commerce.

This is the end point of our fight for freedom, and the creation of the security state. It has nothing to do with our freedom, or rights, but rather the freedom of businessmen to go about doing business without interferance from the government. The thing is with freedom is that no matter who you vote for, or who wins an election, there is no way you are going to be allowed to practice your archery in the middle of a shopping centre, or let a pack of rabid wolves run around the local sports field. However, you can be assured that there is one party who will make it easier for businesses to do business, and for financial advisors to rip people of - this, my friend, is the freedom that the security state protects.

Creative Commons License

Chuck - My Life as a Spy 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

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Golden Age of Childhood

I'm sort of wandering whether I should be posting this in my travel blog considering that it is about a museum that I visited while I was in Singapore, or whether it is suitable for this blog, which tends to have a more thematic focus that generally doesn't involve traveling or visiting places. Okay, I did write a post about my trip to the Singapore Art Museum, but the thing with that post was that I was writing about the exhibition as opposed to the museum itself. However, if I put this into my travel blog then it is just another post that is going to be crammed amongst a huge number of other posts (and won't be published for a while, particularly since I am currently writing about the various places that I visited). So, while this will technically be a post about the museum, I will instead focus more on the toys than on the museum.

Actually, as I think about it, since the MINT Museum is a museum wholly dedicated to toys it is actually going to be pretty hard differentiating it from the museum since the museum is, well, all about toys. Anyway, this is actually the second time I've been here namely because this time I brought my brother to Singapore with me (even though we were on our way to Europe, the last time we went to Europe he insisted on looking around the city and the only time we were able to do that was when we were on our way back to Australia, and I was so exhausted that I spent the entire tour asleep). Since I had been here a year ago there were a few places that I thought he might like to see, one of them being this particular museum. Mind you, he didn't seem to be all that thrilled with the place, but as for me, well, I have to admit that I think the place is awesome.

As I mentioned it is a museum that is devoted to toys, but not just any old toys - well, okay, there are quite a few old toys in the collection, but the museum generally focuses on toys released between the fifties and the sixties, though there are some older, and newer, toys on display. The museum is divided into six levels, and I will explore these levels one by one, starting at the top and heading down (which is the way the curators suggest you do it). The thing that I noticed is that many of the toys come from the fifties and sixties, which is around the time the babyboomers were children. It is also interesting that the term teenager was coined around this time as well. The thing was that the baby boomer generation represented a huge potential, especially since there were so many of them. Almost from the time they were born the marketers targeted them in many ways - whether it be through toys as children, clothes and music as teenagers, travels and homes as young adults, and investments as they approach retirement, it seems that the baby boomer generation was the laboratory for a new wave of capitalism.

Space and Beyond

The top level was definitely the level that I really connected with because it was full of science fiction toys. In fact it would probably be considered to be the level that was mostly focused towards the boys, but then when I think about all the other levels that I visited it seemed as if a bulk of the toys in the museum were  targetted towards them as opposed to the girls. As I look back into the mists of my childhood I remember that the boy's toy boxes were usually full of cars, construction equipment, and guns, whereas the girls tended to have their dolls and the houses in which they lived. Actually, it is rather interesting the gender stereotypes that these toys tend to impose on us, but that is something that I will get to in a little while (and now that I think about it I'll probably refer back to it throughout this post). Instead, let us have a look at some of the generic toys on the level.

One of the things that I saw lots of in the museum were robots, though it is a shame that the photos didn't turn out all that well (it was quite dark inside, and as is the case with most museums you aren't allowed to use a flash). Anyway, in the display case that contained the miscellaneous collections there were, as I mentioned, lots and lots of robots, and each one of them was slightly different, which makes me wonder what the deal with the robot was. Well, like most (if not all) science-fiction toys, the robot is generally equated to the boys and I feel it appeals to certain parts of their nature. First of all, they tend to be quite powerful, which is why robots tend to be a favoured enemy in movies. Secondly, they are very technological, which tends to appeal to the side of boys who want to fiddle with things to see how they work. Thirdly, they are alien - one thing I have noticed is that boys tend to have a greater attachment to fantasy elements than the girls do - their toys tend to be more grounded in reality (well, maybe with the exception of My Little Pony, and the Little Mermaid).


These days when I think of lasers I can't help but think of Austin Powers and Doctor Evil, particularly since energy weapons seem to be called anything but lasers. However, as a kid, they were always lasers, and I was always fascinated when my Dad told me that he actually worked with them, though I was really disappointed when he also told me that you couldn't use them to blow anything up. These days I don't think many people connect lasers with energy weapons, or science fiction, particularly since they are pretty much a part of everyday life. However, as a kid they weren't, and there were also the plethora of toy lasers that you could buy.

My parents hated guns and if there was one type of toy that I wasn't allowed to get and that was a gun. Well, I do believe I may have had a western six shooter, but other than that guns, even toy guns, were not allowed in the house. However, lasers sort of were an exception namely because they aren't really guns in the traditional sense. I remember having that six-shooter and you could load it with caps and fire it and it would go bang - not as loud as a real gun, but bang nonetheless, and would also leave the smell of burnt gunpowder. However the toy lasers not only looked nothing like real guns, but they also made completely different noises. In a way, they moved away from the harsh reality of the gun to move into the fantasy world.

One thing that is almost a given for the science-fiction level of a toy museum are the good old Star Wars figures. In a way, robots, lasers, and spaceships aside, they are the quintessential toy of the genre. They aren't the only, nor where they the first, range of toys that were connected to a film or television series, but they are definitely the most well known, and most popular. I still remember when I got a handful for my eighth birthday and then got a few more in the years after that - I loved them and would spend hours playing with them. The funny thing was that my sister ended up with the Princess Leah figurine, namely because she was a girl and boys don't play with Princess Leah figures. The thing was that I only ever had two storm troopers, one in their standard uniform and one in the Hoth uniform, with was a little annoying because they are soldiers, and having just one sort of undermines the realism of it. Still, it wasn't as if I was wargaming - I was a kid so it was just having them run around on my toy cabinet in my room.

They are also collectable, but like the first edition Spiderman comic, the last thing that a kid is going to think is 'I better not open the shrink wrap because these will be worth bucketloads of money in the future'. No, on the contrary, kids will want to rip the packages open and play with them (and proceed to lose them) as soon as they end up in their hot little hands. Similarly, with the comics - we don't buy them to keep them stored in the event that in the future they are worth a lot of money - we buy them and read them, sometimes multiple times, until they are in such a bad condition that they are no longer readable. Mind you, if everybody kept their Spiderman comics (or their Star Wars figures) in the shrinkwarp then they probably wouldn't be all that rare, and as such not worth as much as they are now.

As I mentioned, Star Wars certainly wasn't the first (though I suspect the Doctor Who merchandise came after the success of the Star Wars franchise) because films, especially kid's films and TV shows, were being merchandised throughout the fifties and the sixties. For instance, there were a number of toys relating to Buck Rogers (though this series was released in the 70s), Flash Gordon, and Dan Dare. However, these toys didn't seem to play a huge part of my childhood, but that probably has more to do with the fad having passed as opposed to them not succeeding. However, what Star Wars managed to go was not so much start up a fad that would quickly pass away, but created a cult following that meant that the merchandising could continue long after the original trilogy had finished.

All this talk about merchandising and television shows ironically leads me to the next floor down:

Heroes and Villains

Well, it's not quite Heroes and Villains, but more of an overflow from the Science Fiction level in that we encounter some of our childhood favourites from the early days of Japanese Manga, including Astroboy, but also merchandise from television shows such as Popeye, and books such as Tintin. Actually, come to think of it, this level probably isn't so much an overflow, but rather a continuation of the previous level where the characters here aren't necessarily connected with the science-fiction setting, with the exception of Astroboy, but then again he also falls into the Japanese setting (though since pretty much all of the Japanese toys were based around a science-fiction show it sort of felt a little out of place down here).

While I could talk a bit about Astroboy and Tintin in this section I think instead, I will say a few things about a couple of other characters that appear here: Popeye and The Flintstones. The reason I am heading down this track is because I watched a Youtube video, based on this article, from the Cracked Website that sort of set my entire childhood on its head. For instance, the reason that everything is dilapidated and crumbling in Scooby Doo is because they are living in the midst of a major economic depression (and also notice how the villains are all really intelligent and highly skilled individuals?). As for Popeye the idea is that they are living in a period of eternal war, and the reason they say that is because of the fact that not just Popeye, but everybody, gets superpowers when they eat Spinach. Also notice how Popeye always appears in a naval uniform.

However, the thing that really caught my attention from the article was how Popeye appeared to be somebody, when compared to the other sailors, to have been suffering from a stroke. Mind you, I find it difficult that such a character would even make it into the navy, and it doesn't necessarily seem as if he is a high ranking officer either. Mind you, if my memory serves me correctly, I do remember him being a captain of a small boat. However, I was never really a big fan of Popeye, though I do remember that as a kid I always wanted to have spinach because I believed it would make me strong like Popeye. As it turned out, my parents grew silver beet in the backyard, which I hated (and still do), and even though my Dad told me that it was like spinach, I still refused to eat it.

Anyway, here is a Popeye Cartoon for old times sake.

As for the Flintstones there is this theory that they don't actually live in the distant past but rather in the distant future. The story goes that the world was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and the survivors fled into the sky to live in floating cities which eventually set the scene for the Jetsons. However centuries after the Jetsons, when the Earth once again became habitable, humanity returned to the ground and established a new society, this time eschewing modern techonology. Mind you, the arguments behind this are pretty lame - they live in what is effectively a modern society; they have all of the modern conveniences, however many of the duties that machines performed are now performed by genetically engineered animals; the animals talk; Fred has four fingers; and in a Jetsons movie they went into a time machine to go into the future, and landed up in Bedrock which means that Bedrock is set in the future.

As it turns out the theory is rubbish and only exists to send what was basically a satirical look at modern society in to a much darker world. The thing about the ground never being seen in the Jetson is rubbish - it is an example of mind control - we are told that we never saw the ground in the Jetsons and as such we then realise that we don't ever remember ever seeing the ground. In reality they do go to the ground, and they don't live in the sky because of some nuclear war, they live in the sky because they basically want to.

However I still believe Scooby Doo is set in a severe economic depression.

Cuddly Friends

This is probably the level that interests me the least namely because it is full of Teddy Bears and dolls. However, I guess this gives me the excuse to talk about toys and gender idenity, and how the nature of toys tend to define how we develop into our later lives. Consider this - boys toys tend to either involve building things, or destroying things - mechano, tonka trucks, and guns. This suggests that what society is trying to do it to say that boys, who become men, become either the labourers, or the soldiers. In fact look at how Hollywood paints the glamourous life of the soldier and the police officer. Okay it isn't always glamourous, but in some cases they are - Top Gun, Die Hard etc. In fact it was because of Top Gun that I wanted to become a fighter pilot, until I discovered that I was too tall. It was also the time I spent playing with Lego that now creates that urge in me to start pulling apart computers to see how they work.

However, let us look at what we find in the world of the little girls - dolls and doll houses. Okay, when I was in London in 2011 I went on a tour of Windsor Castle, which is where the Queen lives, and in the residence keep there was this huge dolls house dating back to the time of Queen Anne. However that is beside the point, or maybe it isn't. Girls play dressup with dolls, and when Mum isn't looking, with her good clothes and her jewelry. Isn't it interesting that while girls are allowed to play dressup, boys aren't. If a boy starts playing dressup then there is something wrong with him (this may not be the case now, but it certainly was when I was a kid). Yet there is another aspect to the whole dolls house concept - it is training girls to grow up and become housewives - in this conservative world the women aren't supposed to be out in the world earning money, sitting in congress, and running for President - they are supposed to be in the home, and this is what the dolls house, and the dolls, seek to drill into them.

Of course there are Teddy Bears (named after Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt, who was president at the time they appeared), but in my mind they aren't actually toys, not they aren't now. To me teddy bears sit on the beds of old ladies and are meant to be decorations as opposed to toys. In fact you can pay a pretty decent sum of money for a well made teddy bear. Sure, the image of the child cuddling their teddy bear while trying to go to sleep is a popular image, but to me they aren't toys, they are decorations.

Old Favourites

Well, I finally find myself down on the second to last floor (though there isn't really anything on the ground floor except the desk where you pay to enter and a couple of displays that act as teasers for what is inside the museum. Come to think of it one of the annoying things about the museum was that while they had an awful lot of toys, there was little explanation beyond the fact that they were toys. Then again a lot of the exhibits really don't need any introduction, and if you don't know who Chewbacca is, knowing that it is Chewbacca and it comes from a film known as Star Wars is probably not going to help (though you could look up Star Wars on Wikipedia).

Anyway this final level was what could be termed the collectables, or the level for the toys that don't really fit in any of the other levels. Then again if you have ever had to categorise things you probably know how hard it can be at times. Take animals for instance - sure, we have five categories of animals (mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and insects) but then you have a bunch of animals that don't neatly fit into those five categories, such as spiders, slugs, and sea anemonies. Okay, Magic Cards can be categorised reasonably easy, but that is because the creators created them to be categorised. However, there is always going to be a folder in your file system (or in your filing cabinet) that is going to be named miscellaneous (or misc for short). In a way this is what this level felt like.

I was going to suggest that there was a large collection of toy cars (something that many a boy would have when I was growing up - in fact having a box completely full of matchbox or hotwheels cars was pretty much a given, though I believe that the ones that I owned have long disappeared, or simply are sitting somewhere in my Dad's back shed). As it turned out there were more than just cars - there were planes, tanks, elephants, cats, and monkeys. In fact there seemed to be anything and everything, though the one thing that did stand out a lot happened to be the lunchbox collection in the hallway. I don't ever remember having a fancy lunch box like some of them, however the fact that there was a Futurama lunchbox in the collection suggests that they are still being made.

The final couple of things that I saw down here included a collection of memorabilia from the Beatles, and also Queen Elizabeth's coronation. In light of my Beatles discovery it might be a great opportunity to finish this post off with a song from the Beatles.

Creative Commons License

A Golden Age of Childhood 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

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Odyssey - Taming the Oceans

One of the things that I have discovered about the Singapore Art Museum is that it doesn't seem to have a permanent collection. Well, I did find a couple of rooms with some artwork that could be considered permanent, but it wasn't anywhere near as large as some of the other art galleries (or Art Museums) that I have visited. Actually, as a side note, it is interesting that they use the word 'museum' as opposed to 'gallery', which is what you tend to expect in the English speaking world. However, after travelling around Germany and France for about six weeks, was that the French and the Germans (and I suspect the Dutch as well) consider them to be museums since a gallery is where you go and purchase art (which is also the case in the English-speaking world, it is just that a Museum tends to focus on the natural world while art galleries focus entirely upon art).

Actually, as another side note, it is interesting that this time Singapore had an exhibition on the ocean, particularly since that for most of its existence the island-state economy has been completely reliant upon the sea. However, one thing that I did notice is that, unlike England and Japan, they don't seem to have a huge focus on seafood related dishes (whereas in England it is Fish and Chips while in Japan you have sushi). That probably has a lot to do with Singapore being quite a new state, and a fairly artificial one at that - it didn't arise organically as did Japan and England, but rather as the result of a British colony, and people coming here from across the Empire.

The problem with this exhibition is that I saw it seven weeks ago, and while I have found a copy of the brochure on the internet, I have also discovered that it doesn't actually cover all of the rooms, and the artwork in the rooms, to really trigger my memories. Okay, I have taken some photos, but not surprisingly the photos don't seem to correspond with what is written in the brochure. However what I do have are the notes that I took while I was there. Anyway, the exhibition itself was divided across four rooms, and it seems as if I may have gone into the rooms in the wrong order (though from what I can remember I believe that there were some guides who showed us where we could go).

The Dying Oceans

So, it looked as if I entered rooms four and five before I entered rooms one, two, and three, but in the end it really doesn't matter because each of the rooms were dedicated to a different artist. Room number four displayed the work of the Indonesian artist Entang Wihaso. Like a lot of modern art, his displays takes up the entire room, and is called breathing together.

The idea behind this display (and it is difficult to show all of them) is that the ocean connects all of us together. In a way there isn't one place on the Earth that isn't touched by the ocean (unless you live in a landlocked country, but that is beside the point). The ocean itself doesn't change, but what changes is how we relate to the oceans. To some of us the oceans are a place of horror with destructive storms and untameable waves. To others it is the source of life, not just because of water, and salt, but also because of the food that it produces. In the image about we see how the perception of the ocean changes across even one society, but what is noticeable are the tentacles underneath this floating island, which shows how we are all connected to the ocean in one way or another.

Another interesting thing about the oceans is how many cultures view them as the original source of life, whether it be the secularist world which sees life having begun in the ocean and then fish developed legs and crawled out onto the land, or whether it be the Greeks or the Jews, who see the oceans as being created first and then everything else came out of the waters (though since the Jews feared the ocean it is interesting that their creation myth begins with the ocean, but then that probably has more to do with the idea of the shift from chaos, being the waters, to order, being the dry land).

The next room had some work by Richard Streitmatter-Tran, a Vietnamese artist. His work, A Short History of Man and Animal, comprises of your everyday fishing boat, expect that it has the spine of a whale running through the top of it. The reason for this is to show how we humans have taken concepts from the animal kingdom and used it to master the world. Okay, maybe not guns, but your humble boat is built like an inverse fish (or whale) to enable it to float. The thing with the boat is that the whale spine defines its purpose, and that is to travel through (or across) the oceans in search of food, in this case fish.

However, the work also represents what Streitmatter-Tran refers to as the Anthropocene Era (or others probably refer to it as well, it is just that the term appeared in this display), the period in what humanity's actions have left an impact on the world, in many cases irreversible. In suggesting that I'm not necessarily talking about climate change (though that is one example) but may other things that our industrialised world has done to the landscape. The thing with industrialisation is that it has given us power over nature (to an extent), and in doing so we have left a path of destruction in our wake (as well shall see in a little bit).

Research Room

The next room that we entered was simply called the research room, and basically contained a collection of artifacts that related to the ocean and the ocean going professions (though considering sailors and their ilk tend to be a rough and rowdy lot, it is hard to picture them as being professionals in a traditional sense - they would be more akin to the working class). However our connection to the sea is defined in many ways by our ability to master it, and while these days we have massive ships, powered by sophisticated computers, ploughing the oceans, they are still, in many ways, subject to the the forces of nature - a powerful enough storm can still sink the mightest of ocean going vessels.

Pascah Bulka on Nobby's Beach
A ship that that run aground along the Australian Coast.
However, it isn't just the modern technology that we are heavily reliant upon these days, since there are a lot of other aspects to ocean going technologies, including some rather small inventions that had a huge impact, such as the compass and the sextant. The thing with the ocean is that it tends to lack landmarks, which means that once the land disappears beyond the horizon it can be very easy to become lost and end up drifting blindly. In fact, one may never see their home again if they end up in unknown waters. However, what the compass allowed was to know one's direction, and the sextant allowed one to acurately predict their location despite the fact that no land would be in sight. The original sailors would not dare venture out of sight of land, for to do so could spell disaster, but once ships became stronger, coastlines were mapped, and technology developed, people were able to sail the oceans with confidence.

Then we have the harpoon, which seems to have one purpose and one purpose only - killing whales. In fact it is interesting that we when see, or hear, of the harpoon the only thing that comes to mind are whales, and it is not as if whales are particularly vicious animals either. Whales, in many cases, are the gentile giants of the oceans, yet they are huge, and because of their size they can be seen as a threat, something to be conquered and controlled. They are also a commodity, because with their size also comes a use for what they produce. What the harpoon represents is humanity's control over the whale, and the destructive influence it has on its existance.


Another thing we found in the research room was a collection of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that related to the ocean. For instance we have Moby Dick, a story of a man that doggedly pursues a whale until the whale eventually gets the best of him. In a way that story shows us of our determination to master the sea, and how, despite our technology and our abilities, that the mastery may never eventuate. We also have the story of Leif Ericson, which raises the question of who actually discovered the American continent, and can we truly attribute this to the Spanish and Portuguese. Finally there was the Odyssey, which is a story of a man's war against the sea, and how he eventually arrived home, bruised, battered, and entirely beaten. Sure, he does come home, and drives out the suitors, but the reality is that no matter what he did, the ocean always won.

Oceanic Identities

While there were a few other rooms that I visited, I will skip over to Sally Smart's exhibition  - Where There Any Women Pirates? Sally is an Australian whose work tends to focus on feminism and gender identity. This particular peice is based on the work of surrealist poet Paul Eluard and his piece entitled the Surrealist Map of the World. His work was all about colonialism and the Eurocentric view of the world - in a way Europe was seen as the centre of the universe and everything else was on the fringes - they simply existed to form places for Europeans to colonise. In fact by the turn of the 20th century there was only one country in the entire world that had not been colonised by the Europeans - Thailand. Sure, China and Japan many have retained their identity, and we even see Japan push back against colonialism in the lead up to World War II, but other than Thailand pretty much every other country had found themselves crushed under the European jackboot.
Surrealist Map of the World
While Eluard looks at the colonial question, Smart explores our ocean going past through the lens of gender identity. The question she poses is a proper one - was the sea very much a male dominated domain, and did the women ever dare to venture beyond the calm ponds and oceanside resorts. Indeed, where there any women pirates, and if there were, did they have their own idenity beyond that of simply being a sex object. The noticeable thing is that the typical sailor is depicted as a man who is rough and generally doesn't have any ability to really engage with the opposite sex, particularly since the only time they will encounter women is when they are in port, and those women tended to be prostitutes.

So the question, as is explored through Smart's artwork which consists of ships made out of common items found around the house, is whether a woman could survive on board a ship, and survive with her gender identity intact. This is the thing with being turned into an object - one loses one's individual identity. Sure one table may differ from another table, but in many cases a table is a table is a table - they have no identity beyond being a table. The same is the case with humans that are viewed in a specific way by other humans - which is why slavery is so abhorrant - we aren't viewing these humans as humans, but rather as machines to be exploited. In a way the modern work ethic is very much the same with the aptly named Human Resources Department - we have ceased being personal and are now simply resources.

The next work that we visited (and the final one in this particular exhibition, but there was another work in the exibition across the road that I wish to finish off on), was by a Phillipino couple, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, who moved to Australia. The title of their work was Passage III: Project Another Country, and is basically a huge shanty town sitting on top of a boat. The thing is that here in Australia, and also in Singapore, the idea of the Shantytown simply does not exist, not in the way that it exists in Manilla, or even India. What is interesting is that even though I have been to Bangkok, I didn't see anything that resembled a shanty town there either (not that I went out of my way to go and look for one).

However, what this particular art work focuses on is the idea of the home, and the transient nature of such. I guess this is the idea of the great Australian dream of owning your own home - it provides stability to one's life, and a feeling that one has complete control over a plot of land on which they can all their own. Mind you, there is a debate over the benefits of renting and owning - one of them being that it is a lot harder to pull up your roots and move if you happen to own your own home (and the costs of selling, and the buying again, tend to suggest that renting is the better option). In a way society has become much more transient, so the idea of the home has changed. In fact a transient society really has no place in which to call home, with the exception of the room where they lay their head every night.

The thing with a home is that it provides security, and this is what the other section of the artwork reflects - if the boat is the transient nature of our life these days, then the shanty town represents the lack of security that this transient life creates. In a sense, when one moves to another location, whether it be a city, or a country, there is a lot of security that is taken away - what if you don't get along with anybody in your new town, or what if you discover that your new location doesn't necessarily provide you with that fulfilment. Yet a renting society also has a sense of transience, and lack of security, because at anytime you could be turfed out of your home and needing to find another place to sleep.

Imagining the Oceans

Okay, the other exhibition, Immaginarium, wasn't actually a part of the Odyssey exhibition, but there were a couple of interesting things that sort of linked with Odyssey, particularly the work 'Plastic Ocean' by Singaporean Tan Zi Xi. It is not just the idea of the ocean being drowned out with rubbish, but the fact that if we don't do something to stem this rabbidly consumerist lifestyle that we live then there is going to be a tipping point beyond which there is no return. Okay, some have suggested that we have already past that point when it comes to Global Warming, but there is also this point in regards to polluting and destroying our oceans. The problem with us humans, particularly those of us living in the developed world, is that it is out of mind, out of sight. Sure, climate change may be a bad thing, but it isn't affecting me right now (though I will get a little upset on some really hot days, but as long as my house doesn't burn down in a bush fire, or get washed away in a flood, then everything will be all right).

Plastic OceanThe thing is that we don't want to change, even in the face of what is effectively a world and ecosystem destroying threat. What Plastic Ocean does is that it puts us in the middle of an ocean that is chocking to death on plastic bottles. In a way plastic is the bane of the Earth's existance - it is so versite, and cheap, that we treat it as something to be disposed of when no longer needed, and when we dispose of it we don't actually care where it lands up - even if that location is a huge garbage dump that is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In our mind that's okay because it isn't in our backyard - it's now somebody else's problem.

I sometimes wonder whether the world can actually survive this new phase of consumerism, particularly with this idea of fast fashion - all of the sudden fashion doesn't change depending on the season, fashions will change on a monthly, or even a weekly, basis - it is a way is getting more money from less of a resource - start changing the fashions more and people will be enticed to buy more clothes to keep up with the latest trends. This leads me to the last work of art in this series: Apex Predator - which is what we humans have become. We sit at the top of the food ladder destroying anything and everything that comes in our path, and most of the time it is purely for profit - if something emerges as a barrier to profit then it must me torn down because economic prosperity is all that matters. In a way humanity has become a disease that has infected the planet, and our actions are slowly killing it off, but the Earth is also very much a living organism, and like all living organisms it has antibodies that will fight back against an aggresive disease. The problem is that unlike a disease, which will not destory itself until it has made sure that it will continue to propogate, we humans seem to have overidden that self-preservation mechanism because in the end there is only one Earth, and when we have killed the Earth there will be, unfortunately, nowhere else to go.

Creative Commons License

Odyssey - Taming the Oceans 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

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