For every reader revisiting George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 almost 70 years after its publication, there is a grim sense of growing relatability that now slightly threatens our freedom as well as our future. From constant government surveillance to distortion of facts to serve a political propaganda, it is rather alarming to see events from a totalitarian regime in a fictional setting turn into political prophecies in a post truth era. And perhaps, that’s what makes this classic novel all the more relevant or should we say cautionary in 2019 than ever before.
‘1984’ in 2019
It was George Orwell’s hatred of politics dictated by leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin that inspired his most proficient work which is frequently interpreted as a ‘warning sing’ of an absolute political authority. And it is in his fictional ‘Britain’ which is a part of a super-state Oceania do we see what a power hungry regime is capable of doing to continue to remain in power.
There is a Ministry of Truth that manipulates facts and re-writes history and there are Telescreens installed in each home that infringes upon privacy. There is a ‘Big Brother’ that is constantly controlling its citizens and there are strict hierarchies dictating people’s economic status in a society. In its cruelest sense, Orwell predicted a world that had little to do with truth and everything with order because in Oceania ‘war was peace, freedom was slavery and ignorance was strength’.
But to find fragments from a fictional setting become our reality in 2019 is all the more alarming as we are equally guilty. We may not be Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith who is tortured and brainwashed for rebelling against the ‘Big Brother’ but we are victims too who have ‘consensually’ given access to our data and privacy to a machinery that exercises power beyond authority.
Here, the players are tech giants and multi-national corporates that are customizing information as per our preferences in liaison with the state. Thus, just like Oceania, isolating us from what is happening in the other part of the world. Here, we have social media as Telescreens where opinions are trolled and dissenting voices are jailed in the garb of freedom of expression.
And here, we have hyper PR agencies manipulating facts and peddling fake news to serve a political agenda, because one who owns the past eventually owns the state.
A wake up call?
As we gear up to celebrate 70 years of 1984, it becomes prerogative to confront our social and political conditions that may force us to ‘Double Think’ our reality. In the book, the term refers to holding two contradicting opinions and considering them both to be the truth. It may work in the book, but not in 2019 when we are willing to call out our oppressors. After all, we are not Winston Smith and this is not a dystopia.
- Born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Bengal, George Orwell is known for his writings that challenged imperialism and totalitarianism. His notable works include Burmese Days (1934), An Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). He briefly served as an Assistant District Superintendent in the Indian Imperial Police before returning to England to become a writer. He died of tuberculosis on January 21, 1950 at age 46.