George Orwell (1903 - 1950), was an English novelist whose writing raised awareness of social injustice, totalitarianism and warned of threats to the democratic system. He is best known for his futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the title being an inversion of 1948, the year the novel was completed.
Even though written some seventy years ago, just three years after the end of World War II, it foretells of a world order disturbingly like what we see playing out before us. And so, the term “Orwellian” has entered our current vocabulary.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was set in Oceania, one of three inter-continental super states that divided the world after a global war. Most of the plot took place in London, the "chief city of Airstrip One", the Oceanic province that "had once been called England or Britain".
The story goes that the Britain became involved in a nuclear war fought in Europe, western Russia, and North America during the early 1950s. Britain was subsequently absorbed by the United States to become “Oceania”.
Russia conquered continental Europe and established the second super state of “Eurasia”. The third super state of “Eastasia” centred in China would later emerge in the Far East. Does this scenario seem uncomfortably close to what could evolve in our future?
The three super states then appeared to wage perpetual war for the remaining unconquered lands of the world. At least that’s what was communicated on TV screens to the population of Oceania. Who knows what was really going on?
The main character, Winston Smith, worked as an “editor” in the “records” department of the Ministry of Truth in Oceania, revising historical records (fake news?), to make the past conform to the ever-changing party line, and deleting references to “unpersons denied existence even in history or memory”.
The Ministry of Truth was one of four key government departments that also included the Ministry of Plenty, the Ministry of Love, and the Ministry of Peace, with names that belied their true purpose.
In London, posters of the Party leader, Big Brother, bearing the caption "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU", dominated the city, while the ubiquitous “telescreen”, a two-way television set, monitored the private and public lives of the party members in their homes.
Non -party members were referred to as “proles” – the working-class proletariat - who lived in poverty and were kept sedated with alcohol, pornography and a national lottery whose winnings were never actually paid out…. question – in our world would people still buy lottery tickets if winners were anonymous? I believe most would anyway.
A culture of “hate” directed at Oceania’s enemies was cultivated. Two minute “hate” breaks were scheduled at work with workers screaming at newsreels of the “enemy”, and pep talks were given to workers before their shifts began. Trump’s frequent rallies are brought to mind.
On a personal note, I was fortunate as a youngster to watch the actual BBC broadcast in 1956 that December night on our new 12-inch black and white telly! BBC TV was the only TV channel available in the U.K. at the time, and they were still figuring out what kind of content they should be broadcasting. This was definitely heavy fare for a prime-time family audience.
Winston Smith was played by actor Peter Cushing early in his career. After a move to Hollywood, he became best known for his roles in many horror films in the same league as Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, as well as his performance as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977).
It’s also interesting that this hour-long television adaptation, some 62 years ago, was a “live” broadcast, except for a few filmed outdoor passages. So, all actors delivered their memorised parts faultlessly without modern teleprompters….quite an accomplishment.
If you’ve read this far, I recommend you check out the original 1956 BBC broadcast currently available on YouTube under this title - 1984 / Nineteen-Eighty-Four. (Live Broadcast - Full ''Film'').
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org