One of the most fascinating and haunting novels I have read is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
A few years ago, I read through it fleetingly. Reading time was almost non-existent. I will be returning to Nineteen Eighty-Four soon. But this time i will align my reading with Yevgeni Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This journey will be disturbing. Nineteen Eighty-Four’s protagonist is a thoughtful, but peculiarly interesting character. After all, his creator named him obscurely as Winston Smith. It was not long after World War Two had been concluded when the brilliant journalist’s unappreciated manuscript finally saw the light of day as a published novel.
Perhaps Mr Orwell had in mind that war’s protagonist, Winston Churchill, one of the founding fathers of the new world order that we are only now coming to terms with. I recently came across a documentary of Naomi Wolf’s work, The End of America, which focusses on how George W Bush’s administration manipulated and abused the American Constitution and installed the primary device deviously termed The Patriot Act. During Wolf’s lecture before a small audience, continuous reference was made to the concept of Big Brother who is Smith’s antagonist in Nineteen Eight-Four. Big Brother is only seen as an intimidating and grainy mug shot which dominates every telescreen in every home, work place and arena across Oceania.
Oceania is perceptively and perpetually at war with Eurasia and Eastasia. At the time of my reading, I imagined that it was America at war with both Europe and Asia where Africa serves as a garbage site of what is left of humanity and its resources. More specifically, I imagined America at war with Russia. Perhaps I lost some focus during my reading of Orwell’s text, because I imagined a pristine and sheltered environment, clean and habitable and much like the universe that Yevgeny Zamyatin created in We. But when I saw Michael Radford’s masterful adaptation the other evening, I knew then that I would have to return to 1984, both book and year.
In nineteen-eighty four, I failed at my first attempt at the matriculation exams. I was forced to learn by rote and conscripted into a military regime which taught my fellow-conscripts to hate the other and trained them to kill the other. At the height of this masterful indoctrination was the fear of Communism and the false sense of security that was given to a small, but elite minority of citizens. I was far too young and loyal to family to be brave enough to conscientiously object to this form of oppression which spared no-one no matter who they were. The alternative was an undefined jail term.
Radford researched Orwell’s work very well. The mis-en-scene that he created is extremely bleak, damaged beyond repair and reminiscent of the so-called scorched earth policies pioneered by Churchill and his colonial predecessors. It shows up the consequences of men and women’s ignorance in believing just about everything that their politicians put before them while promising them the earth. The false notion of living harmoniously amongst your peers is drummed into everyone. And now that Big Brother has overpowered everyone, the propaganda machine is allowed to press on unabated alongside mundane statistics such as increased chocolate rations and coal outputs which is meant to bring some hope to the repressed souls. Here, the freedom of the press has been obliterated, as Winston Smith (John Hurt) realises quite early during the film’s mis-en-scene. It is he and not the benevolent Big Brother who is responsible for the increase in chocolate rations.
The thinking worker’s mind wanders. What if two plus two equals four, he asks himself. The possibilities are endless and abundantly clear, but they remain a disturbing and unattainable allusion for the concerned protagonist who indulges in uninhibited, but prohibited sexual congress with Julia (Susanna Hamilton). After they strip themselves of their dusty overalls, the naked body, even though theirs are frail and very white, becomes a work of art. But, inevitably this brief period of bliss and freedom for the two lovers expires after the Thought Police violently nab them. Freedom becomes an illusion once more for Winston and Julia. it remains a non-negotiable tract. And it is not even a memory for most of Oceania’s oppressed and thoughtless population.
During my reading of Orwell’s novel, I imagined the provocative interrogation room of O’Brien (Richard Burton) as being clinical and reminiscent of a doctor’s consulting rooms or a diplomat’s office. O’Brien is no diplomat and he indoctrinates, but does not educate young and thoughtful Winston on the benefits of having no memories of the past. Verbosely, Smith continues to put two and two together, but as a consequence, O’Brien tortures him brutally. Worse still, Smith is led to Room 101. While watching all of this, I could not help being reminded of Naomi Wolf polite allusions to the National Socialists’ methods of interrogation, intimidation and torture. We know them as the Nazis. Wolf was comparing the Bush administrations’ methods of torture allowed by the Patriot Act with the atrocious acts committed against six million or so Jews.
Painfully, Wolf excuses Israel’s security apparatus, because they are dealing with legitimate threats from “terrorists”. She was, of course, comparing Bush’s heinous methods with the Zionists.
The New World Order, spoken of in glowing terms by Winston Churchill, is an ominous threat to humanity’s free existence. They are threats, because in order for Big Brother’s New World Order to flourish and rule entirely over the rest of the world, people must be brought in line. There is no room for dissent or conscientious objection. Like the Jews, over one million Americans, never mind foreigners, were marked. In Wolf’s documentary these marks were vividly displayed on air plane tickets. SSS. And let us not forget the cryptic symbolism on the American dollar currency. Forget about “In God We Trust.”
Reading Michael Radford’s production notes was fascinating. George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was produced and shown in nineteen eighty-four. I couldn’t decide whether this was deliberate. Now, I think it was. If you were around in 1984, you may have noticed that the New World Order was rumbling into shape. An inept American actor was in control of the affairs of state and the rest of the world. Or was Ronald Reagan and his White House administration really in control? His deputy was George H Bush who was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency during Richard Nixon’s infamous terms of office. But, most of us may have been too young anyway. What I do remember is British rock star, David Bowie’s anthem, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s worth listening to. Curiously, Richard Burton died in the same year. His portrayal of O’Brien was masterful. Cold, calculating and even mesmerizing at times.
Radford had faith in his talented cast. Burton came dangerously close to usurping Hurt’s ornate portrayal of young Winston Smith. The legendary actor’s screen charisma was imposing to say the least. Provocatively, Orwell believed that this new world order would be upon us already during the nineteen-eighties, but viewing events throughout the thirties and forties, he could not know what shape or form it would take. He died shortly after his novel was published. I wonder whether he would have felt a sense of vindication or expressed shock when this New World Order began to progress rapidly as early as the nineteen fifties when the Cold War began and America and Russia vied for supremacy mainly through a new arms race which included the manufacture of deadly nuclear warheads and territorial wars which started in Korea, an Asian peninsula which is still a hot-bed of global uncertainty today.
Presently, events remain ominous. Guantanamo Bay Prison remains open for business. Barack Obama has yet to use his presidential privilege and pen and invoke an executive order to completely reverse the damage done by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. While Obama has set in motion the return of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and NATO has formally declared that the war in Afghanistan is over, geopolitical events prevent Obama from meeting all of the promises he made during his historic election campaign and during the melt-down of the stock markets in 2008. The threats made by IS (which is not an Islamic State in the truest sense of the word) and Vladimir Putin’s violent war charades across Ukraine may excuse Obama’s reticence. But this thoughtful president knows very well who or what started all the trouble in the first place.
And by putting America’s interests first, primarily their economic interests, Obama disingenuously contributes towards the increased possibilities of a third world war, rather than nudging the world towards global peace. It can also be argued, and has already been done extensively, that the ex-KGB agent is not one who can be manipulated or coerced. Time has favoured Putin, because through a then-constitutional imperative in Russia, Putin bided his time as a lowly prime minister while George W Bush provoked and bullied the world into believing in his ‘axis of evil” theory. He fooled British libertarians. but he did not fool Barack Obama who used his own mantra of change to reach the White House.
I cannot help aligning my own country with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. South Africa in 1984 was ruled with an iron fist by PW Botha and his National Party regime which propagated racist theories of the powerful control of a few over millions of others. Botha’s predessessor, BJ Vorster was an active sympathiser of Hitler’s National Socialists. In the context of apartheid South Africa it is also possible to draw a line in the sand and compare the bloody rule of the National Party over South Africa from 1948 to 1990 with Orwell’s Animal Farm where HF Verwoerd’s theory of separate development can be compared with the ruling pigs’ declaration that they were more equal than all the other animals on Orwell’s farm.
But the phenomenon of Big Brother was not confined to apartheid South Africa. In a remarkable volte face, the communist Joe Slovo proposed the Sunset Clause which essentially assured the outgoing Nats and their monetized followers a safe and secure journey across the Rubicon and the handing over of all organs of state to the Communist alliance which includes the country’s oldest established political party, the African National Congress. Today, South Africa is misruled by Number One, Jacob Zuma, who in his heyday was a spy much like his comrade in arms, Vladimir Putin. Nearly twenty-one years into this regime’s rule, the sun has yet to set.
Similarly, Big Brother has ruled over most of Africa since the fall of colonialism. Freedom and democracy, and with that, freedom of expression and the right to life, was promised, but never given. There are many pertinent examples of Big Brothers. Kenya had Jomo Kenyatta. Today they have Uhuru Kenyatta. Uganda had Idi Amin. Today they have Yoweri Museveni. Zimbabwe had Robert Mugabe. Today they still have Robert Mugabe who now holds the chair of the African Union which is incompetently presided over one of Jacob Zuma’s concubines, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Perhaps the worst despot of them all was the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko. It fell to Nelson Mandela to banish this larger than life kleptomaniac and murderer to Switzerland. The land that he left behind promised so much to its indigenous inhabitants.
Infamously, their land was also ravaged by Polish-born Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness.
These African giants spent most of their lives blaming the West for Africa’s perilous state while quietly allowing Communist China to rape the continent’s landscape and remove most of its natural resources, including its wildlife. But what the African dictators continue to do to this day is merely emulate what the Chinese and the Western rulers continue to do each day. An annual impromptu gathering in Davos dots all the p’s and q’s making sure that the rest of the world is never able to fully factor young Winston Smith’s heinous thought of two plus two equals….