Novel by E. A. Blair, writing as George Orwell.

The impression I get from rereading this tome is that Orwell was more than a bit of a whiner. One of the reasons why this book played so well for teens in my day, I believe was the fact that the poor fellow never, ever seemed to have a nice day, and everything is always held to fall short of an unspoken, but unrealistic ideal. Music is inevitably "tinny", "sentimental", and "trite", anything at all from the radio grates on his nerves, and, while he's always hungry, never seems to enjoy his food: it's always described as "metallic", or "inedible". He doesn't like excercise, yelling insults at Goldstein, putting together fuses, or anything else the Party tells him to do -- it's a wonder that no one's noticed how listless he is towards everything. The furniture is beat-up, the decor is uninspiring, and everyone rats on everyone else (irony intended). Every woman is inevitably described as being morbidly obese, run-down, weary, 25-going-on-40, or just plain distasteful, and the one that isn't, he initially wants to beat with a rubber truncheon for being good-looking and unavailable, kind of like a cheerleader with a "True Love Waits" T-shirt. At her best, she wears makeup badly, looks like a female impersonator, and wears perfume reminiscent of an overaged whore. Any man who's not physically repulsive is repulsively physically fit and smells like sweat. Sound familiar, folks? It's high school!

In real life, Russians I know seem to have gone through almost all the indignities (except being bombed at and arrested) that Winston Smith did, except that mostly, their reaction seems to have been that life was well, not that bad. People DO have good and bad days, even in hellish conditions, get attached to things, people, and places, even under the worst possible circumstances ("Stockholm Syndrome", anyone?), and tend to be nice to people that have been nice to them and contrariwise. It's possible to like SPAM, not because it's somehow patriotic to eat it, but because it's Sunday supper at the commissary, when that cool guy Wayne is on duty who does that funny thing (no one else notices but you, you're sure) with the spatula. It's a quieter life, certainly...a simpler one, but not necessarily a a bad one.

And then there is Newspeak. It's kind of strange that the Party encourages everyone to speak in an affected jargon, and even to write articles in it, but no one in the whole book uses more than one or two words of it at a time in everyday conversation. Coming, as I do, from a profession where people often sound like they're talking in code (even when they aren't specifically talking about programming, security, or encryption), it's a wonder that those in the Ingsoc Party duckspeak Newspeak so ungoodly...and so rarely.

Another problem is that while you can assign words and symbols all you like, meaning is outside any outside force whatsoever. Think of all the contradictions in modern slang, where you can "feel super bad" (and be on top of the world), describe something splendid as "dope", "sick", "killer", or even "mad sick", decry being treated like a "special child", or declare an enthusiasm for a particular musical genre by proclaiming "Punk Rock Rules!". You can even "be down with" a political figure or hero, perhaps even Big Brother. It would be difficult for anyone but a highly trained observer to explain what is being meant by "real soon now", "life is hard", or "copious free time". Calling general horizontal tomfoolery "sexcrime" isn't going to deter huggermugging, any more than the words "crave", "addiction", and "decadent" make White Castle hamburgers, Macintosh computers, or chocolate less appealing.

The fact is that people just aren't that malleable, and neither are they predictable. A kind of Goedel's proof obtains when dealing with actual human beings, rather than the facile abstractions of Orwell's fantasy: no set of rules devised by human beings can adequately account for all human dealings. It was more than apparent, at least to me, that Goldstein is just as much a construct as Big Brother...I mean, come on, looking and sounding like a sheep? What if someone doesn't particularly like the government, but doesn't like, Goldstein, either? What if BB had groupies, stalkers, fans? In Orwell's world, groupies don't exist, neither do garage bands, sarcasm, graffiti, wise-ass teenagers, babies, office politics and/or gossip, or any kind of individual preference, even if it's the equivalent of arguing 98° vs The Backstreet Boys. While we're told that speeches and music go on constantly in the background, in the entire book, no speeches are ever quoted at length, and only one new song, "It Was Just a Passing Fancy", is given with its lyrics. Party members, he repeatedly reminds us, don't voluntarily sing, which undercuts the gung-ho atmosphere considerably. The whole novel is full of these tell-you-not-show-you details that inevitably have a negative slant -- he doesn't much like Communism, but he doesn't much like the alternatives, either.

The reason why the climax just doesn't work for me is that the betrayal isn't at all concrete: we only have the say-so of O'Brian that she betrayed him and Winston's incongruous protestation that they ought to feed Julia to the rat, not would be more fitting (I think) if they'd just put the two of them in the same cell and watched them go from "We're in this together, love." to "I wish you were dead." and then give them a turn in Room 101. Apparently, Orwell was more conversant on dealings with prostitutes than girlfriends: even at her best, Julia behaves like a walking sex toy rather than a human -- about the most perceptive thing she gets to say is that she thinks the Government is probably lobbing bombs at them instead of Eur- or East- Asia.

It's interesting, because just as the novel is an expression of Theory X, Apple Computer was concieved as the apotheosis of Theory Y. What has been considered the greatest commercial ever made, by Ridley Scott, for Apple Computer's Macintosh. It parodies IBM's hegemony of the computer industry with its huge mainframes by likening IBM to a dictatorship. Notable for a busty athlete throwing a hammer through a movie screen and footage of 100 skinheads, it's supposed to signify the end of faceless, corporate computing, and the beginning of a new era when people had the power. Steve Jobs, of course, is a "cult of personality" all to himself. Plus ca change....