Big Brother is Watching You

And for some reason it’s just not creepy anymore

To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not this book warranted a review. It’s not that it’s not a good book, because it is. It’s not that it’s not interesting enough, because it is. And it’s not that it’s really old, and smells like a hospital, because it does. Maybe I just need to buy a newer copy, or maybe it’s just not that creepy anymore.

I’m certain that there was a time when George Orwell’s 1984 was astonishing: a look into the filthy heart of our social structure, and how bad things could get if left unchecked. Orwell tells the story of a man living in this dark future, where the government watches (or at least tries to) your every move, creates its own version of reality and truth, and quietly removes anyone and anything that disagrees, with all of this simply taken for granted by the masses. The majority of society is made up of lower class laborers, and even the many who work for the government have little to spare. But for some reason, explaining the plot of the book simply feels redundant.

The concept of the book and its title are so deeply engrained into our society that the phrase 1984 invariably floats in through whispers and blogs anytime the government does something brazen, and almost anyone has heard at one time or another something referred to as “Orwellian;” so much so that my spellcheck doesn’t even think about correcting the word. Even when it thinks that the word “spellcheck” is spelled wrong. I’ll give you a hyphen! But I digress.

Why is it that we are all aware, one might even say forewarned, of the dangerous path of government control by this book, or at least the cautionary tales in general that it represents, yet all around us our governments move closer and closer to the ideal of “The Party” found in Orwell’s book? Although our government is by no means the greatest transgressor in this new front of social control, this is still by no reason to ignore it.

When George W. admitted to illegal wiretapping, there was some hubbub, a few people said, “Oooo, Big Brother is watching,” chuckled to themselves, and wrote it off. Is it still going on? Yep. Does anyone care anymore? Apparently not. Habeas corpus is revoked, the official rules surrounding this change are hidden from the public, and . . . yeah, about the same thing. A little sigh of discontent, one or two 1984 references, and we go on about our business. Even with this beautiful frame of reference, this ever-so-succinct warning of impending doom for our society, it all seems to be little more than a joke now.

Something has gone wrong along the way. Something has backfired. In trying to point out the shortcomings of human nature, Orwell wrote a book that was too good. It was so good in fact, that it is considered one of the most significant works of fiction of the last century. It was so good that it has been translated into sixty-two languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. It was so good that it was taught to millions of children as course material in junior high. It was so good that – now wait just a minute here! A government committee decided that a book about defying and usurping the government – which is necessarily more corrupt and untrustworthy than it seems at all times, in the book – should be taught in our schools? Does this seem at all strange to you? It certainly does to me.

One would like to think that their friendly, frazzled, underpaid, ideological 9th grade English teacher had something to do with this decision, but they did not. It came from higher up than that. And in that decision, this precautionary tale that was destined to reshape society became boring and cliché, like all high school texts do. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m paranoid enough to believe that this was a deliberate act on the part of the government, but it has had this effect nonetheless. Orwell (a.k.a. Eric Arthur Blair), a political leftist and part-time anarchist, in writing such a well-crafted novel, has inadvertently made cliché and drab the very ideas he was trying to denounce. His ideas have become so common that they have lost their sting. Mention “Big Brother” nowadays and many people think it’s little more than a dead-horse reality show.

Stop and think the next time you hear about the government overstepping their apparent bounds. Reflect a moment whenever someone makes a parallel to 1984 or “Big Brother”, and wonder what these arbitrary alterations to your “inalienable” human rights means. These ideas are even more relevant and immediate than they were fifty-eight years ago when the book was written.

Oh, and read the book. It’s good.