The 1984 Day is not a thing, but perhaps should be.
On April the 4th, Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell’s masterpiece, takes his first tentative step in a rebellion against the Big Brother.
The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp.
Instead of writing a diary today, 200 movie theatres, mostly in the United States, but also in Canada, Croatia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, will screen the movie version of “1984”, with the late lamented John Hurt, in a National Screening Day of protest against Donald Trump.
The event was created by Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the Cinema Arts Centre on Long Island in New York, and Adam Birnbaum, director of film programing at Connecticut’s Avon Theatre Film Centre.
“In particular, this undermining of the concept of facts and the demonization of foreign enemies [by the Trump administration] really resonate in ‘1984,’” Skolnick said…
“No one is suggesting that we’re living in Orwell’s world. But the road to that world is people just becoming disengaged and allowing their government to do whatever it wants,” Skolnick said.
Shhhh, no one tell Mr Skolnick that “1984” is actually about communist totalitarianism, not a democratically elected president of the United States of America, no matter how unusual, unappealing and unlikable.
Cultural landmarks like “1984”, or “Star Wars” for that matter, are political Rorschach tests. George Lucas created the galaxy far far away as a political statement on the Vietnam war, with the militarised Empire standing in for his own country, and the rebels perhaps for the Baby Boomer counter-culture, or maybe even Viet Cong. On the other hand, all of us who first watched it behind the Iron Curtain had no doubt that the Galactic Empire is the thinly disguised Evil Empire to the east and the brave rebels are all those fighting against communism in their subjugated countries.
In “1984” the right sees the left, and the left sees the right. And so Dylan Skolnick watches the movie (though I would like to think he has also read the book) and it reminds him of Donald Trump (“Demonization of foreign enemies”? Say what? Like those good guys ISIS and North Korea?). I have no doubt that if Donald Trump had watched the movie, he would identify with Winston Smith, fighting against the near-monolithic mainstream media which lies, covers up and carries water for its favourite political party, while Big Barack – quite literally, according to Don – is watching him, or at least listening.
At least in this, Dylan is right – we’re not living in Orwell’s world, except those unfortunate to live in North Korea. “The road to that world is people just becoming disengaged and allowing their governments to do whatever it wants”, however is more Hayek warning against the road to serfdom rather than Orwell musing on how we get to 1984. Having (barely) survive his stint in the Spanish Civil War, and having just watched the Soviet Union gobble up Eastern Europe, Orwell knew that left-wing totalitarianism is not something just evolves out of Western democracy; in no country in history has communism triumphed but for war, civil conflict or a coup; it has always been planted with bayonets and watered with blood. He no doubt would consider Trump grotesque but no reason for hyperbole and hysterics about “resistance”. You want to prevent “1984” from becoming a reality? Don’t waste your time watching old movies, stay well armed instead.
Disengagement from politics and abdication of power and responsibility to government is pretty much how you end up with social democracy and technocratic, managerialist statism; a Big Daddy rather than a Big Brother. Soft totalitarianism of the democratic left can eventually end up a lot more like “Brave New World” than “1984”. Both are terrible futures in their own ways, and we should guard against them, but neither is an immediate threat. Want to make a useful and reasoned contribution to preventing a totalitarian future? Study your history. Stay vigilant. Shrink the leviathan. Stand armed and ready; that’s how we’ve won two hot and one cold world war.