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Tim Robbins on Orwell, Obama and the Media

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Posted on Jun 2, 2008
Tim Robbins
theactorsgang.com

By Kasia Anderson

It’s usually a reliable sign that a once-original idea has been utterly stripped of its impact by the time it becomes the premise for a reality television show. Not so for “Big Brother.” Several seasons of that particular televised train wreck have come and gone, and Apple Computer cashed in on the whole surveillance paranoia theme ages ago, eventually spawning an election-year spinoff last March. Big Brother is watching. We get it.

So what explains the staying power of George Orwell’s dystopian vision from “1984?” Now 24 years past its expiration date, at least in terms of its function as a futuristic cautionary tale, “1984” is all too relevant at this current moment. That’s how activist actor Tim Robbins sees it, anyway. In fact, Orwell’s powers of prognostication were so finely attuned that, when Robbins first read a recent adaptation of the novel for the stage by his theatrical colleague Michael Gene Sullivan, he thought Sullivan had added some more contemporary touches for dramatic effect. (It had been a while since Robbins had read the book—since 1983, actually.)

No, Sullivan hadn’t embellished; Orwell was just that good. Recognizing the story’s timeliness, Robbins decided to direct “1984” for The Actors’ Gang, the theater troupe he co-founded in 1982. The production has traveled around the country and abroad, and this month it’ll make a two-week stop at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts (REDCAT) Theater adjacent to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Robbins took a moment on Monday to talk with Truthdig Associate Editor Kasia Anderson about the play, as well as about campaign ‘08, some welcome sea changes he sees happening in the media and his own future prospects.

Kasia Anderson: Can you talk for a moment about how this “1984” adaptation found its way into your hands and what you first thought of it?

Tim Robbins: Well, I got a script from Michael Gene Sullivan of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. We’d been talking about doing a collaboration—with The Actors’ Gang—it was an adaptation of “1984.” I read it and I thought he was making stuff up, taking liberties with the book. So I read the book and was shocked to realize that I’d forgotten a lot of it, or maybe it just passed over my head at the time when I read it, which was in 1983. And so I called him up and said I’d love to do it and approached the Gang and we did it, and we been doing it since 2005, I think.

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Anderson: So you’ve been on the road with it a little bit.

Robbins: Yes. We did it in L.A. for a while and then we went on the road with it. I think we went to 40 states. Been to four continents now. We’ve been all over the place,  everywhere from a conservative area of Utah to Hong Kong [and] China. And it plays in all these different venues—it resonates—because it’s so relevant to what’s happening now.

Anderson: What were the details—or a couple of them—that you thought were added for exaggeration that you realized were in the book?

Robbins: Oh, I can’t remember. I can’t remember specifically what they were. It just seemed too relevant—too conveniently relevant. And then, of course, now I understand how prescient Orwell was when he wrote it.

Anderson: So, about those more conservative audiences—they took to the production as well?

Robbins: You have to remember that some of the staunchest defenders of personal liberty and freedom are Republicans, you know.

Anderson: True.

Robbins: And, you know, before this new wave of neoconservative Republicans, which is hopefully on its way out ... . Most Americans believe in public discourse, regardless of where you are, and regardless of the illusion that’s created by the media that seeks to divide us. There are open minds and hearts all across this nation that respond to this material. This is not an issue of Republican versus Democrat; it’s about liberty and freedom versus the oppression of those and the encroachment upon human and civil rights. You know, no one wants the government listening to what they’re doing. We want to believe that our homes are a place of safety and security and, you know, when you pass a Patriot Act that says a government agency can essentially break into your home and go onto your computer and if you find out about it you can’t even report it, we’re living in something that is a threat to democracy and free thought. And so I think that resonates with everybody.

Anderson: Right, so are you at all optimistic about the possibility that a Democrat could take over the White House soon?

Robbins: Well, I’m optimistic that the American people are in a mood for change. And regardless of who’s elected president, it’s up to the American people to make sure that it happens. Without constant advocacy, nothing’s gonna change, and I think people are coming to realize that, and one of the major steps I think people have made over the last six years is to reject more and more the mainstream media and what it’s telling them. I hope that it continues to go in that direction, to shift in that direction.

I think we’ve seen recently with [Barack] Obama that the major media has tried to—you know, have been up to their old tricks of repeating something on a news cycle over and over again until it resonates and destroys the candidate. And it just didn’t work this time. In fact, his support went up, and the reason, I think, is because—the two main reasons are that the major media sold a tremendously awful bill of goods in their propaganda to sell the war, and the American public realized that and are now seeking their information and truth from other sources. So the rise of new technology is really tremendously beneficial to free thought and a free press. And so our hope in our democracy lies in our new technology, and more and more people are finding their information and their news from the Internet. And it’s very encouraging that, when the Rev. Wright thing was happening, that so many people sought out YouTube to listen to the entire [sermon]. That’s a great thing for our country, and it also allowed people to make their own decision and not be told what to think about that.

Anderson: Our editor in chief, Robert Scheer, likes to point out the A.J. Liebling quote that says, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one ... .”

Robbins: (Laughs)

Anderson: ... So using the Internet is a way, in a sense, of “owning your own press.”

Robbins: Right, and [Scheer’s] a good example of someone who has, you know, existed in the media—he wrote for the L.A. Times for a long time, right?

Anderson: Yeah.

Robbins: And I don’t know if he still does—does he?

Anderson: No, he left in 2005, I believe, but he just had an Op-Ed [Sunday] in the Opinion section.

Robbins: Well, I think people are starting to realize that it’s very hard to retain your integrity when you’re working for a subdivision of a weapons manufacturer. And so, you know, I’m encouraged, I have to be—I have teenage kids; I see that they’re much more savvy than I was at their age.

Anderson: And this is also an election that seems to be sparking youngsters’ imaginations as well.

Robbins: Well, that’s true. I was talking to a couple Republicans yesterday—really rich, old school, in-their-60s Republicans who are gonna vote for Obama. And I think this presidency has gotten so many people fed up. My sense of it is that, if it weren’t for the possibility of fraud, this would be a landslide. ... I just can’t find anyone that supports the Republicans at this point.

Anderson: Are you, then, a Barack [Obama] supporter?

Robbins: Like I said, I ... yeah, I’ll support him, but I’m supporting the American people. I’m gonna make sure that people understand that it’s really up to them. If Barack’s elected, don’t think the major media’s gonna go away—the voice of the dividers will be stronger than ever. So, without a clear mandate and a real constant advocacy for change, nothing’s going to happen.

Anderson: You are one of those public figures that people both look up to and criticize for speaking out and using the arts as a vehicle to wrangle with some big issues. Do you think this kind of comes with the territory, or is it something that you’ve personally chosen to do ... ?

Robbins: Oh, hell, I wish we lived in a world where that wasn’t necessary. I mean, I certainly think that artists should be involved in the world they’re living in and should try to reflect humanity in the work they do. And part of reflecting on humanity is understanding what’s going on in the street and telling stories that reflect the society at large and not just an elite portion of society. Anytime you’re dealing with stories regarding the poor or the powerful, one has to address larger issues and, hopefully, we can do it in a way that’s entertaining or emotionally involving.

People have asked me, “Why do you feel like you should be the one that’s speaking out against the war?” And my question to them is, “Where’s the opposition party?” Where were those voices before the war, and why was it up to an actor? Believe me, if there was a Democratic Party that was functioning as an opposition party in that time period, I would see absolutely no reason to go on television. And, in fact, I was only invited on one show. And if you look at [national media watch group] FAIR’s study on this, they had something like 560-some-odd advocates for the war, pro-war, or “military experts” that were really working for McDonnell Douglas or Lockheed Martin advocating regime change or talking about Saddam as a threat. And in that same time period, there were about four advocates against the war. So, 560 to 4, at a time when the nation is 50-50 split, if you believe polls, is not a reflection of the society at large. In fact, it points very strongly to a concerted effort of propaganda.

Anderson: Can you tell us a little about The Actors’ Gang?

Robbins: We’ve been together for 26 years. We started at UCLA—we were kind of, I don’t know, punk rockers. We wanted to do our kind of theater—more energetic, involved, visceral kind of theater. We started in 1982 with a production of “Ubu the King.”  It was a French play. It’s completely offensive and violent and obscene, and it was a big hit and it started us off, and we’ve been together ever since.

Anderson: What’s coming up for you after this play’s run is over?

Robbins: Well, the Actors’ Gang’s got a whole bunch of stuff happening. We are reopening our show called ” Klüb,” which is kind of a ... well, it’s a very funny play about the hell of being an actor—eight people auditioning to get out of a room and, in fact, none of them able to get out.

Anderson: Acting their way out of a paper bag, as it were.

Robbins: Yeah, and they’re all terrible, by the way. Very funny. We’re reopening that in mid-June. We’re doing “1984” [at the REDCAT Theater]. We’re doing a production called “Bury the Dead,” which is an antiwar play from the late ‘20s/early ‘30s written by Irwin Shaw about four soldiers dead on the battlefield, being buried, and they stand up and say they refuse to be buried because they’re too young. They haven’t lived their life enough. It’s funny and sad and very moving. We’re gonna open that up [at the] end of July. And we also have our kids’ show in the park—we do kind of a burlesque Shakespeare show every summer in the park outside the theater, and this year we’re doing “King Larry.” And in the fall, we are working towards doing a project on racism. We’re very busy.

Watch a video clip about The Actors’ Gang’s production of “1984” below:

 


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By aghadilbar, February 23, 2010 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment
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My Open Letter (Blog) has been sent Five Lak (500000) to International Community for the welfare of Humanity till today. I Agha Dilbar authorize Newspapers, Magazines, Internet, to Publish and Radio, T.V. Channels to broadcast this letter all round the World.
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In this war 1-million people have died from 9/11 till today, if this war continues, it will become the 111- World War.200-Million people would die, if 111-World War is triggered) can take out 6.5 billion people of the World from abyss of destruction and then put them on the road to Progress and Prosperity.
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By aghadilbar, December 21, 2009 at 10:43 pm Link to this comment
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Happy New-year
Peace & Prosperity
Website http://aghadilbar.webs .com
•  Home
•  Blog
•  About Me
•  Guestbook
•  Photo Gallery
Agha Dilbar

My Open Letter (Blog) has been sent Three Lak (300000) to International Community for the welfare of Humanity till today. I Agha Dilbar authorize Newspapers, Magazines, Internet, to Publish and Radio, T.V. Channels to broadcast this letter all round the World.
To read my letter please click on blog.

Dear President Barrack Obama
the Great Leader of the World
I Agha Dilbar have sent Mr. President 100 registered research Letters (1000 new ideas to develop America and to Change the World for Peace and Prosperity) through Embassy of USA Islamabad till today and also direct sent these registered Letters to Whitehouse Washington DC 20500.These letters have been written on the guidelines of CHANGE WE NEED. And these letters are about the Common Men Problems of respected American Peoples and their Solutions. To end, Economic Recession, Unemployment and to Finish War, all round the World for Peace and Prosperity. In these letters I have sent one thousand new scientific Planning /Suggestions, about every walk of life for Peace through Friendship Progress and Prosperity all over the World.
Dear Barrack Obama, the Great Leader of the World, my Friend, my Brother, Provide an opportunity to Agha Dilbar to pay an Official Visit to America, that we two brothers can sit together and by halting this horrible war(In this war 1-million people have died from 9/11 till today, if this war continues, it will become the 111- World War.200-Million people would die, if 111-World War is triggered) can take out 6.5 billion people of the World from abyss of destruction and then put them on the road to Progress and Prosperity.

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By Expat, June 6, 2008 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment

I know from experience that you are wrong.  I don’t believe you are being truthful.  I have quit posting here and will continue to do so; this excepted.  I cannot let this go unanswered.

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By Truthdig Webmaster, June 6, 2008 at 1:03 pm Link to this comment

To alicecbrown and others:

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By Shenonymous, June 6, 2008 at 11:57 am Link to this comment

Just make new comments instead of trying to Reply to’s.  Reply to’s confuse everybody anyway the way one has to scroll up and down and up and down and up and down, bull crap.  Hey, go ahead report this!

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By Shenonymous, June 6, 2008 at 11:54 am Link to this comment

For Peter Shapiro…
The video is still above the comments and below the interview in this article.  You seem to be having a problem of it not appearing there.  I am right now watching it in the article and then again on YouTube.  It is only 2 minutes10 seconds long. On the video in this article click on the icon YouTube at the lower right corner of the video screen black box.  Also, once at YouTube, you can see other clips from 1984, a 4 minute 58 second video, and one for 10 minutes with John Hurt (I think that is the actor’s name). Check it out.

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By alicecbrown, June 6, 2008 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

Fantastic that on this site which features so many liberals that I admire and respect, upon which are discussed the Bill of Rights, the very basis of our society…..that some fool would let other fools censor content for whatever godawful reason.  I just reported every comment on this page, just to see what would happen.  I was not asked to stipulate precisely WHAT I found offensive, I just reported it.  I’ve found the same thing happens on IMDB: just report a review and they’ll remove it.
How mindless can a site reportedly manned or womaned by intelligent beings be so stupid?

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By peter shapiro, June 6, 2008 at 6:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

why was the youtube video taken down?

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By 911truthdotorg, June 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm Link to this comment

It’s too late.

The American sheeple are done.

They made 9/11 happen to create 1984.

bush did it in just eight years.

Just like Hitler.

History does repeat itself.

Except there will be no D-Day invasion to save us.

Amerika the beautiful?

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By Shenonymous, June 5, 2008 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

Freedom of expression and speech is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This human construct has to do with the morality and tvalue of liberty and has been determined by our society to be among the highest social values.

It is often argued that self-interest is always the first concern.  However, the self is an organic part of society and they cannot and should not be isolated from each other.  Without society, the self would not survive very well.  Even in instances where hermits survive, their quality of life has to be look at and while a solitary life can be had, it is indeed a cold and detached life.  The life of a hermit is not one that is coveted as witnessed by the fact that there are not that many hermits in the world.  We choose to live in a society and we choose our social values.  We all know that values are subjective in nature and particular things may have different values for different people.  That being recognized, we have common values among which are the freedoms of speech and expression. However, we also know within a civilized society, no one has absolute freedom in doing anything they want. There always exists one or more constraints. That is to say, anything that you do has to be within the limits set by the agreed to social constraints. By social constraint I mean a constraint imposed by rules of society, such as law, morality, or any rule of tradition, religion, custom, convention, or etiquette.  Just as a reminder:  such rules of society is established for the good or utility for society and, therefore, apply to all members of society.  Any action, without control or constraint, has a possibility of producing a harm to others or society.  The basic objectives of freedoms and rules of morality are to prevent or blame harmful actions. Freedom of speech and expression are two of those highest values.  But they also are not absolute.

Does Truthdig choose to ignore these valued freedoms when they select to censure and edit comments to their published article?.  They invite comments but hold the right to censure the content.  If certain kinds of language is undesirable, then for each and every article a brief declaration of what is not acceptable perhaps ought to be printed at the top of the section where comments begin as well as a note to go to the link for, “Please read and abide by our comment policy.”  Then at the bottom of the page under the Add your Comments block, then the caveat, “By submitting this comment, you agree to this site’s terms and conditions” is appropriate. 

The word imperialism is an extension of the word imperial. Imperial means having supreme authority.  George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) openly held left wing liberal views and expressed these most directly in his small essay Shooting an Elephant where he speaks of his hatred of the imperialism of the British Empire.  While in Burma, he realized the real nature of imperialism and the real motives for despotic governments actions. Wanting to know more of what he meant by “the real motives for despotic governments acts,” I searched out his views and found that he meant those real motives were enlargement of territory and greed for power and wealth.  Except for socialism, which was the only form of political ideology that would help the people of their society to increase their life standard, Orwell thought that all political theories and ideologies were “hopeless and disillusioning.”  He was as much anticommunist as anti-totalitarian. He saw that Communists always had to find scapegoats to hide their own failure and their own errors.  He said that Communism and Fascism are from the psychological point of view more or less the same and that their leaders were greedy for power and their political views did not matter so much so long as the meanings promised an increase of power.

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By Ann Droid, June 5, 2008 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

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By Purple Girl, June 4, 2008 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment

Second term of Ronny and Fiends (who already politically assasinated Carter with the iran Contra- HI DICK!!!!) and Of Course the Infiltration of the Dem Party by the covert Oepratives called the DLC.We’ve been on a Downward spiral ever since- W. was just another Ignorant arrogant Puppet for their amusement. Of course that still makes him GUILTY of any and All charges of Trreason, WAr crimes and Crimes Agaisnt Humanity- His ‘Counts’ of these high Crime swill only be fewer then Cheney,rumsfeld ,Wolfie…and of course their Corp Co conspirators

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By americahappens1, June 4, 2008 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment

——    http://www.americahappens.com  ———

Thank you

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By cheyanne, June 4, 2008 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s it really about upping the ante and raising the bar?  I mean just when you thought it couldn’t get more outrageous and absurd…Even back in 1948 when the book was written…..Here comes Orwell back from the grave…..... to re-visit us…...... only now it’s 100000000000X times worse. We need more shock and awe to cover the shock and awe the level of we already had experienced. Above and over the top kinda stuff.  like a drug addict needing a bigger and bigger fix because he builds up a tolerance level…so it goes with the BIG BRO deal too.

Orwell’s measuring stick for outrage and blatant disregard for the individual was right on time for it’s day, and in time.  I don’t believe anyone could’ve have ever see or foresaw this level of 1984edness.  He’d have to be a prophet or something.

Oh wait, somebody on this thread wrote India believes Orwell to be a prophet. Who knew?

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By alicecbrown, June 4, 2008 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

Hey, Tim,
Remember in 2002 when you addressed thousands of us on the Boston Common and said,“Hey, we’re getting out in front of this one, folks.  Unlike Vietnam, when it took awhile for the anti-war movement to coalesce.”  fat lot of good it did us.
So when will ‘1984’ be remade.  I’ve tried to buy copies for my friends.  Hard to find.
Interesting.
So, what journalist.as opposed to media whore, has written a book on “Why I quit (fill in any corporate media name)”? I’ve been looking all over for a book on the subject, but haven’t found anything.  Are book publishers ALSO on the take?

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By dlischis, June 4, 2008 at 6:41 am Link to this comment

Tim Robbins is my favorite activist/actor.  Way to get to his true punk rock soul.  You rule, Kasia.

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By samosamo, June 4, 2008 at 3:46 am Link to this comment

‘Orwell Rolls in His Grave’ is definitly not on tv. It is a dvd that should be bought from its web site of the same name:
http://www.OrwellRollsInHisGrave
Robbins 2 appearances are short but informative. He appears to be one of us.

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By Tbone, June 4, 2008 at 12:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wish I could see the production. Always enjoy T. Robbins. A great voice.

Some (other) thoughts on the Big Brother thing.

“I don’t watch much TV. But when I do watch it I do so in order to stay (somehow) in-touch. You know, in-touch with what’s happening inside contemporary western society’s third-grade brain. In the late nineties when the TV phenomenon “Big Brother” hit the airwaves a thought struck me immediately. Does anyone care to hear what my first thought was when this TV show started? No…?”

Rest here:
http://worstwriter.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/schadenfreude-german-speeding-ticket-1-big-brother/

-tgs-

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By samosamo, June 3, 2008 at 8:25 pm Link to this comment

The future is the future and any attempt to say this or that will happen in a certain year much less a certain month, date, time are feutal at best. I remember when January 1, 1984 rolled around and the book ‘1984’ popped into mind and being the ignorant fool I was looked around and thought about things but came to the conclusion that ‘1984’ did not necessarily mean it will happen in 1984 considering how long ago it was written.
Which brings to mind that famous biblical forecast in revelations or wherever(I don’t spend the short amount of time I have left in this life trying to divine meaning out of books of mythology) but the apocalypse would happen in 2000 or in 2000 years. And unless something goes terribly wrong in CERN at the new hadron collider and the whole universe starts to disolve or turn into a mass of gray goo the universe will go on, SNAFU.
I was impressed with Robbins appearance in R.K. Pappas’ documentary ‘Orwell Rolls in His Grave’. Good to know that celebrities that appear in the media can get important messages out to the public which the msm does so much to stop.

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By Roger Drowne EC, June 3, 2008 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Way Past ORWELL and it’s Global B.S.

.
Earth Citizens Unite Today - Join in Y/OUR

All New, Global

- EARTH RAINBOW REVOLUTION -

more inrmation at…

http://www.RogerART.com

Peace, Love & Later, RogerART.com & Friends
.

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By andy, June 3, 2008 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

just bought my tickets for 1984 at redcat!

thanks tD!

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By RBS, June 3, 2008 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Everyone thought Orwell was writing about the Soviets.

But Orwell was an imperial policeman in the service of her majesty’s Empire, a writer fighting for the socialist cause alongside anarchists and communists in the Spanish Civil War, and a radio propagandist for the BBC during WWII.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is about how governments of all ideological stripes maintain social control over the governed.

In Burman, they call Orwell “The Prophet.”

George Lucas is our American Orwell. Star Wars is similarly prescient in its understanding of Empire.

http://scorpionbowl.blogspot.com/2007/05/george-lucas-american-orwell.html

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By heecheeboy, June 3, 2008 at 7:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So what explains the staying power of George Orwell’s dystopian vision from “1984?” Now 24 years past its expiration date, at least in terms of its function as a futuristic cautionary tale, “1984” is all too relevant at this current moment.

The reason Nineteen Eighty-Four is “all too relevant” today is because Orwell was not writing about the future when the novel was first penned.  The future was a device location for the plot, and not too extreme an extrapolation from its own present.  The novel was about the period of time it was written in and Orwell was savvy enough to realize that human nature had not changed in his lifetime and was not about to change anytime soon.

He even lets us know that he isn’t writing a futuristic “dystopian” novel in one crucial passage when the protagonist Winston Smith first begins to write in his hidden journal, “To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984.”

Orwell is telling us many things in that little passage, but two crucial things should be obvious:

The first being that the problems of propaganda, control of information, and the marketing of ideas are universal themes, timeless; the second being that the power and expertise of public and private manipulation of idea was already so far advanced (even before Orwell’s day) that an individual could thoroughly lose one’s footing in one’s own historical place.  So thoroughly that one might not even be able to distinguish the relevance to the present of a novel purporting to be about the future that was written in the 1940’s.

In short, Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a “vision”, it’s an observation.

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By Can O' Whoopass, June 3, 2008 at 7:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

1983 was in 2000 when Bush ignored Clinton’s warnings.

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By Expat, June 3, 2008 at 2:58 am Link to this comment

^ in keeping with the spirit of Owellian behavior TD has started deleting posts based on content; not anger or racism/bigotry.  I for one will bid TD goodbye until and unless they change their Orwellian tendencies.  I will miss many of the posters here and you know who you are.  It doesn’t honor TD for them to become a clearing house for their version of the truth.

Expat, aka Verne Arnold

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