Published 28 Dec 2016
Panopticism is the word to use to describe the events that occur in Orwell’s 1984. In this expression is found the harrowing acts of violence that pervade the novel, and that allow the government to define the parameters of human existence: That is to say, the autocratic control of the government with regards to the populace is omniscient. It is within the US government that the comparisons between 1984 and that other democratic state are diabolically similar.
There is no clear dichotomy between Orwell’s fictitious imaginings of a super power and that of the United States government. In all branches of a democratic society where control can be exploited it is, in both 1984 and the US government. This means that in the media, the news broadcasts, the home, the police force, every percentage where capital is invested there lies a nefarious underbelly of judiciary, legislative, and executive corruption.
In 1984 there is extreme use of privacy extortion; wiretaps are habitual, and in Winston’s home this remains supremely true. The most oppressing of events that occur in 1984 is the chronic changing of the dictionary. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth. His job consists of changing the past, rewriting history as it were so that the politics of Oceania are aligned in harmony with all existing present political persuasion. This means that Oceania can rewrite history so they are the victors in history and that means they can commit no evil.
In the US history the omitting of certain historical facts from history texts has been numerous; the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War Two was hidden; Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and put into concentration camps so that their political or cultural heritage wouldn’t jeopardize the American’s fight against Japan.
This omission was just one of many facts of horrendous inhuman actions the US has committed and tried to cover up. Even in Orwell’s fictitious wanderings there exists the slogan “Who controls the past, controls the future”, which is true in many US government cover-ups; it is in the belief that to keep the public ignorant of governmental activity is what keeps the public supporting their government, because if they don’t know something exists, then they can’t have an opinion for or against it, like the concentration camps.
In Orwell’s novel there are secret arrests that happen during the night. People are arrested for any number of ‘crimes’, for having freedom of speech, for having thoughts other than in support of Oceania (for which the thought police will have one arrested), for going against Big Brother in any fashion, there were arrests made and the person simply disappeared. In the US government’s history such arrests have occurred. The US government, now with the War on Terror campaign has aligned itself with that of Orwell’s thought police, and they have done this with Project Carnivore.
Project Carnivore is the US government’s Justice Departments initiative to keep surveillance on private citizens, as Ventura et al (2005) in their article Government and the War on Terror, “Perhaps the most intrusive web-based technology ever developed, Carnivore possesses the ability to essentially wiretap inpiduals’ computers, accessing every piece of datum flowing to and from a Central Processing Unit (CPU), provided the data were moved on a network connection”. This type of surveillance is cunningly similar to what happens to Winston Smith.
Winston Smith, though working at the Ministry of Truth remembers history as it was, not as it is written. In Orwell’s dystopia, media control is essential. The US government, and especially during the Bush administration is controlling the media in every capacity. Currently in the media there exists little or no dissent in the political views, especially views against the war; by controlling the media the US government controls the publics view on the outside world and the government’s interaction with that world. As Amy and David Goodwin (2005) state in their article Why Media Ownership Matters
The lack of persity in ownership helps explain the lack of persity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less persity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism.
There then exists a clear distinction between how the government controls the media, through biased view points and through only covering news that supports the government, not news that would cause discord in the public’s faith with the government.
At Winston’s job, he rewrites history, and by rewriting history, he is covering up a sordid past that if the public new that’s how government was in reality, there would be a mass wave of protest against Big Brother and the government would dissipate with so many of its citizens in alliance against autocratic control. The US government, during their war on terror, and under Project Carnivore, has done its own share of secret arrests, in detaining people they believe are affiliated with the Taliban based on their culture. The same stultifying fear that forfeits justice in 1984, is the same fear that exists in the reality of the United States, with their policies on protecting the American people by forcing certain parties to vacate the country, or by simply holding them in detention centers without cause.
On December 6, 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee in praise of this act, and it’s restructuring of the NSA, CIA and FBI. (Ashcroft 524) His rhetoric was patriotic and concise, and his views of the USA PATRIOT act and its changes seemed sincere. This was supported with the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which paved the road for the Patriot act itself. Eric Rosand wrote about the resolution in 2003. His response to its necessity was one of sympathy to the government, for having to face such a difficult challenge.
However, not everyone who has commented on the alterations of the US governmental policy has done so with such reverence. David Cole compared the investigations into possible terrorist cells in the United States, to the “Palmer Raids” of 1919 – where, following a series of bombings, J. Edgar Hoover led a series of “round ups” of immigrants across the country and held them without trial or charge in “unconscionable conditions, interrogated incommunicado and in some cases tortured”. (529)
1984 is similar to the US government in the scotching of human rights. Thoughts are controlled; lives are public domain because privacy doesn’t exist if even emotions are controlled. The media is the main link between Oceania and America. Dystopia exists in how the news is presented and how the truth is slanderous and causes a person very quickly to be an unperson, to speak Newspeak.
Though the simple act of ridding the nation of human rights and through secret arrests and detaining inpiduals without giving them proper due process of the law, 1984 and the US government could almost be one and the same. There is a symbolism here that cannot be ignored. It is in war that the two nations converge. War is good for the economy, and war makes peace. That is also the belief of the war on terror; war must exist first so that peace can follow. War creates jobs and the therefore raises the standard of living in Oceania and in America. The US government has used this type of propaganda to influence the citizenry to support war.
War equalizes the economy and every person benefits monetarily from such deeds. That is the similarity between Orwell’s 1984 and the US government. War is Peace. With the thought police and with Project Carnivore there can be no deviation from the norm, no freedom of which to speak. That is panopticism; the government keeping an eye on everyone and everything constantly controlling.
- Orwell, George. 1984. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. New York. 1983.
- Goodwin, Amy & David. Why Media Ownership Matters. Seattle Times. Sunday, April 3, 2005.
- Murphy, Sean. (April, 2003) Use of Military Force to Disarm Iraq. American Journal of International Law. Vol. 97, No. 2. P. 419-432.
- Rosand, Eric. “Security Council Resolution 1373, the Counter-Terrorism Committee, and the Fight against Terrorism”. The American Journal of International Law. Vol. 97, No. 2. April, 2003. P. 333-341.