Scranton Column: Precisely!
Regardless of your political persuasion, George Orwell should be on the minds of everyone who is concerned about the state of our republic.
His writing has always fascinated me and as high school literature students hack (it’s a tough one) their way through his dystopian novel – 1984 – some culturally relevant concerns begin to permeate through the thick walls of teenage self-obsession. Teens, by their very nature, have, since the beginnings of teenagerhood, been mostly preoccupied with themselves and the insulated world they have constructed.
Through little fault of their own, the meaningful evaluation of issues more complex than what to watch on Netflix is sometimes a difficult proposition to attempt in class.
But, don’t despair! The state of our future isn’t without some bright lights and big reasons to celebrate. Those of us who are quickly entering that third phase of existence are acutely aware that the older we get, the more we can find it difficult to understand the machinations of people more than three times our junior!
Orwell does such a good job of pointing out the obvious contradictions through the delineations of characters designed to evoke a sympathetic and even guttural response from readers and many students recognize the thematic elements!
Orwell was writing in response to the state of the world back in the early and mid 20th Century when things were looking fairly bleak. His story centers around Winston Smith who finds himself in a culture obsessed with controlling just about every facet of existence — especially information.
What the students find especially unbelievable is how the government subverts any attempt to know what is really going on by the subtle, and sometimes obvious, ways in which Big Brother controls the narrative.
The very language we speak, read, and use is constantly being revised down to fewer words so that the usefulness of their meaning can become lost. Precise language is necessary in order for free-thinking people to make informed decisions. But when words like insurrection, traitor, fascist, nazi, and even democracy are hijacked as descriptions for something or someone that makes you roll your eyes or shake your head — look out!
This isn’t the first time young people have been constantly beat over the head with a narrative that is designed to cut off any kind of discussion or debate.
Winston rebels as only someone in his predicament can, but is eventually found out and taken to the “Ministry of Truth” for some evaluation, questioning, and re-education. All turns out well in the end as Winston realizes that he loves Big Brother but students can’t believe that he would just give up!
Young people are used to superheroes and rebels who buck the system and help others see clearly how the government has taken advantage of their sensibilities, exposes the corruption of false ideas and manipulation and eventually sets people free to make their own decisions and maintain their right to self-determine (think any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie).
But 1984 is just dystopian fiction and could never really happen — could it? Hopefully we got some regular heroes that are gonna make sure it doesn’t.
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