On this Day:
Wednesday June 9, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Nineteen Eighty-Four
In 1949, George Orwell published his seminal novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, set in the totalitarian state of Oceania. (note: Wikipedia lists the publication date as June 8, 1949):
Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, often referred to as 1984, is a dystopian social science fiction novel by the English novelist George Orwell (the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair). It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. Thematically, Nineteen Eighty-Four centres on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of persons and behaviours within society. Orwell, himself a democratic socialist, modelled the authoritarian government in the novel after Stalinist Russia. More broadly, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated.
The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda. Great Britain, known as Airstrip One, has become a province of a totalitarian superstate named Oceania that is ruled by the Party who employ the Thought Police to persecute individuality and independent thinking. Big Brother, the leader of the Party, enjoys an intense cult of personality despite the fact that he may not even exist. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a diligent and skillful rank-and-file worker and Outer Party member who secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion. He enters into a forbidden relationship with a colleague, Julia, and starts to remember what life was like before the Party came to power.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a classic literary example of political and dystopian fiction. It also popularised the term “Orwellian” as an adjective, with many terms used in the novel entering common usage, including “Big Brother”, “doublethink”, “Thought Police”, “thoughtcrime”, “Newspeak”, “memory hole”, “2 + 2 = 5”, “proles”, “Two Minutes Hate”, “telescreen”, and “Room 101”. Time included it on its 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was placed on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, reaching No. 13 on the editors’ list and No. 6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, the novel was listed at No. 8 on The Big Read survey by the BBC. Parallels have been drawn between the novel’s subject matter and real life instances of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and violations of freedom of expression among other themes.
Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as subversive or ideologically corrupting, like the dystopian novels We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley, Darkness at Noon (1940) by Arthur Koestler, Kallocain (1940) by Karin Boye, and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury.
Some writers consider Zamyatin’s We to have influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four. The novel also bears significant similarities in plot and characters to Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, which Orwell had reviewed and highly praised.
The original manuscript for Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell’s only surviving literary manuscript. It is presently held at the John Hay Library at Brown University.
In the year 1984, civilization has been damaged by world war, civil conflict, and revolution. Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) is a province of Oceania, one of the three totalitarian super-states that rule the world. It is ruled by the “Party” under the ideology of “Ingsoc” (a Newspeak shortening of “English Socialism”) and the mysterious leader Big Brother, who has an intense cult of personality. The Party brutally purges out anyone who does not fully conform to their regime using the Thought Police and constant surveillance through Telescreens (two-way televisions), cameras, and hidden microphones. Those who fall out of favour with the Party become “unpersons”, disappearing with all evidence of their existence destroyed.
In London, Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, working at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites historical records to conform to the state’s ever-changing version of history. Winston revises past editions of The Times, while the original documents are destroyed after being dropped into ducts leading to the memory hole. He secretly opposes the Party’s rule and dreams of rebellion, despite knowing that he is already a “thoughtcriminal” and likely to be caught one day.
While in a proletariat (prole) neighbourhood, he meets Mr. Charrington, the owner of an antiques shop, and buys a diary where he writes thoughts criticising the Party and Big Brother, and also writes that “if there is hope, it lies in the proles”. To his dismay, when he visits a prole quarter he discovers they have no political consciousness. An old man he talks to has no significant memory of life before the Revolution. As he works in the Ministry of Truth, he observes Julia, a young woman maintaining the novel-writing machines at the ministry, whom Winston suspects of being a spy against him, and develops an intense hatred of her. He vaguely suspects that his superior, an Inner Party official O’Brien, is part of an enigmatic underground resistance movement known as the Brotherhood, formed by Big Brother’s reviled political rival Emmanuel Goldstein. In a lunch conversation with his co-worker Syme, who is assisting in developing a revised version of Newspeak (a controlled language of limited vocabulary), Syme bluntly reveals the true purpose of Newspeak: to reduce the capacity of human thought. Winston reflects that Syme will disappear as he is “too intelligent” and therefore dangerous to the Party. Winston also discusses preparations for Hate Week with his neighbour and colleague Parsons.
One day, Julia secretly hands Winston a note saying she loves him, and the two begin a torrid affair; an act of rebellion as the Party insists that sex is only for reproduction. Julia shares Winston’s loathing of the Party, but he realizes that she is politically apathetic and uninterested in overthrowing the regime, thinking it impossible. Initially meeting in the country, they later meet in a rented room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. During his affair with Julia, Winston remembers the disappearance of his family during the civil war of the 1950s and his tense relationship with his wife Katharine, from whom he is separated (divorce is not permitted by the Party). He also notices the disappearance of Syme during one of his working days. Weeks later, Winston is approached by O’Brien, who invites Winston over to his flat, which is noted as being of far higher quality than Winston’s. O’Brien introduces himself as a member of the Brotherhood and sends Winston a copy of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Goldstein. Meanwhile, during the nation’s Hate Week, Oceania’s enemy suddenly changes from Eurasia to Eastasia, with no-one seemingly noticing the shift. Winston is recalled to the Ministry to help make the major necessary revisions of the records. Afterwards Winston and Julia read parts of the book, which explains more about how the Party maintains power, the true meanings of its slogans, and the concept of perpetual war. It argues that the Party can be overthrown if proles rise up against it. However, to Winston, it does not answer ‘why’ the Party is motivated to maintain power.
Winston and Julia are captured and imprisoned when Mr. Charrington is revealed to be a Thought Police agent. At the Ministry of Love, Winston briefly interacts with colleagues who have been arrested for other offences. O’Brien arrives, revealing himself as a Thought Police agent, who tells Winston that the Brotherhood does not exist and Emmanuel Goldstein’s book was written collaboratively by O’Brien and the Party themselves as part of a special sting operation to catch thought-criminals. Over several months, Winston is starved and tortured to “cure” himself of his “insanity” by changing his own perception to fit in line with the Party. O’Brien reveals to Winston that the Party “seeks power for its own sake.” When he taunts Winston by asking him if there is any humiliation which he has not yet been made to suffer, Winston points out that the Party has not managed to make him betray Julia, even after he accepted the party’s invincibility and its principles. Winston accepts internally that he really means he has not rescinded his feelings toward Julia; he betrays her by revealing her crimes many times. He fantasizes that moments before his execution his heretic side will emerge, which, as long as he is killed while unrepentant, will be his great victory over the Party.
O’Brien takes Winston to Room 101 for the final stage of re-education, which contains each prisoner’s worst fear, indicating that the level of surveillance on the public is far more thorough than initially believed by Winston. Confronted with a wire cage holding frenzied rats, his biggest fear, in his face, Winston willingly betrays Julia by wishing the suffering upon her instead. Winston is released back into public life and continues to frequent the Chestnut Tree Café. One day, Winston encounters Julia, who was also tortured. Both reveal that they have betrayed the other and no longer possess feelings for one other. Back in the café, a news alert sounds and celebrates Oceania’s supposed massive victory over Eurasian armies in Africa. Winston finally accepts that he loves Big Brother.
When it was first published, Nineteen Eighty-Four received critical acclaim. V. S. Pritchett, reviewing the novel for the New Statesman stated: “I do not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation that it is impossible to put the book down.” P. H. Newby, reviewing Nineteen Eighty-Four for The Listener magazine, described it as “the most arresting political novel written by an Englishman since Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome.” Nineteen Eighty-Four was also praised by Bertrand Russell, E. M. Forster and Harold Nicolson. On the other hand, Edward Shanks, reviewing Nineteen Eighty-Four for The Sunday Times, was dismissive; Shanks claimed Nineteen Eighty-Four “breaks all records for gloomy vaticination”. C. S. Lewis was also critical of the novel, claiming that the relationship of Julia and Winston, and especially the Party’s view on sex, lacked credibility, and that the setting was “odious rather than tragic”. On 5 November 2019, the BBC named Nineteen Eighty-Four on its list of the 100 most influential novels.
The effect of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the English language is extensive; the concepts of Big Brother, Room 101, the Thought Police, thoughtcrime, unperson, memory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing contradictory beliefs) and Newspeak (ideological language) have become common phrases for denoting totalitarian authority. Doublespeak and groupthink are both deliberate elaborations of doublethink, and the adjective “Orwellian” means similar to Orwell’s writings, especially Nineteen Eighty-Four. The practice of ending words with “-speak” (such as mediaspeak) is drawn from the novel. Orwell is perpetually associated with 1984; in July 1984, an asteroid was discovered by Antonín Mrkos and named after Orwell (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Today, we don’t have a joke but rather an observation:
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” George Orwell (1984)
Second, a Song:
Eurythmics were a British pop duo consisting of members Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. Stewart and Lennox were both previously in The Tourists, a band which broke up in 1980; Eurythmics were formed later that year in Wagga Wagga, Australia. The duo released their first studio album, In the Garden, in 1981 to little success, but went on to achieve global success when their second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), was released in 1983. The title track became a worldwide hit which topped the charts in various countries including the US. The duo went on to release a string of hit singles and albums before they split up in 1990. By this time, Stewart was a sought-after record producer, while Lennox began a solo recording career in 1992 with her debut album Diva. After almost a decade apart, Eurythmics reunited to record their ninth album, Peace, released in late 1999. They reunited again in 2005 to release the single “I’ve Got a Life”, as part of a new Eurythmics compilation album, Ultimate Collection.
The duo have won an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1984, the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1987, the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 1999, and in 2005 were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. The Eurythmics have sold an estimated 75 million records worldwide. In 2017, the group was nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and were nominated again in 2018.
“Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” is a song written and performed by the British duo Eurythmics. It was released as the first single from their album 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother), which served as the soundtrack to the film Nineteen Eighty-Four, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by George Orwell. The song was produced by Dave Stewart.
“Sexcrime” is a song which features heavy sampling of Lennox’s voice, utilizing snippets of her vocal performance to produce a stuttering effect. Also prominently featured is the voice of Stewart, with the aid of a vocoder, uttering the phrase “nineteen eighty four”. It was the first of two singles released from the soundtrack album. The term “sexcrime” is one of several Newspeak words found within the novel.
The song was originally intended to appear in the film 1984, but was dropped prior to the film’s release. However, it was used as background music for the film’s trailer, and the song’s promotional video was included on home video releases of the film.
In addition to the standard 7″ and 12″ formats, the song was also released as a limited edition 12″ picture disc.
The single peaked at number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, becoming Eurythmics’ sixth consecutive Top 10 hit. It was one of the duo’s biggest selling singles in the UK, being certified Silver by the BPI for sales in excess of 250,000 copies. It was also a big hit throughout Europe, a top 10 hit in New Zealand, a top 20 hit in Canada, and one of the duo’s biggest selling singles in Australia.
“Sexcrime” met with strong resistance on United States radio and on video outlets such as MTV — the song’s title was particularly controversial to those who were not aware of the meaning of the word in Orwell’s novel. The music video (featuring a straightforward performance of the song by Lennox and Stewart) had limited rotation on MTV. “Sexcrime” peaked at number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was much more successful on the US Hot Dance Club Play chart, where it reached number 2 (per Wikipedia).
Here are the Eurythmics performing “Sexcrime” set to scenes from the movie Nineteen Eighty-Four. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” George Orwell, 1984.
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky