Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Nothing is Like ‘1984’

The year America spent in health care fear and loathing proved once again that our country is perfectly capable of having a spirited, complex, even ostensibly polite debate about a controversial issue – just not one that references empirical reality. I heard more sentences end in “-ism” than I did ones that began with “According to [reputable research source]….”

Allow me to suggest a simple new rule that might start to pull us down from the poetic realm of visceral abstractions and force people to turn off the TV and read things.

Mike Godwin famously theorized that as any Internet discussion thread becomes longer, the chance of a Hitler reference approaches 100 percent. However, the Führer is a close second for all-time go-to ad hominem: George Orwell’s dystopic nightmare “1984.”

What we’ve learned from the literary scholars who tirelessly cite it is that Obama taking $90 from you because you didn’t buy insurance is tantamount to having the giant eye on the wall greet you every morning before it’s off to compulsory aerobics.

They project brilliant efficiency onto a government they usually depict as dismally incompetent. Recalling the Party’s removing of people from photographs and rewriting history so perfectly that citizens don’t recall things accurately, they apply these stories to an administration whose vice president can’t even properly step back from a microphone before dropping the f-bomb.

It blows my mind how many people have apparently read this book or had it summarized for them. On the North American Layman’s All-Time Required Reading List, it must be somewhere right above Dan Brown, “Catcher in the Rye,” and any seven John Grisham novels. I hate to be the person who knocks something good just because it’s popular, but summarized Orwell seems to be Kurt Vonnegut for guys who listen to Aerosmith and say things like “Who the f— is Kurt Vonnegut?”

I cannot check online Crimson White comments without running into some yahoo who quotes the “Imagine a boot pressing down a face” line concerning something ridiculous.

My first thought is whether these people realize that Orwell himself was a democratic socialist (look, there’s that word people throw around like it’s a comma).

He was strongly influenced by Trotsky, canvassed for the Labour Party and once boasted: “I have managed to make the capitalist class pay me several pounds a week for writing books against capitalism. But I do not delude myself that this state of affairs is going to last forever … the only régime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist régime.”

Of course, Orwell’s “socialism” differs considerably from its modern archetype, and it really isn’t possible to know either way what someone like him would think about current events. Especially with his emphasis on the individual. But “1984” is nowhere near to being a critique of what conservatives have dubbed the “nanny state” – it was quite the opposite.

The descriptions of urban decay in the opening chapter followed by descriptions of the omniscience of the state tempt a first-time reader to conclude that this society has broken down because the government has over-extended itself. That’s not completely the point.

Ingsoc’s oligarchical collectivism, as far as can be inferred, was never meant to abolish class and create the socialist utopia that Republicans imagine Obama imagines. Oceania is a hierarchical society. “Inner Party” members enjoy wine, a plethora of nice food and servants. The reason that most citizens live in poverty isn’t redistribution of property but the war effort. “Perpetual war” is meant to redirect any excess industrial yield to preclude the chance it might raise quality of life.

If there’s one aspect of the novel that is extremely applicable to our culture, it’s Oceania’s ever-shrinking language, designed to make every citizen think in terms of predetermined black and white, removing all shades of meaning that might lead to pragmatic thinking, a process eerily detectable on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard when EPA regulations equal Pol Pot and the Holocaust.

It is this fear by association that will define the misplaced populist rage of our time – that is, until its sufferers realize that the giant, crook-nosed faces presented by the TV for them to hate are red herrings, inflated in size and importance to keep them from realizing who the real idiots are.

Josh Veazey is a senior majoring in telecommunication and film. His column runs on Wednesdays.

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