Whatever Happened to ‘1984’?

I like to think Apple’s Super Bowl commercial changed history, but that’s a bit far-fetched.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell

“1984” was published in 1949. It’s the story of a not-good-place where not-good-things happen to not-good-people — people like Winston Smith and his girlfriend, Julia.

Winston and Julia live in a land of oxymoronic proportions where the Ministry of Peace supports war, the Ministry of Plenty rations and the Ministry of Truth manipulates history.

We don’t live in that land. Why?

I like to think it’s because of Apple’s “1984” commercial — but, of course, that’s far-fetched and fanciful.

Apple’s commercial — which was directed by Ridley Scott and aired during the Super Bowl — ends with these words:

“On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ ”

Which leads me back to my question: “Why?”

I have a theory or two — which I’m willing to share — but first a few comparisons and contrasts between George Orwell’s projected future and the one that eventually played out:

· You may recall that Winston purchased a diary — a criminal act in and of itself. (Let that sink it.) Compare/contrast that to today: We Twitter. We blog. We Medium.com. We cogitate, ruminate and regurgitate. So much so that the danger isn’t that someone might read our innermost thoughts but that they might miss them. (Checked your Stats lately? I thought so.)

· Winston rents a place above the bookstore where he bought the diary. It’s a secret love nest. Away from Society. Big Brother. The Thought Police. Today? Nobody cares. No eyebrows raised. No titter-tatter. Doesn’t matter. People live together. Then they don’t; then they do. Facebook followers know which is which and, often, why. “Too many secrets?” Not hardly. Too much information? Most likely.

· There is no “Big Brother.” No authoritarian individual who knows all and tells all. Instead, we have Edward Joseph Snowden. Daniel Ellsberg. Mark Fell. Pfc. Bradley Manning. And more. For every powerful man (or woman) there’s a lesser who nets notoriety. They speak. They leak. They write. Then talk with Barbara Walters, “The Today Show,” “60 Minutes,” or Ellen.

· Plus, we have Wiki. We write our own history. Share it. Tweak it. Continually. In real time. Whenever we like. Wherever we like. Who’s goin’ ta stop us? Who? “Not I,” barked the dog. “Not I,” purred the cat. “Not I,” quacked the duck.

· In the end, Winston’s spirit is broken. He accepts Big Brother. Rejects Julia. Lives a moribund life of dreary drabness where Mona Lisa doesn’t smile, Edvard Munch’s “Scream” goes silent and Jackson Pollock’s dynamic pee-on-the-snow art is rolled over in tawny, tenné or tan. In our world? We watch “Big Brother.” Want to be on it. Or “Survivor.” Or “The Bachelor,” “Real Wives,” “The Voice” or “The Apprentice.” We know no limits regarding our desire to see or be seen. (Just ask Caitlyn Marie Jenner.)

So back to the question. “Why?”

Let’s let Dustin Hoffman put things into their proper perspective in this clip from “The Actors Studio.” (Be patient. The set-up takes about 2 minutes, 45 seconds, but it’s well worth your time.)

The point?

Some large portion of our species either wants to look at or be looked at. We lookers pay the fee — either directly in tickets or indirectly by letting our eyeballs be battered by billboards, adverts and commercials. The looked-ats and their agents rake in the dough with their “Do-Re-Mi,” and everybody goes home happy. Mostly.

We don’t live in George Orwell’s “1984” because it would require an arrogant regime so totally authoritarian that it would eventually collapse under the burden its own weighty oppression, like the old Soviet Union, or drown in a sea of blood, like the French Revolution.

The greater danger?

Society’s children will reach a point that in order to celebrate their own petty particulars, they will sacrifice The Great Freedoms to indulge in lesser ones. At that point it won’t be a matter of buying a diary and hiding it. It will be a matter of being assigned a diary and keeping it. We won’t have “Big Brother” to fear. The Little Brothers & Sisters of Vague Concerns will coordinate the power of the collective to save humanity from itself, whether it wants saved or not.

When that happens, Dear Ones, run — run hard and run fast. “If you fall behind, run faster.” For if you do not run, they will run you. Into the ground. With a boot on your flattened face. And you’ll like it …

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