1984 in 2017: Better late than…?



My first impression upon hearing the discussion regarding the use of the term “alternative facts” in the news media over the past few days was that George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth from 1984 was manifesting itself in 2017.

In the classic dystopian novel (which we all should now re-read), the Ministry of Truth controls information–news, entertainment, the arts and education (and, hence, language). One of the ministry’s main functions is to “rectify” historical records so that they support the current policies of the ruling party and Big Brother. They are not so much creating “alternative facts” as creating the only facts. There are no alternatives–only the ruling party’s take on the truth.

How do they get away with this in 1984?

Overtly, anyone who chooses to deviate from the currently prevailing party line is severely punished. Citizens must believe what the party/ministry/Big Brother say–even if it contradicts what they may have said in the past. The classic example is the slogan “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” When, in fact, they had been allies with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia. But, the threat of punishment and the constant repetition of the “new reality” quickly creates a citizenry that falls in line.

This surely echoes the current state of what is currently referred to as “fake news”–not in the sense that punishment creates complicity, but in the sense of it being repeated, reposted (and “liked”) on Facebook and re-Tweeted thousands or hundreds of thousands of times. Repetition creates reality?

More subtly, the Ministry of Truth manipulates language–using Newspeak to sanitize the English language (“oldspeak”) of precise meaning and expressiveness. In many ways, it is an oversimplification of language.

Antonyms disappear–replaced by the prefix “un-” (e.g. warm becomes “uncold” and bad becomes “ungood”). Is “alt-” the 2017 version? “Alt-Facts,” “Alt-Right,” “Alt-science?”

Nuances disappear (e.g. the subtle differences between good, great, excellent and best simply become “plusgood” or “doubleplusgood). Today, there might be a thousand variations on the smiley face emoji–but, can they convey the same emotion or expressiveness of the written word? For the sake of (an artificially created need for) brevity, conveniently use “LOL,” “OMG,” “BTW,” “LMAO” and thousands of other acronyms. Can any convey a meaning as precise as proper use of an extensive vocabulary?

Are we on our way to not only a post-factual but also a post-textual society? Will words (and even acronyms) soon be replaced by pictures/pictographs/emojis?










~ by kipwkoelsch on January 24, 2017.

One Response to “1984 in 2017: Better late than…?”

  1. NPR’s program 1A with Joshua Johnson has show airing today about the current relevance and popularity of dystopian novels: http://the1a.org/

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