THE CURRENT

Orwell's 1984 eerily parallels reality in the age of Trump, says author

It was a novel set in a dystopian future —the year 1984. But in today's world of fake news and alternative facts, George Orwell's doublethink and newspeak seem more relevant than ever.
Ever since White House counselor Kellyanne Conway uttered the words 'alternative facts', sales of the classic novel 1984 went through the roof - taking a book first published in 1949, to the number one spot on Amazon. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
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When White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Donald Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer "gave alternative facts" when explaining this year's inauguration as the biggest in history, her words may have sounded familiar.

Perhaps something straight out of George Orwell' classic dystopian novel 1984.

John Sutherland, author of the book Orwell's Nose, tells The Current's guest host Nora Young that alternative facts is something Winston Smith, the tragic hero in 1984, could relate to.

"It's his business to put uncomfortable facts down the oblivion hole and recreate new facts, what we would now call alternative facts," says Sutherland who adds fabrication was necessary for the state to control the past and future.

"Orwell believed that in fact fabricating history was the way in which tyrannize consolidated the tyranny."

Director of the Orwell prize Jean Seaton recently re-read 1984 and says her experience was very different from when she first read the novel earlier in her life.
George Orwell's novel 1984 is a dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of 'newspeak'. Sound familiar? (The Associated Press)

"It doesn't feel distant to me anymore," says Seaton.

"It feels as if that's where I'm living. I am living in this new territory in which people think they can play with reality and get away with it."

Sutherland agrees that our world is increasingly fictional and it seems now "we have to turn to fiction to find out what the facts are."

He argues that one of the dangers we're facing in the Trump age is a sense that "we have a monopoly of right thinking."

"And there are these great masses — I mean Trump is still supported by a majority of the American people  — somehow they don't get it."

Sutherland relates the dangers of not understanding things to Emmanuel Goldstein's Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism in 1984, where he explains an elite group dominates a mass "who are stupefied for the purposes of that domination."

What scares Seaton is how social media has created a space where "you never have to encounter somebody that you disagree with and you never have to adapt or amend your views."

Sutherland says despite his misgivings about today's world, he is glad he has lived long enough to see, even though he does not know where it is going.

"If only he lived," laments Sutherland.

"We need another Orwell now to actually prophesy for us."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.