Big Brother is Blogging You

This post might mean the most to those around 40, 45 years old. Do you recall back in 1984, there was a whole lot of craziness about Orwell’s book and whether not it had come true? It was so pervasive and hand-in-hand with everything else happening in popular culture at the time. (Do you remember Weird Al’s MTV hit “Big Brother Just Wants to Have Fun”?) Everyone and their teenage cousin carried the book around like it was our generation’s Catcher in the Rye. And we were all quick to cry out that “Big Brother was watching us!” which was our shorthand for any adolescent criticism of the government or our parents, i.e. “Man, my folks are just like Big Brother, man.”

It's a webcam...Get it?

OK, cut to now. It seems that we’ve finally seen Big Brother…and he’s us. Blogs, Twitter, GPSs, Facebook, etc., willingly let everyone know what we’re doing, where we are, what we’re thinking—all of the things that were labeled Orewellian back in the 80s. We all assumed the infiltration of our privacy would come from our government; maybe we were too naïve to realize that the self-obsession of the 70s would re-blossom in this century as techno-version of a six-year-old boy dancing in his underwear in front of his parents’ friends: We want everybody to watch us.

I don’t think I’m expressing anything terribly unique, but I’ve yet to see a Time cover story (look above for my idea of what that very-unsubtle Time cover could be), an essay, a book, etc., that revisits those paranoid early 80s and places them in a 2010 context. Is it such an article out there and I’ve missed it?


Since it would be out of character to not include a clip, here’s a portion of Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eight Four (1984), which I think is a forgotten film. It had a pretty big novelty factor when it was released, but it had a lot of cool shit going for it, too: John Hurt is great casting as Winston Smith; the Eurythmics score attracted a lot of well-deserved attention; portions were filmed on the exact calendar days in 1984 that were noted in the book, which was hyped in the press; and the purposely washed-out look was commented upon in the reviews.

But the reason I’m showing this clip is because of a sound effect. I saw this only once in 1985, and this one sound left a huge impression on me. This scene is towards the end, after Winston’s been tortured and is talking with Inner Party member O’Brien. Listen for Winston’s body hitting the floor.

I never forgot this moment in the film, and it stuck with me because of the sound. Better than any visual, I felt his pain. (And the sound of the tooth being pulled out is nothing to sneeze at either.) That should have been a dead giveaway to me that this whole ‘sound in film’ thing was calling out to me.


Filed under Film

5 responses to “Big Brother is Blogging You

  1. illy c

    No, Big Brother isn’t us, it’s the corporate powers that be that we are so eagerly handing all of our private information to, in the name of our egos, from what shit we like to buy to what our politics are. At the time I read ‘1984’, I didn’t think it was so much of a generational handbook as standard fare that every high school student throughout time had to read. I just remember thinking it was pretty cool that it happened to BE 1984 (or around then) when we were reading it. And I don’t think you have to be very paranoid to draw the obvious parallels to our current society. In fact, if you aren’t a little paranoid about it, you are probably not paying much attention. The parallels aren’t subtle or symbolic, they are quite literal. We now have telescreens (webcams, allowing surveillance into our own homes), Newspeak (for example “blog” or “facebook”), and global alliances, the populations of which will easily switch sides when the media tells them to, no questions asked. With credit cards, cell phones, EZ pass, etc., it is impossible not to be tracked.
    I don’t know of a specific article commenting on the book as it relates to now, but look at any discussion of the loss of privacy with the growth of technology, for starters, and I don’t think you could have read anything during the Bush years without life being referred to as ‘Orwellian’. I only read ‘1984’ once, way back when, but every time I hear about a ‘Kindle’, I think about the scene where Winston secretly wanders into the prole section of the city and stumbles into a junk shop. He discovers an object, an old book, and is so intrigued by its tactile nature that he has to buy it. I think this causes him to get arrested later.
    Anyway, when you are done reading this note, please eat it. When no one is looking, of course.

    • I know there’s a lot of scuttlebutt about that Philly school watching the kids through webcams, but generally speaking, as of now, most webcams out there have been bought by individuals. The are not (yet) gov’t issued. That’s pretty much my point. I always imagined the ugly day when stormtroopers would crash into my home and overhaul to be under tight government inspection–when in fact, when the time comes, all the government will have to do is take control (by remote) of what technology we’ve already willingly put in place.

      • illy c

        yeah, but that is sort of the scariest part. All the willingness to give up privacy in this generation. The natural progression is that within the next generation, it is standard that every household has a camera in it, and in the generation after that, it is mandatory. You can’t presume that the world of 1984 happened by force. It happened by acquiescence.

      • Exactly. (Isn’t that what I wrote in the first place?)

  2. It’s clear that the ultimate triumph of the state in 1984 was the embrace of oppression by its subjects.

    “…a boot stamping on a human face–for ever.”
    “…in the end you will do more than understand it. You will accept it, welcome it, become part of it.”

    Even setting aside the fact that the intelligence folks have launched hundreds if not thousands of “private” companies, the fact that social networking sites bear a corporation’s logo and not a government seal suggests nothing, as we all know the private sector owns a majority stake in government, from sea to shining sea (thanks, Supreme Court!). My personal faves for sketchiness are the sites that track your location in real time via GPS (Foursquare, and the Google acquired Dodgeball). Whether or not there is a real interest in peering in, Sauron-like, on the drunken folks stumbling around Grand St in W’burg looking to mate, the value as a data test-set for counterinsurgency is incalculable.

    And what does the name “Kindle” suggest but a reference to how books were used in Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 411″…a platform on which books may be erased by digital edict, which in fact was recently the fate of the same “1984” we are discussing here!

    But I’ll lay my dark imaginings to rest as it’s a lovely day out there, and I’m using a mac, which in 1984 smashed Big Brother with a golden hammer. And my webcam is covered with a little piece of cardboard.

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