Book Review: ‘1984’ Holds Up In A Crushingly Beautiful Fashion
Since America is alarmingly becoming a police state, we thought it would be a good idea to reread the classic dystopian novel 1984. In George Orwell’s bleak imagination of what 1984 could look like when power becomes the ultimate goal, it appears to be as relevant today than it was when it was published in 1949 — if not stranger than the book is now.
The novel follows Winston Smith, a man who lives in Airstrip One (formally Great Britain). He’s a member of the middle class Outer Party, and he lives in a one room flat in what’s left of London. He eats what you would think someone in a dystopian world would eat: crappy bread, synthetic meals, and enjoys a brand of gin when he can. In between that, he is spied on by telescreens that hang on his wall, cameras and microphones all over the place, and the mighty Thought Police. The Thought Police are a mega force who will arrest you if you even think about committing a crime against the government.
What’s even worse is that this entire system has people inform on each other. Kids are encouraged to tattle on potential criminals to the Thought Police, even on their parents. What’s really strikes me about this novel is how WAY ahead of its time it was. Do we have microphones and cameras all over the public? Yes. Do we have telescreens? Yes, they’re called flatscreen TVs. If you think they haven’t been recording what you watch, think again.
What about committing a thought crime? Say you’re a TV writer and you are doing research on writing a film or TV show about a serial killer. You’re not a psycho, so you have to do a lot of research. You start looking for all of this weird and crazy stuff on Google to get into the mind of a serial killer. Your search history will be filled up with something like “how to dispose of a body and not get caught.” The writer will keep search for all of this to try and be specific for what they’re writing. This gets him on the radar of the police. A knock on the door and he’s interrogated. It’s happened.
One of the most recent cases of a thought crimes is in the case of a police officer in NYC who would search and write in online forums up killing and eating people. He would post pictures of his wife in the forums and say how he was going to do it. Where he really screwed up — besides being into all that — was when he searched for woman’s names in his squad car. That goes from personal time to a crime. He was eventually released since the forums showed he was always non-specific in meeting others who were actually into this, but this was one of the major cases of thought crimes in the USA.
In 2014, The Obama administration started ramping up against thought crime: “The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee was created in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing but was scrapped soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks as intelligence and law enforcement officials shifted their focus to threats from outside the country. The committee will be comprised of figures from the FBI, the National Security Division of the Justice Department and the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.” (Via The New America)
We’re going after people we think will commit acts of violence before they do. That is thought crime. Just recently, President Trump banned refugees from 7 countries because he believes they will cause acts of terror in America. The last act of terror caused by a non-American in the US was on 9/11. All others were American citizens. Refugees have been detained at airports merely because they were Muslim and fleeing for their lives.
What 1984 really tried to show us was that it will go from us vs. them, then us vs. immigrants, then neighbor vs. neighbor. We will start becoming scared of our own police and have protests against them. People who are against the protesters will start protesting them. It soon becomes a slippery slope into living in a fascist dictatorship where citizens are afraid to think or do anything that could get them arrested. This is what Orwell wrote in 1949. He was influenced by WW2, but he also knew what could happen within nations after the war.
As the novel progresses, Winston and his girlfriend Julia are both betrayed while joining an underground movement to overthrow the party. How the ministry tortures them is by making them go through their worst fears and eventually betraying each other. They later meet and admit that they both betrayed each other. The torture and re-education worked so well that Winston loves Big Brother and rejoins the party with great excitement.
Things like this slowly become a reality without the population realizing it. People will be debating about it freely because that was what’s normal. Then the steps of turning into a fascist country begins to bloom. Let me know if you recognize anything:
- Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
- Create a prison which detains “certain” individuals
- Develop thugs to find and detain said individuals
- Set up an internal surveillance system to spy on your own citizens
- Harass certain groups of citizens (Muslims, liberals, etc.)
- Engage in arbitrary detention and release (All travelers detained under Trump ban have been released)
- Target key individuals: Threaten civil servants, press, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t get in line
- Control the press: (Trump is playing with the press)
- Dissent equals treason
- Suspending the rule of law
Pretty scary, huh? This is what 1984 tried to teach us. These steps all start coming together, and by the time we realize it, one of us might get narc’d on by one of our neighbors because they heard us listening to music that has been banned. At least people are starting to get it now. 1984 sales have skyrocketed for good reason. I encourage that you read this book or reread it again ASAP. It reads like the present, but remember, it was written in 1949. Incredible.
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR and by just looking up his name.