The world described by Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-four seems cruel and unfair. With its totalitarian regime, full devotion to the Party, and Big Brother constantly watching everyone, the existence of such a society seems impossible in the modern world. Nowadays, although many countries are tolerant and respectful of their citizens, there is still a place for the rules of Nineteen Eighty-four. Some concepts of Orwell’s novel find reflection, in reality, today, including total control, censorship, and leader worship.
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In Nineteen Eighty-four, Big Brother is watching everyone and everything, which means that people do not have even an opportunity for freedom and privacy. Members of the Party have telescreens installed in their houses. Telescreens cannot be turned off, and they are constantly watching every step and listening to every word of each person. This concept has some parallels with the real world. As Seaton points out, “today it is social media that collects every gesture, purchase, comment” people make online. The researcher notes that modern technologies also can predict a person’s every preference based on consumer choices, “harvesting those preferences for political campaigns” (Seaton). It is possible to agree with Seaton that this approach destroys democracy. Thus, in real life, the problem of privacy is also becoming increasingly more acute.
In addition, it is interesting to note that some people lose their privacy, although willingly. Reality TV shows that first appeared in the 60s and are still popular today also reflect the idea of constant surveillance (Khan). According to Khan, such shows are experiments “in controlling and modifying behavior.” He also notes that it is rather ironic that one of the most popular reality shows is called Big Brother (Khan). Although these shows involve a relatively small group of people, on a larger scale, the boundaries of privacy are becoming less visible.
Apart from Big Brother and his technologies, citizens of Oceania themselves spy on each other. Probably, the most frightening part of it is children spying on their parents. From a young age, they are taught to adore the Party, worship Big Brother and prevent any disobedience or deviation from the ideology of the state. Thus, there is no trust even within families, and it is “almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their children” (Orwell 31). In the real world, there are still countries where citizens worship their leaders. The cult of personality exists in North Korea, where the Kim dynasty has been ruling for decades. According to Casiano, the family is represented “as godlike figures.” Similar to Orwell’s novel, children in North Korea learn to adore their leaders from an early age (Casiano). In addition, citizens should be highly devoted to ideology and wear patriotic pins on their shirts (Casiano). One may agree that the regime of North Korea has several parallels with the ideology of Oceania.
Another form of control of society in the novel is censorship. Winston knows the fact that Oceania had been an ally of Eurasia, the Party, however, states otherwise. The true knowledge exists only in Winston’s mind and is to be annihilated anyway (Orwell 42). The philosophy of the Party is that all people need to accept the lie for it to become the truth. When controlling people’s thoughts and perceptions of history and reality, they can control them. It is reflected in the Party’s slogan “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 42). Thus, the society of Oceania has only one source of information that decides what they need or do not need to know.
In the real world, this approach is also used by some governments telling fake news or propaganda to their people. For instance, according to Reznikov, this problem is very acute in Russia (51). The researcher notes that a significant number of citizens are being influenced by TV news, many of which are controlled by the government (Reznikov 51). In addition to fake news and hidden facts, some programs on major TV channels promote the idea that because of president Putin, Russian people “live in a superpower” (Reznikov 51). It is possible to agree that the influence of TV is rather strong, and mass media is an effective instrument for controlling society.
In the modern world, there are various sources for getting information. However, it is worth returning to a discussion of North Korea. Citizens of this country are limited in their access to alternative sources. As Fifield notes, the government tightly controls the flow of information, and “for all but a handful of the elite, there is no Internet.” In addition, North Korea controls its borders, severely restricting traveling. It means that citizens do not have an opportunity to communicate with foreigners who also could provide an alternative view of the situation. Moreover, according to Fifield, the state instills citizens “hostility and deep hatred toward the United States, Japan, and South Korea.” Thus, people live in an information vacuum, which reminds the approach of Big Brother and his Party.
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Another important element of Oceania’s society is its language called Newspeak. It has simplified grammar, and its vocabulary is constantly decreasing. It is also common for Newspeak to combine two or more words in one. For example, the names of the ministries in Newspeak are “Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty” (Orwell 9). The poor language makes the minds of citizens weaker, which represents another form of thought control. Some examples from real life also resemble communication in Oceania. For instance, simplification of language is common for one of the most popular social networks, Twitter. Users have a limited number of symbols to post their message, which makes them simplify vocabulary and grammar. Besides, as Abdulridha notes, Newspeak must be known by all Oceania citizens, which reminds the terminology “that appeared with the formation of ISIS” (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) (24). The researcher points out that people who “became by will or force part of a totalitarian regime of ISIS” use specific terms (Abdulridha 24). One may agree that words also play a significant role in supporting ideology and control over people.
It is possible to conclude that the modern world has more parallels with the novel Nineteen Eighty-four than may seem at first sight. Although many countries nowadays place human rights at the forefront, there are still many problems. Some governments control their citizens with the help of propaganda and censorship, limiting sources of information. In places where people have free access to the Internet, social networks and mass media blur the boundaries of privacy and transform languages. Thus, Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell allows looking at reality from the other side that is not the pleasant one.
Abdulridha, Sabrina Abdulkadhom. “Totalitarianism in Reality and Fiction: A Comparative Study.” Ahl Al-Bait Jurnal, vol. 1, no. 24, 2019, pp. 16–29.
Casiano, Louis. “Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s Cult of Personality Explained.” Fox News, 2020, Web.
Fifield, Anna. “North Korea Begins Brainwashing Children in Cult of the Kims as Early as Kindergarten.” The Washington Post, 2015, Web.
Khan, Stephen. “What Orwell’s ‘1984’ Tells Us About Today’s World, 70 Years After It Was Published.” The Conversation, 2019, Web.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-four. Secker & Warburg, 1949. The University of Adelaide Library.
Reznikov, Andrey. “1984 Reborn: Russian Media Create Alternative Reality in the Minds of Russian People.” The Image of Rebirth in Literature, Media, and Society: 2017 SASSI Conference Proceedings, 2017, pp. 51–54.
Seaton, Jean. “Why Orwell’s 1984 Could Be About Now.” BBC, 2018, Web.