By Joey Payton
The dystopian genre of books entertains us with extremely imaginative societies. Popular series-turned-movies like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent not only wowed audiences with their engaging characters and exciting plot twists, but also served to deliver socially conscious messages through the lens of entertainment.
Before these New York Times bestsellers rose to fame, there was George Orwell’s 1984. Originally published in 1949 (in the wake of WWII), 1984 has ominously shot back to the top of best seller lists (in the wake of of November’s election).
In previous posts, the GU Book Crew took you on a journey exploring libraries, visiting bookstores, investing authors and even imagining our superheroes, but today we arrive at the doorstep of a dystopian world, which is eerily similar to the United States in 2017.
In 1984, Orwell shows, through his protagonist, Winston Smith, the common citizen’s experience in a society heavily influenced by fear, social constructs, over regulation and technology.
Here are our five reasons (not in any particular order) you must read 1984.
#1 Non-Stop War because “WAR IS PEACE”
Since the tragic 9/11 attacks on the U.S. homeland in NYC and DC, American military forces have been deployed either in direct combat operations or supporting combat operations. This parallels 1984 with the three major nations Oceania, where Smith is from, and Eastasia and Eurasia are constantly at war, with no clear sign of an end.
#2 Allies are enemies. Enemies are allies. Repeat.
During the Obama administration there was tension with our ally Israel, while there seemed to be a thawing of relationships with longtime enemy Iran, through the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump continued the relationship swap behavior, when he raised concerns due to his softened rhetoric toward Russia, although directing tough language toward both NAFTA and NATO allies. This back-and-forth and fluid shifting of allies with adversaries is commonplace in 1984.
#3 “Fake News” from the Ministry of Truth
In the U.S. the press as the fourth estate has become a challenged watchdog with the coining of the term “fake news.” There is debate whether the term is fairly used to characterize reputable media outlets, yet the truth is the media’s credibility has been sullied. In 1984, the government run ‘Ministry of Truth,’ is responsible for managing the version of “truth” that the powers-to-be want to portray. And they spend much time and effort reprinting and distributing propaganda to ensure that their version of the truth is what the public receives.
#4 Free Speech is Hate Speech
One of the benefits of being American is our First Amendment, which grants us protections for a few things, namely our speech. The concept of political correctness has developed into a social and, in some instances, legal policing of people’s stated opinions. This is the reality in Smith’s world because acts of self-expression, especially one that opposes the government, are unpardonable crimes.
#5 Telescreens (uhh…I mean smart devices) are Ubiquitous
We love our smart devices. They keep us connected to everything: people, places and ideas. They provide us with instant access to just about anything we need. Unfortunately, similar to the 1984 telescreens, which were TVs with two-way microphones and screens, our devices also give the powers-to-be access to us. Via our smart TVs, smart phones, tablets and laptops we turn on the camera and microphones of our lives for a Orwellian-style reality TV show.
Whether you’re ready or not to attribute Nostradamus status to Orwell, it’s fair to say that his novel carries strong implications in the contemporary world.
Fortunately for us, it’s just fiction, right?
If you want more context and a detailed explanation of 1984’s implications, I recommend you read Michiko Kakutani’s NYT’s piece, “Why ‘1984’ Is a 2017 Must Read.”
Also, if you’re not much of a reader, but want to still enjoy the story, then it’s available in audio format.