The Bootlickers

Another installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything.


It’s difficult to say for sure why George Orwell’s novel 1984 remains the universal shorthand for power and its abuse. But Andrew Rubin, an assistant professor of English at Georgetown, has an idea about how it happened.

His story begins with a list of communists that Orwell kept, and then gave away nine months before he died. He gave it to Celia Kirwan, who worked at the British Foreign Office’s Information Research Department (IRD).

Kirwan asked Orwell for a list of authors who the IRD could use to promote Britain’s image abroad, but he handed over his list of names, complete with job descriptions and his remarks.

A portion of Orwell’s list.

Decades later, when the list was made public, there was rampant speculation over why Orwell would hand it over. Famed Orwell booster Christopher Hitchens told Andrew it was an attempt to impress Kirwan, who had rejected Orwell when he proposed to her years earlier.

Regardless of Orwell’s motivation, Andrew says that by offering up the list he began an involvement with the IRD that’s a large part of why his books are globally famous today.

Andrew is the author of Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War.

Brigid Bergin/WNYC

As I was putting this episode together the New York City Police Department launched a campaign on Twitter to get New Yorkers to tweet photos of themselves interacting with NYPD officers. In a matter of hours Twitter was flooded with images of police brutality — baton bashings, hair pullings, and boot stompings — and all of them used the official hashtag, #myNYPD.

There was a time when images like these could spark riots in the streets, but today all we get are trending topics. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton even mocked the impotence of the photos, social media, and the press.

In her book Playing the Whore writer Melissa Gira Grant offers us a new lens in which to view contemporary power dynamics. Melissa’s book is about sex workers and their relationship with the Police, Journalists, and Feminists — but its also very much a book about bootlicking and power.

Melissa says it’s become nearly impossible for people to think about sex work without thinking about the police. But the cops aren’t the only ones responsible for this, they have help. Even some feminists — carceral feminists — who ally themselves with the police and call for punishment for sex workers, are also complicit.

Journalists who glorify the police, are accomplices, too. Melissa has even noticed news organizations helping out directly in acts of law enforcement, posting videos of and information about sex workers which the police give them.

What allies of the police don’t understand, Melissa says, is that they’re actually contributing to what hurts sex workers most: the system of policing itself.

Finally, we hear from ToE correspondent Peter Choyce. Your host got a ticket for riding his bike through a red light. He plans on contesting this (it was Yellow), and called Peter for advice. Was this a good idea? Of course not.