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Did George Orwell Predict Life in America Today?

By:   •  July 28, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  2,508 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,342 Views

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Did George Orwell Predict Life in America Today?

George Orwell’s novel 1984 is a classic that continues to open the eyes of citizens to the world they are living in today. This novel was written to serve as a warning to Western nations about the frightening repercussions of a totalitarian government. It depicts a super-state called Oceania, which is ran by the Party, who monitors and controls the actions and even the thoughts of its citizens. George Orwell does a tremendous job of depicting a dystopian society where freedoms and civil liberties are essentially nonexistent. The Party’s three slogans were WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. The irony and contradictions within these slogans allows the reader to gain a sense of the absolute control the state has over its citizens. Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” (Respectfully Quoted, 1989). Yet, even in the United States of America, a country built on the idea of democracy, freedoms, and civil liberties, the fear of terrorism has allowed the government to convince its citizens to give up many freedoms and liberties for a sense of security. The advancement of technology used to invade the privacy of citizens, the restrictions on freedom of speech and thought, a constant war with an ever-changing enemy, and control over the information citizens receive has created a society in which a leader with ill-intentions could abuse his power and oppress the masses.

In the novel 1984, citizens are constantly monitored by the government through telescreens in their homes and video cameras hidden throughout the city. Similarly, the National Security Agency (NSA) has surveillance programs that were kept secret until Edward Snowden leaked the truth about these programs to the world. The NSA performed warrantless wiretapping, collects metadata by maintaining a call database, and through a program called PRISM they collect internet communications from major US internet companies (Stray, 2013). Also, nearly everywhere we go we will encounter security cameras and traffic cameras; every store we go to is likely to ask us for our cell phone number or zip code; and we carry cell phones with us everywhere we go which usually have a GPS locator, as well the internet and phone capabilities which can be intercepted by NSA. The difference between Oceania and the United States in this matter is that citizens of Oceania were aware that they were constantly being monitored; however, the NSA kept their surveillance programs secret from citizens for years until it was leaked, so the extent to which they monitor each citizen and any new surveillance programs that have been implemented since then are unknown. We have accepted the idea that we are giving up our privacy for a sense of security from terrorism, much like those in Oceania have done in order to prevent rebellion against the Party. Privacy is an essential freedom that has been given up in this novel, as well as the United States today; yet, free speech and thought are freedoms lost in this novel which we are fighting to keep in the United States today.

Freedom of speech and thought are essential to making a person an individual. However, in this novel we see a complete lack of these freedoms through the implementation of Newspeak, rewriting history, doublethink, and 2 Minutes Hate. Newspeak was the official language of Oceania, and although it hadn’t been adopted entirely, its purpose was to “diminish the range of thought” and reduce vocabulary so that dissenting or rebellious thoughts directed toward the principles of Ingsoc would be impossible, at least in any way that it could be expressed through words. Newspeak can be compared to political correctness in America today. Much like the thoughtpolice in this novel, Americans risk losing their job or being taken to court simply because of something they said or the way they said it. Examples of political correctness in the United states include: five kids were sent home from school for wearing shirts with an American flag on them on Cinco De Mayo (Kiriyama, 2010), authorities have limited public expression of the Christian faith in many public places around the country (Hawkins, 2013), yet atheists in New York were allowed to put up a billboard which displayed picture of Santa above a picture of Jesus on the cross and it read “Keep the Merry! Dump the Myth!,” (Grenoble, 2012) and when Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered 13 Army personnel while yelling “Allahu Akbar” it was considered a case of “workplace violence” rather than terrorism (Fernandez & Blinder, 2014).

Also, in 1984, Winston’s job is to rewrite history so that it favors the Party’s current agenda. The reason this can be done without the citizens rebelling against the Party for lying is that the citizens possess the trait of doublethink, which means they can have two simultaneous and contradicting ideas and accept both as truth. Similarly, we are at war with terrorists whose goal is to establish a global Islamic caliphate won through a world-wide war (Damon & Yan, 2014), yet it is considered politically incorrect to talk about Islam and terrorism as related in any way, and drastic measures are being taken to remove the relation from history. In fact, much like rewriting history, the FBI has gone back and expunged references to Islam and terrorism from hundreds of old documents and the Department of Justice has pulled all law enforcement and national security training manuals for similar revisions (Timmerman, 2011). Also, the Pentagon launched a thirty million dollar program to rewrite the history of the Vietnam war in order to provide schoolchildren with an interactive, educational website (Cohn, 2014). However, the website does not include information on the massive anti-war movement that occurred with the Vietnam War. The website refers to a massacre where US soldiers murdered unarmed men, women, and children in the village of MyLai simply as the “My Lai Incident” even though it has primarily been referred to as a massacre (Cohn, 2014). The website also makes a reference to “Operation Ranch Hand” where the US sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over Vietnam jungles and forests, but it does not refer to any of the devastation that resulted from this (Cohn, 2014). Executive director of an organization called Veterans for Peace says “One of the biggest concerns for us is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world – as a propaganda tool.” (Cohn, 2014)

The media in America today can be compared to Big Brother in 1984 because they control the information consumers receive, distort the truth, and focus on certain issues while avoiding other issues that may not be in their best interest. In 1983, ninety percent of U.S. media was controlled by 50 different companies, but as of 2011, the same ninety percent of media is owned by only six companies: Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. Those six media giants control seventy percent of cable television (Lutz, 2012). Radio, newspapers, magazines, and even online news sites have also followed the trend of media consolidation. A Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Ben Bagdikian, describes the media giants as “a cartel that wields enough influence to change U.S. politics and define social values” (PBS, n.d.). This threatens democracy in America. The consolidation of media restricts consumers choices, limits competition, and allows media owners to manipulate media coverage. If you turn on any media station, you will hear reporters yelling their opinions about people and policies and trying to inflict their anger onto the viewers, which is very similar to Oceania’s 2 Minutes Hate where everyone releases their anger towards the enemies of Oceania. For example, the Media Research Center counted at least 140 different times that American news outlets said the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot” in reference to the shooting of Michael Brown (Perticone, 2015). NBC reportedly mention the phrase 34 times, CBS 55 times, and ABC 51, despite the fact that it was discredited by the Justice Department as a false narrative (Perticone, 2015). Kristine Marsh from the Media Research Center stated “Now, the DOJ report and Attorney General Eric Holder have admitted that the catch phrase was based on false witness accounts. None of the networks apologized or admitted their own reporting spread that false narrative” (Perticone, 2015). Also, the official headline unemployment rate is reported to be around five percent; however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate at just under ten percent; and yet, ShadowStats, which includes long-term discouraged workers, puts the unemployment rate at 22.9 percent (Williams, 2016). Another issue in the media is that they cover certain issues, but neglect others that may go against their agenda. For example, we have seen an enormous amount of news coverage about Black Lives Matter, which has helped their movement to gain momentum, and many people believe it has in turn divided much of America. However, there is little to no coverage about protests against corporate interests, such as the protests held against Monsanto. Also, many mainstream media outlets have become heavily invested in the idea of Global Warming, yet scientists overwhelmingly reject the idea of global warming and 31,000 scientists have agreed that there is “no convincing evidence” that humans are or will be the cause of global warming (OSS Foundation).  The media controlling what information we receive and relaying it in a way to stir up people’s emotions is a lot like the brainwashing that occurs in 1984.


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