One of the useful spin-offs from the recent (and ongoing purge and tidy) at Pritchard Towers is that every now and again something floats up that makes you think “Whoa, yes, relevant with a capital ‘R'”. The most recent relevant thing to catch my attention was a copy of Bernard Crick’s excellent biography of George Orwell. I’m not planning on reviewing the book here, or entering in to a biography George Orwell – that’s what Wikipaedia is for, after all!
No, finding that book set off a set of thoughts and conversations with my wife that resulted in me looking at the Britain that we’ve ended up with in 2009 – and I guess by extension the rest of the world – and wondering ‘What would George say?’
I encountered George Orwell in my teens, through the usual route of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’, I can’t honestly remember which I read first, although ‘Animal Farm’ was brought to my attention by my English teacher, a delightful Tory woman who had us read it after we’d finsihed the English Literature sylabus for our year. We took it in turns to read from the book out loud, then discuss the book; my main memory is of one girl mis-reading ‘the hens capitulated’ as ‘the hens copulated’, which generated a fair amount of sub-Beavis and Butthead guffaws.
One thing led to another and I eventually read all of his novels, essays, non-fictions and a fair number of his letters. My admiration for Orwell grew – I regard us both as being members of ‘God’s Awkward Squad’. 🙂 As a semi-professional writer, his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ gave me the basic rules of English prose that I have tried to adhere to to this day.
It’s a great shame Orwell died before the specious nonsense that is ‘Political Correctness’ came to pass – I could see him giving the PC brigade a thorough drubbing. He saw it coming; the essay above and the explanatory notes to ‘Newspeak’ that he placed in 1984 showed his perfect understanding of how manipulating the language manipulates the ability of people to use that language to debate politics.
By one of those weird coincidences that shouts to a writer ‘You’re on to something here, keep typing!’ I came across this item today. Put briefly, a High Court judgement states that in some cases the online archives of a newspaper must be modified after a libel judgement, even if the original item in the article is not libellous. Read the link for details – it’s a strange world we inhabit today. Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth would be a heck of a lot easier today than it was in ‘1984’. Earlier this year we saw the bizarre episode of Amazon’s e-book service removing a copy of 1984 from the e-book readers of Amazon customers, and New Labour’s penchant for Ministry of Love style surveillance and ID cards is pretty well known. I’ve also been reading a scary book called ‘Fantasy Island’ about the first 10 years of New Labour which details the half truthes and downright lies that NuLab have foisted on us in true Ministry of Truth fashion about the way our country has been run. (Worry not…I’ll review that book when I’ve finished it and it’s sunk in a little)
So, George would have a truckload of things to talk about today. Would he stick to newsprint? Would he blog? Tweet? Facebook? Engage with us on Internet discussion forums (where, no doubt, some of his less politically correct views might disappear within seconds of him writing them!)
I like to think of him blogging – his ‘As I please’ column for the Tribune newspaper, and many other shorter pieces (and longer ones!!) that he wrote were perfect Blog material. Just take a look at the lists of articles in the above link – it’s what you might see in anyone’s Blog today. Imagine him bashing away at his laptop, producing weekly blogs, drinking his famously stewed tea and smoking away. Although the latter might cause problems with some people these days… I could imagine various trendy web sites getting nastygrams from him after they ‘lose’ his cigarette in photos, courtesy of Photoshop. 🙂
There would be two sides to his blogs; the Orwellian political analysis and the Orwell-like commentary about anything and everything. An article decrying a Government injustics would share blog-space with a short piece on whether it’s right or wrong to shoot grey-squirrels, and with what gun. I think we could rely on him to be totally non-doctrinaire and frequently politically incorrect; Orwell had an intellectual honsetly that was often brutal, and it’s a shame we don’t get more of that today from commentators and writers. I could see him being on the occasional receiving end of ‘Twitterstorms’ after a piece of his upset some group or another by his inability to go with what the current trendy viewpoint was.
What would he have to say about our current media? Would our repeated diet of talent shows, soaps and reality TV remind him of the fiction machines of the Ministry of Truth? Would he regard our ‘underclass’ as the proles – in whom all hope rested in ‘1984’? PR people full of ‘duckspeak’? I particularly like the latter – there ARE people you see on TV who you don’t need to listen to to know EXACTLY what they’ve said about an issue. You encounter them on Internet forums as well… 🙂
We’ll never know – but what any of us can do is to start thinking a little more like Orwell – questioning, debating, standing out for our beliefs (at the risk of upsetting those around us), being political without necessarily being doctrinaire, being able, for example, to state in the same breath that ‘X is a great artist but a dreadful human being’ (as he intimated about Dali).
‘What would George say?’ to me means to exhibit a freedom of thought and expression, a freedom from fear of other people’s opinions and the opinions of the mass media. It means having an intellectual honesty about the world and myself. It means noticing the big political ideas of the day and the small nuances of daily life, and regarding them both with the same importance in my writing. It means being on the look out for the activities of our modern day Ministries of Truth, Love, Peace and Plenty. It also means finding hope out there – and not succumbing to teh despair that modern life can easily induce.
In his diary, Winston Smith writes “From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of double think – greetings!“. Whilst we have a way to go yet before things get that bad, it’s time for us all to spend a little time each day pondering ‘What would George say?’