(Editor's note: Welcome to the first installment of On The Arts, a weekly column designed to provide the space for a virtual discussion of a particular book, play, movie or other work of art. Have an idea of what you'd like to see discussed here? Let us know in the comments. Our inaugural column focuses on George Orwell's classic 1984, which was published on June 8, 1949.)
Is it entirely impossible to make the argument that the totalitarian society George Orwell envisioned in his novel 1984 is slowly coming to fruition?
The classical dystopian novel—published on June 8, 1949—tells readers about the dangers of an all-encompassing and all-powerful government that monitors all aspects of its citizens' lives. The book's title suggests that Orwell thought that such a government could be in place as soon as 35 years after the novel was published.
But where are we today?
It seems all but certain that President Barack Obama will be challenged by former Governor Mitt Romney in this fall's presidential election. Sure, there are third-party candidates such as former Governor Gary Johnson, heading the Libertarian ticket, who are running to become the leader of the free world as well.
But any knowledgeable betting man has his money on Obama or Romney.
At face value, Obama, a Democrat, and Romney, a Republican, appear to be at different ends of the spectrum. Obama supports a woman's right to choose; Romney is pro-life. Obama ; Romney says marriage is between a man and a woman. Obama has been hesitant on drilling for oil on untapped American soil; Romney says, if elected, he'll drill.
While Americans to the left might disagree with those on the right—some argue Romney's election would be bad for America while others argue —there's a growing voice who see the two mainstream parties as being essentially the same in many regards.
This voice—that of the "anti-Republicrat," according to Robin Koerner—argues against "the mainstream of both parties, which have for years been eliminating our civil rights, sponsoring and benefiting from a crony corporatist economic system, and operating a militaristic foreign policy, seemingly to the benefit of a military industrial complex more than ... to the benefit of the nation."
Is the choice between Obama and Romney really that much of a choice?
The government Orwell imagined controlled information and history, kept surveillance on its citizens and also controlled their bodies, making sure they could be arrested and detained for the slightest facial twitch or "incorrect" thought.
Earlier this year, Congress that some say would have allowed the government to censor the Internet, controlling information. While drones are used to fight American wars in the Middle East, there's been talk of using drones to monitor Americans domestically, ostensibly conducting surveillance on law-abiding citizens. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed legislation to ban the sale of sugary drinks over 16 ounces, controlling what is allowed in one's body. Last year, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation which allowed the government to detain anyone—including American citizens—indefinitely, without granting them the right to a lawyer, assuming the government suspected that individual of having ties to terrorism. (A U.S. District judge recently ruled that provision in the bill was unconstitutional.)
So was the novel that made "Big Brother" and "doublethink" part of the American vernacular the work of an author who, whether he knew it, was quasi-prophetic? Or are all of these occurrences just merely coincidences?
What does this book mean to you? When do you read it? What kind of lasting effect has it had on you?