Big Brother Is Watching You

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading more than usual. I’ve read Second Foundation and Foundation’s Edge, the third and fourth books in the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov and have just begun reading 1984 by George Orwell.

I’m two chapters into the story and I couldn’t help but marvel at just how accurate Orwell’s representation of the world is, in 2016. The Internet has been the invention with the biggest impact on all facets of our lives, but it has also provided an extra avenue for governments, especially totalitarian ones, to snoop on us. Even in countries where democracy is still alive and citizens are granted rights and an expectation of privacy, there are clandestine programs designed to snoop on citizens in an often futile attempt to find ‘terrorists’, all in the name of national security. Most recently, Britain’s newly-elected PM Theresa May will now push her bill, that gives great powers to the government to snoop on online activities.

So let’s talk about the first two chapters of the book. It’s scary how things right now are exactly as Orwell presents them in the book. The telescreen, a rectangular metal plaque, like a dull plaque, is present in every house. It receives broadcast signals, like a normal television, but it can simultaneously transmit audio and video of the room and what everyone is upto, to the Thought Police.

We don’t have such metal plaques in our homes. Instead, we carry them in our pockets. Our smartphones are increasingly becoming an extension our bodies, receiving and transmitting everything about us, from our location to our browsing history. We don’t live in a dystopia, yet, but we are so close to the edge, the line is blurred. Consider this line from the book, which also applies to how most of us act when online.

You had to live- did live, from habit that became instinct- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

The concept of Big Brother is an interesting part of the plot. Big Brother is, I think, a symbolic figure head of the government,rather than an actual person, but I might be wrong. Every little piece of government propaganda mentions Big Brother; his face and the motto “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is present on everything, from coins and stamps, to posters and banners. The kind of adulation Big Brother receives from the government and party members, I’m pretty sure there might be legends of him being all powerful and immortal.

I also noticed a couple of parallels between religion and Big Brother. The worship bordering on obsession, the slow, rhythmical chant of “B-B!” after the Two Minute Hate, which to me, felt like a prayer and worship session, and also a platform to demonise groups who were different from the followers of Big Brother.

The little sandy-haired woman had flung herself forward over the back of the chair in front of her. With a tremulous murmur that sounded like “My Saviour!” she extended her arms towards the screen. Then she buried her face in her hands. It was apparent that she was uttering a prayer.

Thoughtcrimes, the mere act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that opposed the party, seem pretty common in most religions. Add to that the three slogans of the party, and you know just how much brainwashing is going on.

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Disclaimer: Now, I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I intended to offend any person or religion. I am just sharing my observations.

Good fiction doesn’t censor itself. The times I’ve written fiction, I’ve noticed that I tend to align my thoughts in ways that are politically correct. I censor my plots and words so that I don’t offend anyone. The actual reason might be that I’m not creative enough to make one where sex, or maybe a murder, might be needed.

The best fiction however, doesn’t hide anything. It adds everything, to make it better. Be it Asimov being a little playful with Janov Pelorat and Bliss in Foundation’s Edge, or George Orwell in 1984 or J K Rowling, they know that the “human condition” is an amalgam of multiple types of emotions and feelings. The bits of thoughts that might offend and are politically incorrect are as important as the ones about kindness or gratitude. Censoring those bits make the characters seem two-dimensional and distract from the immersive experience.

Case in point, Orwell describes the thoughts inside the protagonist’s mind quite vividly. We humans have tons of different thoughts in our minds and not all of them might be appropriate.

He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax. Better than before, moreover, he realized why it was that he hated her. He hater her because she was young and pretty and sexless, because he wanted to go to bed with her and would never do so, because round her sweet supple waist, which seemed to ask you to encircle it with your arm, there was only the odious scarlet sash, aggressive symbol of chastity.

The description might seem too vivid for some, but it just drives home how much the protagonist hates the woman in question, and why. We have many base emotions, and depriving the characters of those emotions makes them holier-than-thou in a bad way, and less relatable.

Those were my thoughts about the first two chapters. The next review/observation piece, after I’ve read the next two chapters, which I’m halfway through. What did you think of the points I’ve shared here? Have you read 1984? If so, what did you like about it? What points would you like to raise? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

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