Saturday, September 22, 2012


Mary Lou Williams

Dirge Blues by Mary Lou Williams on Grooveshark


Prophecy and prediction are not quite the same, and it would ill serve writer and reader alike to confuse them in Orwell's case. There is a game some critics like to play, worth maybe a minute and a half of diversion, in which one makes lists of what Orwell did and didn't "get right." Looking around us at the present moment, for example, we note the popularity of helicopters as a resource of "law enforcement," themselves forms of social control — and for that matter at the ubiquity of television itself. The two-way television bears a close enough resemblance to flat plasma screens linked to "interactive" cable systems, circa 2003. News is whatever the government says it is, surveillance of ordinary citizens has entered the mainstream of police activity, reasonable search and seizure is a joke. And so forth. "Wow, the Government has turned into Big Brother, just like Orwell predicted! Something, huh?"  "Orwellian, dude!"

Well, yes and no. Specific predictions are only details, after all. What is perhaps more important, indeed necessary, to a working prophet, is to be able to see deeper than most of us into the human soul. Orwell in 1948 understood that despite the Axis defeat, the will to fascism had not gone away, that far from having seen its day it had perhaps not yet even come into its own — the corruption of spirit, the irresistible human addiction to power, were already long in place, all well-known aspects of the third Reich and Stalin's USSR, even the British Labour party — like first drafts of a terrible future. What could prevent the same thing from happening to Britain and the United States? Moral superiority? Good intentions? Clean living?

What has steadily, insidiously improved since then, of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In "our" 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the Internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old twentieth-century tyrants with their goofy mustaches could only dream about.

from Thomas Pynchon's foreword
 George Orwell, 1984


The Great Dictator 

The Great Dictator is a comedy film by Charlie Chaplin released in October 1940. As usual, Chaplin wrote, produced, and directed, in addition to starring as the lead ("Adenoid Hynkel": Adolf Hitler). Having been the only Hollywood film maker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin's first full-fledge talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film. A digitally restored version of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in May 2011. In this famous scene, and the closing of the film, the dictator has come to his senses and is now playing not as a dictator or even an actor, but as Charlie Chaplin with something to say.