Beyond '1984:' Social and Political Commentary to Add to Your Bookshelf
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I would wager that pretty much everyone with a high school education has been able to compare the current Twitter mob, history-erasing panic, allotted times for the public to "clap for" or "boo at" politicians and segments of society, omnipresent peeks into our privacy and punishment for “wrongthink” to George Orwell’s 1948 classic, 1984.
We’ve all seen the prophetic passage (largely unheeded by some) reduced to a meme by now on the “reshaping of history” to better manipulate and control the masses:
Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.
It is true 1984 is an important read for 2020, but it certainly isn’t the only classic piece of literature to keep on your bookshelf.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
In Huxley's look at a future he believed was coming, people are genetically engineered in hatcheries (the word "father" has become a derogatory insult), children go through continual indoctrination programs, and your fate is predetermined. Death means nothing. Individuals mean nothing. Only the clean, happy good of the world. Creativity is squelched in the name of keeping peace, and citizens continuously take their serenity inducing drug, “soma.” People, basically, have become efficient Henry Ford-inspired assembly line creations.
Not everyone has become part of this “perfect world.” There is the Savage Reservation in New Mexico, where its citizens are often observed like zoo animals.
Huxley’s work and teaching had a wide influence, including on one of his French class students, Eric Blair (known better by his pen name George Orwell). There have been several pop culture interpretations of this work throughout his years. Even bombastic 1998 action sci-fi Demolition Man was influenced by the concept.
Brave New World and 1984 are often compared to each other, but each take a different approach on a controlling "only one way to think" world. While Orwell’s world is darker and has more forced banning of wrongthink, Huxley’s mind control comes from reprogramming, like the sleep-teaching method of its youth:
One hundred repetitions three nights a week for four years - sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.
If you don’t think Huxley was a complicated, deep man, listen to this interview with Mike Wallace from 1958. You might not agree with every point, but he does make you think.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
If you want a good look at mob mentality, knee-jerk reactions, and immature power struggles, just strand a bunch of boys on an isolated island and watch the fireworks. When a group of emotionally immature individuals try to govern themselves by putting emotions and groupthink over rationality, they will continue to spiral into devilish tribalism and chaos until they are rescued by the “grownups.”
Everyone had to read this one at least once in high school (twice for me), and we grumbled like a bunch of put-out teens, but I’m glad I have it now implanted in my memory. Piggy shall not have died in vain.
In case you’re forgotten it, here it is sarcastically summed up in less than 10 minutes.
Now, keep in mind this was written in the 1950s, when there was still some semblance and appreciation of the nuclear family. Imagine what it would be like with a group from the “Participation Trophy” professional victimhood generation.
It might be more like another George Orwell tale.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
This slim read is Stalinism in a nutshell. First overthrow those in authority so we can be free and equal…until your revolutionary leaders take over and become even worse than the ones before…*oink*! Orwell wrote this as a look at the origins of the Russian Revolution, and its eventual takeover by Joseph Stalin.
There have been movies made of this, but they are pretty disturbing, including one recent version with some pretty respectable actors in the voice roles.
If you read biographies of Orwell, he took on the fashionable identity of a socialist, but his beliefs, writings and actions were much more in tune with more current libertarian leanings. You may argue among yourself what you think Orwell would think today.
One thing is for sure, if you know Orwell only through his writings, he had no love of full on totalitarianism, which ironically is what even "democratic socialism" inevitably leads to. Just let the pigs, chicken, dogs and horses show you:
All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others....
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I’ve always loved Bradbury’s world building of days gone by such as creepy Something Wicked This Way Comes and the more wistful Dandelion Wine, but this 1958 dystopian look at a thought-controlled future is one of his best known. The concept is simple: books are outlawed, and anyone who has one of these harmful, thought-provoking will have them burned by "firemen." This was written in response to Bradbury’s worries about McCarthyism, but it is so much more significant today than ever before.
An interesting companion movie to watch could be The Book of Eli, as Denzel Washington’s title character also finds himself in “possession” of a long forgotten sacred text, in a similar manner as the literature preserving intellectuals of Fahrenheit 451.
Here’s the clip from the 1966 movie adaptation that has been floating around.
Before the year runs out, wherever it leads, make sure to get these books on your reading list and book shelf…before they, too, are destroyed for the protection of our sensibilities.