Tag Archives: george orwell

Post In Haste Repent At Leisure

I deleted that Facebook post I wrote after having consumed 10 pints of strong beer, the one in which I made unfounded allegations about Ms Y and Mr X. Its no longer showing on my Timeline so it’s all fine now, isn’t it?

Well no, it isn’t! Once something is out there on the internet it is impossible to completely erase it. In the above (fictional) example the post has disappeared from the Facebook user’s timeline. It has, however already been shared many times before the drunken Facebooker had the nouse to delete it. Mr X’s lawyer has already written to Facebook asking that they disclose the poster’s details in order that legal proceedings may be commenced against him. To compound matters Ms Y’s boyfriend knows who the poster is and is on his way round to his home to “have a word”.

In this purely fictional example one may smile at the stupidity of the poster. However such instances of stupidity are commonplace. Take, for example the unfounded allegations regarding certain prominent persons that they where paedophiles. Quite rightly the persons libeled took great exception to the slur on their character and sued.

I feel sorry for young people today. While at university there was no internet so student antics could not be plastered all over the World Wide Web (not that there was anything to plaster in the case of yours truly I hasten to add. I was, of course a model of rectitude …)! However in this age of the internet every unguarded comment made online can come back to haunt the poster. A young teenager, their emotional and mental development still in flux says something on social media which on reaching adulthood they bitterly regret. Sadly it often seems to be wholly irrelevant that the poster now genuinely disavows their youthful comments. The media shows no mercy and they are pilloried for comments which, had they been made in the pre internet age would have been, in all likelyhood long since forgotten.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell introduces Memory Holes. All scrap paper and documents which are no longer relevant or are embarrassing to “The Party” go into these recepticles and are taken to furnaces in the depths of The Ministry Of Truth for destruction. It is never made explicit in the novel but one is left with the strong impression that there are no such furnaces. The Memory Holes are just what it says on the tin – a place where information is stored by the authorities to be used at a later date against the population of Oceania. Virtual Memory Holes are alive and kicking for anyone with the patience and technical expertise to access them. Post in haste repent at leisure.

 

Kevin

Room 101

Today I was subjected to the worst thing in the world. I attended a meeting, at my place of work in room 101. In point of fact the meeting was an uneventful one. There was no O’brien threatening me with a ravenous rat in a cage which, if released would tear me apart. Nor where there any posters with the slogan

“Big Brother is watching you”.

Yet, for all that it was still room 101. My uneventful meeting got me thinking, not for the first time how words and phrases find their way into common usage, often with those employing them never having read the publications from which they eminate. How many viewers of the television programme, “Big Brother” have actually read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four? I suspect the answer is that a majority of viewers have not read Orwell’s novel, although most would, I think entertain a vague notion that “Big Brother” and room 101 originated in Orwell’s dystopian novel. It is rather sad that Orwell’s critique of totalitarianism has been reduced to the level of popular entertainment by the TV show, “Big Brother”.

Aquarium

A fish in an aquarium.

Tank brightly eluiminated so he can be observed swimming, swimming.

Encased in glass.

Water just the correct temperature.

Fed, content he swims.

Happily he glides through his regulated world, for ever observed.

 

A man travels on a train,

CCTV keeps him safe from pain.

Watched he sits contentedly munching, crunching.

For “your protection, CCTV operates throughout this train/station”.

The man is grateful, feels “safe” wrapped in his protective case.

Muggers, thieves are watched along, of course with him but, having nothing to fear he smiles, tut tuts at a headline in the paper and dozes, the movement of the train lulling him to sleep in this insulated world.

He dreams of yester year. A boy growing up, unobserved, free to roam.

Waking he shakes his head sadly,

“The world is a different place from when I was a boy. We must give up a little bit of freedom for the good of society. I have nothing to fear for I’m doing nothing wrong”, he thinks glancing at the camera which observes, keeping him, and the other good people “safe” from harm.

 

A woman plants a camera to catch her cheating spouse.

She observes the cheating pair, intimate details to make your toes curl.

 

A couple place tracking software in their teenage children’s mobile devices to keep them “safe”.

 

And still the fish glides serenely, content in his observed world.

 

Telescreen

The man behind the screen watches his cold blue eyes intent, malevolent. He sees all, watches the mould slowly eating the walls, but who watches the watcher? Do men with emotionless faces mark his every move as the huntsman does the game,until, at last the rifle is raised and …

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen

In his poem, In Memory of W B yeats, the poet, W H Auden wrote

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.”

 

Auden is one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, I do, however take issue with his view that poetry (and writing more generally) makes nothing happen.

In Oliver Twist Dickens portrayed the English poor law in all it’s brutality. He laid bare the cruelty of the workhouse and the corruption of those who, like the fictional Mr Bumble the Beadle grew fat by abusing the system. Oliver Twist is unremitting in it’s highlighting of the abuses perpetrated by Bumble and his ilk, however Dickens humour also helps to ensure that the novel remains widely read to this day. Who can forget his description of little Oliver daring to ask for more gruel in the workhouse? Dickens was not responsible for bringing about the abolition of the workhouse, however Oliver Twist undoubtedly stirred the conscience of Victorian England, indeed the novel continues to move our conscience in the early years of the 21st century.

To take another example, George Orwell’s terrifying portrayal of totalitarianism in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a world in which much of the population of Oceania is constantly observed by the telescreen, influenced and continues to influence those who oppose totalitarianism. Although a man of the left Orwell has been cited by people of both left and right in defence of pluralism. Auden’s view that “poetry makes nothing happen” was not shared by the regimes who banned Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and his much shorter novel Animal Farm. The former Soviet Union and other authoritarian states believed that writing can make things happen, why else would they have prohibited the works of Orwell and other critics of authoritarianism?

Doubtless the greater prosperity enjoyed by democratic societies had a profound impact on the populations of Communist societies. Despite the attempted jamming of western media pictures of life outside the Communist bloc did penetrate behind the iron curtain. The inhabitants of Czechoslavakia, Poland and other states which came under Soviet influence wanted consumer goods, however the intellectuals among the populace desired freedom and the writings of Orwell, Kafka and others kindled in them this desire for democracy.

In conclusion it can be said that Auden is right in the sense that writing in and of itself makes nothing happen. However the influence of authors such as Dickens and Orwell should not be underestimated. When combined with political and economic forces words can (and are) powerful tools  for good or ill.