Wednesday, 27 March 2013

1984 by George Orwell:Manifestations in our Era I

There are times when your association with a book does not end up with the mere act of reading the final word. In fact, the book has already left such a deep imprint on your conscience that you can no longer fathom a renegade against the ideas or excerpts presented in it. Such is the case with George Orwell's 1984. The book was written in 1949 as an expression of the author's supposed prophecy about how an envisaged state of Oceania would look in 1984. The book talks about a strictly controlled regime, Oligarchy as the only political ideology , filthy lifestyles with procurement of desiderata being the primordial aim of life, false and specious claims made by the government, curbing of public thought and apostasy to not just the extent of spoken word but even to the public thought, total monitoring of all aspects of life, and the ever watching face of the Big Brother. If you ever wondered what could be the ostensible source of the concept used by reality shows like Big Brother and Bigg Boss, it was this book and its verses. Just like the cameras of BB house always stalked the participants and tracked every activity, the telescreens of Orwell's 1984 tracked every movement and every aspect of the citizens of the state of Oceania. And just as a poster sized eye of Bigg Boss or Big Brother seems to follow you wherever you roam in the house, the ever watching face in Big Brother's life size cutout seems to be following you everywhere with its heretical quote "Big Brother is watching you". If the book in itself inspired a complete cohort of reality shows which subsequently turned out to be so successful, I was wondering if there are many more manifestations in our current lives which apparently are veiled from our eyes. This series of posts is devoted to that intent.

The ever watching face of the Big Brother is nothing but an articulately captured face of the man who is the leader of the party that rules over Oceania. The face can be found on walls of the house, corridors of the residential as well as official buildings, corners and conspicuous points on streets and almost on every space that meets the eye. The picture could also be found on the currency notes of Oceania. The face and the associated quote is not just an ostentatious way of flaunting the face of the leader but a way of asserting their leadership and their prowess by virtue of using a very niche form of symbolism. The face is put everywhere and rules are setup against those who try to remove it or torn it. This makes sure that irrespective of where you go and what you do, you'll have a cutout of Big Brother observing you. The cutout is just an assertive entity which comes with telescreens which are comparatively paltry in number and can actually notice your activity unlike the face of the Big Brother that is just a piece of canvas or paper. However, the two combine to create a sort of trepidation that shrivels through the conscientiousness of the citizen in a way that vests the orthodoxies of the rule and the regime in his/her mind. The two form a kind of amalgamation to ensure that the public stays extremely wary about the consequences of going against the government ruling the state. The face may not observe you but the telescreens could. There were also certain concealed microphones whose presence or absence you could never be sure of. Hence the kind of effect produced through this was very humongous in magnitude. Every citizen of Oceania would have to think an umpteen number of times because of being in the notion of being heard or seen. The face of the Big Brother issuing the continuous uninterrupted warning just compounded the feeling of getting caught. It was all about using symbolism as an effective way of asserting your presence in a seemingly comprehensible way.

Its very perspicuous to find out a trend of modern rule where that heterodoxy is being vested. Ever watched a movie where the room of a police station or the office of a top notch government official was shown. You can easily spot photographs of certain leaders hanging of the walls. Some of these photographs belong to Gandhi or Ambedkar or Bose and there's nothing wrong with it because these virtuoso had a very relevant role to play in our independence and their thoughts ought to be promulgated by virtue of such presentations. What is peculiar are the photos of Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, for that matter. These individuals had no role to play in the independence of the nation and they were politicians in every regard and elected just like the other politicians. Hence irrespective of how much they did for the nation, these offices and the associated personnel must have had no compulsion on their own to put pictures of them on their walls. This could have come out either of sycophancy or adulation of leaders who belonged to the same political outfit, or out of a tacit mandate of putting pictures as instructed. In fact the trend could date back to the first elected government when photographs of a ruling leader or of a leader whose party is still ruling were for the first time put on walls. The trend strengthened and got somewhat fortified during and after the emergency when even the movie makers made every possible attempt to capture this connotation by deliberately placing cameras in a way that makes sure that these pictures could be seen.This was once again nothing but a mere way of asserting authority over those who are supposed to be the tier two of a hierarchy that was headed by the leaders whose pictures were concerned.Symbolism can be powerful ! It was so effective that during the emergency when the number of pictures put on the walls of the offices increased manifold, the proficiency and the throughput of the officials too increased considerably. This was done not at the behest of respect for the leaders but at the behest of the dread exerted by their virtual presence in their rooms.

This philosophy has now extended beyond the mere confinement of pictures and has spread over to statues and naming of public conveniences. This is particularly prevalent specially in UP. The leader who wins elections erects her effigies all over an area that runs for acres and acres, and renames most of the educational  institutions and important flyovers and buildings after her or after the man who contrived the ideology of her party. When the other party which is at loggerheads with this one comes into power, it demolishes these same statues,renames the same buildings after their own leaders and the cycle keeps going on and on. The parties wouldn't have indulged into this fracas if they held any skepticism about its efficacy, but the very fact that they spend a substantial chunk of their capital on it shows how big an impact it has on the naive and gullible lot of destitute and indigent voters who see upon these as their messiahs. Such is the power of symbolism and such is the applicability and the veracity of methods and modes that Orwell neatly described in a book that is so far from our reality and yet deeply imbibed in it.

Do pour in your thoughts and comments and remember, "Big Brother is watching you".