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Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:14 AM

"1984" at Seventy: Why We Still Read Orwell's Book of Prophecy

George Orwell’s “1984,” published seventy years ago today, has had an amazing run as a work of political prophecy. It has outlasted in public awareness other contenders from its era, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932), Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” (1953), and Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1962), not to mention two once well-known books to which it is indebted, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” (1921) and Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” (1940). “1984” is obviously a Cold War book, but the Cold War ended thirty years ago. What accounts for its staying power?

Partly it’s owing to the fact that, unlike “Darkness at Noon,” Orwell’s book was not intended as a book about life under Communism. It was intended as a warning about tendencies within liberal democracies, and that is how it has been read. The postwar Sovietization of Eastern Europe produced societies right out of Orwell’s pages, but American readers responded to “1984” as a book about loyalty oaths and McCarthyism. In the nineteen-seventies, it was used to comment on Nixon and Watergate. There was a bounce in readership in 1983-84—four million copies were sold that year—because, well, it was 1984. And in 2016 it got a bump from Trump.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/1984-at-seventy-why-we-still-read-orwells-book-of-prophecy?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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Response to ProudLib72 (Original post)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:20 AM

1. As long as the main aspects of the book seem more like a mirror than a fantasy in some places

Like "Animal Farm," it will remain a current classic as long as it hits home somewhere.

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Response to DFW (Reply #1)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:40 AM

2. I was discussing Brave New World versus 1984 in the lounge

Orwell really hit the nail on the head with 1984. There are so many comparisons one can draw to contemporary government/society. I think he had keen enough insight to realize he could use what already existed and extrapolate/exaggerate just slightly so that readers could instantly pick up on its relevance. BNW, while excellent, crosses the line into fantasy.

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Response to ProudLib72 (Reply #2)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:03 AM

3. Just for discussions sake, I'd submit that the opposite is true

While BTW has its fantasy elements, the basic theme is extremely applicable today. In essence, Huxley believed that there would be no reason to ban books because the masses would be so distracted with nonsense to care to even read a book, much like our current society is addicted to social media and binge watching TV.

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Response to Docreed2003 (Reply #3)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 11:24 AM

6. But certain books were banned in BNW

The main one mentioned was the bible. Remember how Henry Ford replaced God? On the other hand, you're right that the masses were distracted by nonsense or drugged out of their gourds.

By "fantasy," I mean all of BNW's context: babies gestated in bottles, everyone with their own private helicopter, completely automated recreational pastimes. I agree that these can be read as: "social programming" and "rampant consumerism," but I feel like Huxley carried it into hyperbole.

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Response to ProudLib72 (Reply #2)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:11 AM

4. By the time he published 1984, Orwell must have become rather disillusioned

From the idealism of the losing side in the Spanish Civil War to finding out ten years later that Stalin murdered more of his own people than Hitler ever did, his predictions for the future were understandably bleak.

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Response to ProudLib72 (Original post)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 04:04 AM

5. he picked the wrong villain. not government but the rich + corporations. facebook?!?

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Response to pansypoo53219 (Reply #5)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 11:49 AM

7. Not really...

when you allow that the 'rich + corporations' basically own the government, there is no real difference.

Much like a theocracy, when there is no separation between church and state, they become the same thing.

In 1984, other than the obvious amalgam of "Big Brother" Orwell doesn't really say much about whether the bad guys were government operatives or company men. In the corporate/fascist model there is really no difference.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #7)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:44 PM

9. Have you seen the movie Mutant Chronicles?

Even if you think the movie is lousy, the got the part about corporation-as-government correct. In fact, I would venture to say that they based the setting on 1984 to some extent.

Here's the IMDB abstract:
At the end of the Ice Age, The Machine came from outer space with the purpose to change men into mutants. However, a hero defeated the device and a great seal was laid over The Machine. In 2707, the depleted world is ruled by four Corporations: Mishima, Bauhaus, Capitol and Imperial that are in a constant state of war. During a battle between Capitol and Bauhaus, the great seal is broken and The Machine works again transforming soldiers and civilians into hordes of mutants. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490181/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_98

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Response to ProudLib72 (Reply #9)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:19 PM

11. No, but I thought the RoboCop series kind of showed it fairly well...

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #11)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:47 PM

14. Ha! I forgot about good old RoboCop

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Response to ProudLib72 (Original post)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:17 PM

8. Because it's beautifully written

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Response to ProudLib72 (Original post)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 01:53 PM

10. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" 's hidden happy ending.

The novel's ultra-bleak ending, with former dissident Winston Smith tortured into accepting Insoc, and tearfully admitting "He loved Big Brother" seems to have no way out of its utterly hopeless conclusion.

But the book does have a sort-of happy ending, if you look for it.

At the end of the narrative, there is an afterword explaining the provenance and purpose of Newspeak, the language of Oceania designed to limit free thought and prevent expression of dissent against the government. Some readers have inferred that the afterword is written 'in-universe', and, since it is written in the past tense, indicates that at some point after the end of Winston Smith's tale, Oceania and the reign of Big Brother and The Party came to an end. And a new society, permitting and protecting free thought and expression, rose in its place. That's the ending I've chosen to adopt as my own point of view.

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Response to Aristus (Reply #10)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:21 PM

12. Hmmm, I don't remember reading an "Afterword" when I read it...

Was it added post 1970? I think I read that in high school, so my view of it is dated.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #12)

Fri Jun 14, 2019, 02:23 PM

13. I think I remember reading the Orwell himself wrote it.

So it should not only be 'canon', but included in pre-1970 editions, I would think.

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