Is 2013 the new 1984?

First aired on The Current 14/06/13

Sales of George Orwell's novel 1984 have seen a drastic spike this week. Some are speculating the renewed interest in the novel are linked to the recent U.S. surveillance revelations put forward by Edward Snowden and President Obama's recent reference to "Big Brother" (a concept well detailed in 1984). Is 2013 the new 1984? In a recent interview with The Current, author Joyce Carol Oates says no, but it is an apt metaphor for the times we are living in. "While it's a really potent metaphor, it's really still a metaphor, it's maybe more of a warning than an actual reality."

Joyce Carol Oates said there are some fundamental differences between 2013 and the world outlined in 1984 but that doesn't diminish the power of the novel and it's relevance to today. She's not surprised so many people are turning to the novel this week and have a renewed interest in Orwell's concepts of "Big Brother," "doublethink" and "thought crime." "It's a brilliant novel, it's a visionary work, it's so well written, it's so stark and in it's way witty, it [has] dark wit...it's a masterpiece."

It's not just Orwell, Joyce Carol Oates sees similarities between fears of state surveillance now and fears other writers had in the 1930's and 40s: "It makes us think of Huxley's Brave New World where the populace was extremely docile and didn't really need to be terrified because they could be in a way brainwashed."

If you are not one of the thousands this week who revisited 1984, here is a list of facts you may not know about the book and Orwell.

  • 1984.jpgAccording to Orwell biographer Michael Shelden, there was never a colour photograph, film footage or audio recording of Orwell
  • Orwell wrote 1984 in a feverish state of tuberculosis, he died just months after the book was published
  • After Orwell's publisher read the book he commented that it was "amongst the most terrifying books I have ever read."
  • Orwell's title remains a mystery, originally called The Last Man in Europe he changed the title last minute to 1984. Some say he was alluding to the centenary of the Fabian Society, founded in 1884. Others say it's a reference to Jack London's novel The Iron Heel (in which a political movement comes to power in 1984).
  • Some hotels have refused to name their rooms 101 after the Orwellian concept from 1984 where there's a room that contains whatever its occupant finds most impossible to endure and it's called room 101 



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