by Barry Beck
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four has always been one of my favorite
novels and was very influential in the way I see government, the ways
words are used, and the subtle forms of propaganda. Terms such as Orwellian,
Big Brother is Watching, thought police, double-think,
and group-think derive from this book.
theme in the book is a portrayal of how words and conceptions take on
different, misleading, and often opposite meanings and connotations.
In 1984, "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," "Ignorance is
Strength." This is comparable to terms that are in common usage today
such as fiscal responsibility, tax relief, tort reform,
the healthy forest initiative, no child left behind, the Patriot
Act, death tax, free trade, Social Security reform,
partial birth abortion, in discussions attempting to elicit support
for laws that would enact the opposite of what seems to be the cause,
or convince the listener of something which has little meaning at all,
or has nothing to do with the assumed concept.
the major government agencies are called the Ministry of Peace
(which conducts war), the Ministry of Love (which tortures people),
the Ministry of Plenty (which keeps the population in a state
of bare subsistence), and the Ministry of Truth (which alters
the description of events to conform with changing needs until they
become outright lies.)
Oceania is at war with Eurasia one day and the next day East Asia is
the enemy and the people are not supposed to realize the change. They
are encouraged to believe the ally was always Eurasia and the enemy
has always been East Asia. This is reminiscent of a situation where
the cause of an attack was Al Qaida, whereas we are led to believe that
Iraq is purported to be the cause of the attack and should become the
reason for our anger.
communication employed in 1984, terminology is twisted into its
opposite meaning to conform to an ideology. Language is simplified to
make original or complex thinking difficult and to make unpatriotic,
rebellious, or heretical ideas impossible to conceptualize or express.
An endless war, the continuous adjustment of history, or conflicting
versions and explanations of events and statistics... all these forms
of cognitive dissidence are no longer noticed. The ability to hold two
contradictory thoughts simultaneously while accepting and reconciling
the contradiction of both becomes the hallmark of a loyal patriot, as
long as he can accomplish this unconsciously.
Lakoff is a linguist who contends that conservatives have taken control
of public discourse by framing language their way. Think tanks and focus
groups' survey reactions to phrases have produced terminology such as
welfare reform, clear skies initiative, culture
of life, free
trade, and tort
reform (an interesting euphemism for ending consumer, worker,
and class action rights of recourse to the courts.) So ideas that seem
familiar to us have often been organized, rehearsed, and re-framed in
words and terminology which presupposes that there is any valid sense
or truth to them. It is a purposeful use of language designed to mollify
people who should oppose what is really behind the phrase.
a use of language
(like in Orwell's 1984) that means the opposite of what it says.
Liberal and progressive reaction will often be that today's conservatives
are iniquitous, deceptive, or obtuse people who need our explanations;
or that if they just had the facts we had, it would become instantly
apparent to them how fraudulently their beliefs are being used against
them and how people are voting against their own best interests. But
the issues are much more complex. People tend to vote their identity
and their values, which need not coincide with their self-interest.
You cannot convince people just by stating facts and trying to prove
that the facts contradict their claims. A person's framework or world
view trumps facts. In debates and public statements, President Bush
often used words like healthy, clean, evildoers, freedom,
safe, or phrases such as from the heart, we fight them
there so we won't have to fight them here, oceans no longer protect
us, we'll stay the course, we won't cut and run, they
hate us for our freedom... over and over (at least until he understood
they were no longer having resonance) and an assumption was that he
has a poor vocabulary or a limited grasp of ideas, or that these were
sound-bites that don't stand up to analysis. However, these terms were
tested by focus groups and he was very purposely advised to use words
and phrases in this particular manner.
believes the person who first frames the issue controls how that issue
is debated. It takes a lot more effort, time, and money to reframe an
issue than it does to be the first to frame it.
first chapter of Lakoff's Don't Think of an
Elephant and the first two chapters of Thinking
(who was an an advisor to Howard Dean) helped establish the Rockridge
Institute, a think tank dedicated to the study of linguistics and
References and Resources:
of the Past
Orwell Today from many perspectives
in the 21st Century
Summary and analysis by chapter
to love Big Brother - Bush channels Orwell
Orwell - a Life
the Media Can Legally Lie
Corporations Rule the World - David C. Korten
Republican Gomorrah - Max Blumenthal
- - through FreeBookNotes - suggested by Carole Fegan:
were at an all time low in 1964 after the defeat of Goldwater. It was
followed by ten years of very progressive legislation. As a response,
several conservative think tanks, magazines, mail order, and media outlets
were founded and funded by Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, and the
Coors family. Read more about the influence of conservative think
tanks and former Senator Bill Bradley's summary
of the phenomenon.
1980s, the Fairness Doctrine was revoked and media companies were deregulated
and merged into five or six major companies (for example, GE (NBC),
Disney (ABC), NewsCorp (Fox), Viacom (CBS), AOL/Time Warner (CNN.) If
we include two more major corporate groups, we have virtually every
major movie studio, broadcast or cable company, record producer, internet
outlet, magazine, and telephone company. (In other words, most sources
of communication to the public.)
media sources, consider that forty years ago there were three TV networks
with a half hour of news each day. Today we have hundreds of TV channels,
three major all-news networks, and the Internet where anyone with a
modicum of technical aptitude can give information and make their views
known. One would think that would make us better informed.
opposite is true. These are some possible reasons:
FCC's Fairness Doctrine (which encouraged greater social and
political responsibility on the part of media) was ended.
are now five corporate conglomerates that control 80% of TV, radio,
movies, computers, telecommunications/telephones, print media, cable,
and Internet. Thirty years ago, over 500 companies owned 80% of the
as everyone can choose a radio station that plays the music they like,
everyone can now choose the TV station that reflects their own interests
and opinions. So we no longer have a common experience in what we
are hearing or how we are taking in information.
due to the above, news networks are not driven to present the news based
on what people need to know. They are under enormous pressure
to present what will grab immediate interest (since people can just
flip the channel if they get a little bored.) News now is geared to
offend the least amount of people. Companies don't want to offend the
government and Congress who are making important decisions on mergers
and additional properties that the parent company of news organizations
want approval to buy. So we have the "O.J. phenomenon." The news getting
the highest ratings are what we get. We get the latest breaking news
on Michael Jackson, Jennifer-Brad breakups, the British royals, Jon-Benet
Ramsey, Scott Peterson, car chases, and Superbowl wardrobe malfunctions.
If it involves dramatic moving pictures, sex, sports, race, murder,
it's considered important national news. The so-called "reality" shows
are what we are taking for reality, for real life, and for information
that we need to know.
from the mainstream media, we need to be aware that the internet is
a totally horizontal electronic publication medium. But quality will
vary widely, and hierarchical control over content is extremely minimal.
So there is a greater responsibility for selecting what we hear and
read and accept. Broadcasters and publishers are responsible for providing
content. Hopefully, they will seek to provide balanced and accurate
content and abide by general ethical standards. However, there are no
guarantees, and the whole thing depends on a pair responsibilities:
those of the receiver and of the sender or information. Our best defense
is choice, awareness and critical thinking and judgment. Maintaining
standards of quality and credibility is everyone's responsibility.
Giants - Report from Frontline - PBS
of Page | Back