Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

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Topic 1: What warning does the novel carry for readers at this point in time about where their society is heading?

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR’s society carries a warning to our society about where we might be heading. However I believe that we are already at a parallel with the society in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR . Taking the focus of the media it becomes very clear that our society is very similar to the one in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR if to a lesser extent. Looking at the media shows that the media have control over what we know and therefore what we think. Therefore who ever controls the media controls our thoughts, both here and in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR . By showing the similarities between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and our world through the media it becomes clear that our society is very closely related to that of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR .

Control of our knowledge
The media controls our knowledge of the outside world. If we don’t listen to the news we don’t find out what is happening in other countries. The media can be very selective about what stories they broadcast; they will broadcast the news that they think the public will want to hear. An example of this in our world was the September 11 attacks. We heard lots of news about how approximately 7000 people died but we didn’t hear about:
o     The floods in India which killed thousands of people
o     The 32700(approx) people who died from hunger and curable diseases on September 11.
In NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR Ingsoc controls the media. They decide what the people need to know and so effectively control their knowledge. If the party says that Oceania is at war with Eastasia then for all the people know it is. This is also true if the party says that Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Effectively the media controls our knowledge – we know what they choose to broadcast.

Control of media
Every media group is controlled by somebody. Whoever controls it controls what is broadcast to the public. The extreme case of this is in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR . The party controls the media and so all stories go through them. They broadcast what they think it is necessary for the people to know and that is the end of the story. The party is basically the media and everything they say is always correct. If it turns out to be incorrect they change their records so that it is correct.

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In our world the media is owned by various individuals. For Example “News Corporation” is owned by Rupert Murdoch. He has ultimate control of what goes into the articles and broadcasts. He might also be biased towards some friends of his and so the media he produces might be biased towards them. It also means that some of his friends might ask him to do certain articles that beNINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR it them. Whoever controls the media has control over what is broadcast to the public and therefore what the public think.

Changing of history
Changing history occurs in both NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and in our world. In our world it is the usually subconscious biases of the historians who write the events down. It has often happened in the past that a historian has changed the story slightly to show things from his or her perspective. This still happens in the media today if to a lesser extent. The media will change the story slightly if they think that is what the audience will like. For example when England lost the ashes to Australia in 2001 the English newspapers said, “It was a brave fight by the English but at the end of the day the Australians were just too good.” However the Australian newspapers said, “The Aussies ripped through the English batting order who could not stand up to the Australian bowling attack.” In our world most changing of history is just showing things in a certain perspective but in Orwell’s world history is changed for a purpose. History is changed so that the party is always correct and no one can find evidence to hold against them. An example of this is the chocolate rations. Big Brother said that it was likely that by the end of the month Chocolate rations would be increased from 30%. At the end of the month the newspapers had been changed to read “Chocolate rations increase from 20-25%.” This made the party look good and so kept up its image of protection over the people. The changing of history, even slightly is used by the media to portray things they way they want them to be seen.

Changing of language
The changing of language is present both in our world and in Orwell’s world. In Orwell’s world it is a very extreme case; the whole language is being changed. Once everyone starts to speak “newspeak” it becomes then impossible to talk about certain things. For example: the opposite of good is changed from bad to “ungood.” It could eventually become impossible to find words for certain things and therefore impossible to think about things that the party doesn’t want you to think about. In our world there is also changing of the language but it is much subtler. For example – it is a “conflict” in the Middle East, not a "war". In the Vietnam War "massacre" was changed to “incident.” And "civilian killings" was changed to “collateral damage.” When used in the media terms such as this portray to the public that the issues are not as bad as they really are. We are being softened up by the media - if subtly, so that when something big comes up we think of it as normal. In Orwell's world the changes had a specific purpose and were planned and centralised. In our world the changes appear to be more accidental. The changing of a language can make people think things are ok when really they're not.

Limited Options
Often it seems that the media or those who control the media present us with a choice. Often though the choices are not real choices at all. It is like saying to a small child “you can go to bed now and have a story or you can go to bed now without a story.” The choices are designed so that the child can not do what it really wants which is staying up. Often choices like these are used in the media. An example in our world was at the recent federal elections. Liberal or Labour was the choice but when you analysed the parties policies they were really very similar. In NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR there are even less options. What the party says is law and the people just accept it. There are some limited options such as which activity groups you will join but there really aren’t many choices at all. The media often present options to the public which steer them away from what they really want to do.

Diversions/ Co-option
It is a common practise of media to divert the public with another issue that might arouse strong feelings in the public. For example who really wants to know about the conflict in the Middle East when we could be watching the football or some other sport. Things such as sport and fashions are often used to divert people from “world news.” In NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR the telescreens would give regular updates on the ongoing war. This distracted the public from what the party was actually doing. There is also another means of diversion used by the media called co-option. Co-option is where the media tells stories that are made to look significant when really they’re not. In our world, programmes such as “60 minutes” use this method. They broadcast stories like a woman who has so many cats she cannot feed them, and the two neighbours who are locked in a verbal war. These petty domestic stories take in many people and so they don’t want to know about what is going on in the world. In NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR “Hate week” is a type of co-option. The whole of Oceania spends months preparing for one week and so fail to notice other news items. In NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR Diversion and co-option are not used so much because the party has total control over the media. Diversion and co-option can distract the public from really important news while providing a believable substitute.

From this analysis it seems that our world is very closely related to Orwell’s. Our world does not have such extreme controls as Orwell’s does but things are still relatively the same. The media has the same controls over the public in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR as it does in our world. This carries the warnings to our society that things have already started to look like Orwell’s world and could change for the worse if things get out of control.

New Internationalist Nov. 2001 “Twin Terrors”
New Internationalist Apr. 2001 “Megalo Media”
Peace Courier Nov/Dec 2001
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