Back In 1984

George Orwell would be proud. There are still people yearning after 1984.

In his futuristic book, 1984, written in the 1940’s following World War II, Orwell predicted a world overrun by probing governments and intrusive surveillance technology by the year 1984. Twenty-eight years following the passing of his magic year, there are still those hopefuls waiting for his prophecy to come to fruition.

Like whoever painted this lovely piece: “Feliz 1984” accompanied by a pair of binoculars. Talk about irony. For anyone who has read 1984, it’s not a happy picture. For starters, the novel is categorized as a dystopian novel (not to be confused with utopian) about a society in a state of perpetual warfare in which the people undergo incessant public surveillance and unrelenting mind control. In this society heavily influenced by technology and overwhelming propaganda, individuality and reason are crushed in favor of unwavering obedience to government, industry, and country.

BACK IN THE GOOD OLE DAYS - This artist advocates for a society similar to the one in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984.

Big Brother, the cult personality of The Party regime in this otherworldly society, instills fear in citizens with the slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” Hence the addition of binoculars to this piece of art. Perhaps the most depressing element of Orwell’s society, however, is the complete lack of citizen awareness. The government blatantly manipulates, and the people blindly follow—unknowingly entrenching themselves deeper into a web of brainwash. And those select few who do suspect foul play are either too frightened to act or suffer the consequences of speaking up.

In short, 1984 is anything but “feliz.” Nothing could be less happy, or farther from reality today.

‘E Pluribus Venom’

It’s an innocent enough looking poster. A little girl (let’s call her Polly), bow-intact, smelling a rose.

This print by Shepard Fairey warns against the dangers of blind obedience in society. It was part of a larger collection of Fairey's work, “E Pluribus Venom,” exhibited at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in 2007.

But look again. Don’t miss the four-letter word written at the bottom left and blended discreetly into the print of the background: “OBEY.” Now that adds a twist. Little Polly isn’t looking so innocent anymore.

At this point, I thought the poster was some kind of Communist-propaganda used in wartime. It might have been all the red, or the curiousness of the letters, or the planes flying above.

In any case, it’s not a communist-era poster, but it is propaganda. The poster is one of many in a collection called “E Pluribus Venom” by graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, whose biggest claim-to-fame today is designing the “Hope” poster that appeared in the 2008 Obama campaign. This print, however, was exhibited in the summer of 2007 in a massive exhibition featuring his art at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery.

The title “E Pluribus Venom,” which translates “Out of many, poison,” is derived from “E Pluribus Unum,” (out of many, one) an early motto adopted by the U.S. Government which appears on U.S. currency. Much of Fairey’s work expresses concern over the loss of power and influence of the individual in society in favor of homogeny. Fairey theorizes that homogeny causes societal decline.

Fairey has created a larger “OBEY” campaign to emphasize the dangers of a society which becomes unaware of and complacent with its surroundings. The campaign criticizes blind nationalism and celebrates questioning the symbols and methods used by the American government.

This poster, with its clear message of blind obedience beginning at a young age (it’s no coincidence that Fairey’s subject is young) is a prime example of at least one of Fairey’s messages: a society merely “going through the motions” is a society unaware of its environment.

A society which merely “obeys” forgets why it is doing so.

For more on Shepard Fairey, read this article from The New York Times.

We’re In 2012, Not 1984

Okay, so clearly this poster is a bit of an exaggeration. At least that was my reaction.

Referring to George Orwell's science fiction book predicting a society overrun by government authority, this illustration's message is that present-day America may be in a similar state of dystopia.

But a quick Google search suggested that there are actually people who quite legitimately believe that America today is creeping toward a recreated version of the society in 1984.

Some of their reasons:

1)      The increasing presence and availability of surveillance cameras, tracking devices, and recording mechanisms

2)      Mass-produced media that doesn’t tell “the real story”

3)      Misuse of technology

4)      Propaganda in the form of government-issued PSA’s as well as campaign posters and advertisements

5)      Class divisions similar to the Inner Party, Outer Party, and the Proles (i.e. upper, middle, and lower class in America’s terminology)

6)      Identification by numbers such as a social security number, driver’s license number, college ID number, and account numbers for various necessities and optional programs

7)      Increased party division, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks

8)      Less privacy for individuals as well as increased public security measures

Having read Orwell’s book in my sophomore English class, I see why some of these reasons may have been formulated, but largely I think the idea of America becoming the next Oceania is radical.

Orwell’s fictional society and America’s present society may have some similarities—far-fetched though they may be—but under no rational terms can they be considered equivalent or even approaching nearness. Oceania’s powerful government was an oligarchic dictatorship ruled by the Party and headed by a totalitarian leader. America’s government, though powerful, is most assuredly a democracy.

Oceania’s society was based on government surveillance, public mind control, suppression of free will, and the idea that individuality and reason are punishable crimes. America has always sold itself on being the land of opportunity, individuality, and freedom—a societal melting pot.

Orwell’s 1984 warned against powerful governments in which human life is viewed merely in consumer terms as important to the economic sustenance of the country. In America, we undoubtedly regard human life with the utmost importance.

Furthermore, I find it equally ridiculous to predict that the U.S. could ever turn into an Oceania. Orwell’s society could only succeed so long as its subjects remained unfalteringly obedient and unquestioning of their leadership.

America’s peoples could never be bent backwards or controlled to such an extreme. We have far too much history and experience of criticizing and questioning our leaders.

And so long as we remain in the habit, the world of Big Brother cannot become a reality.