Doublethink – 27 years on
As you may have guessed from my first blog post (so very long ago, admittedly this place has fallen into disuse somewhat) I’m a bit of a reader. In the case of my first post this was about The Catcher in the Rye, a book which is widely regarded as a ‘classic canonical text’ and so it became one which, naturally, I was drawn to. You see in 2008, as I was about to set off for University, I decided it was about time I got back into reading and thought I would check out many classic and cult texts to see if I believe them to be worthy of their reputation. This started with Frankenstein and since then I have managed to flick my way through American Psycho, Crime and Punishment, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Catcher, 200 pages of Moby Dick (when the characters in a sea-faring novel are not even on the boat by page 200 I give up) and, as hinted by the title; Nineteen Eighty Four.
Now, for those of you unaware I’ll have a brief explanation.
Nineteen Eighty Four is perhaps the most known work of author George Orwell. Published in 1949, it presents a dystopian future where the world is a constant war between three superpowers; Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia and protagonist Winston Smith attempts to find his way to the ‘rebellion’ against the totalitarian, thought controlling Oceanic regime. Originally working for the Ministry of Truth (which concerns itself with rewriting history and thus is more concerned with Lies than Truth) Winston commits countless ‘thoughtcrimes’ as he holds a deep seated contempt for the regime, plans to join ‘The Brotherhood’ in rebellion, embarks in an illicit sexual affair with the character Julia and is eventually betrayed, captured and tortured at The Ministry of Love (again, the contradiction is self-evident).
Anyway, short English lesson aside the book is filled with very deliberate contradictions on the part of ‘The Party’ such as their slogan:
“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength”
as well as the Ministries I have referred to (along with The Ministry of Peace concerned with War and The Ministry of Plenty concerned with Starvation). This is explained in the novel through the concept of ‘doublethink’, a psychological conditioning whereby a person simultaneously thinks, accepts and believes two contradictory statements and it is through this that the society continues to function, everybody in The Party accepts that their acts are evil things done purely to cling to power yet believes wholeheartedly in The Party’s pure, unequivocable leadership and unity.
It’s at this point that my title becomes relevant. Indeed it has been 27 years since 1984 (you see what I did there?) and recent conversations, books and all other things have got me thinking about thinking. Admittedly Nineteen Eighty Four is a fictitious text set in a dystopian reality far removed from any we have come to experience in our world (at least the developed, democratic world in which I live) but when you look at the psychology of the thing it goes a lot closer to home.
I realise I’m ranting, I’ll get to the point. Specifically recently I have been reading Stephen Fry’s latest autobiography ‘The Fry Chronicles’ and at one point he speaks candidly about the cult of celebrity. In the modern age with information pouring in from all sources we know that the whole celebrity lifestyle with the glitz, glamour, and priveledge is a con. Just take one look at the newspapers (unless there’s a superinjunction out) and we can see that these ‘idols’ fuck around, drink, smoke, party and vomit in hedges just as much as many of us may or may not have done in our less dignified moments. Not only that but their lives and any whiff of privacy are destroyed thanks to the very papers we read (again, unless the courts deem otherwise). Yet still, for some reason, we both idolise them and in many cases want to be part of this world. Part of the group of people who vomit their way into DUI charges, attempt to explain their behaviour with an Anti-Semitic rant and shout fuck loudly at a camera in full knowledge that children around the country are watching. Why do we accept this sort of thing? I’m starting to think doublethink may not just exist in fiction.
We know that Wayne Rooney is a gruff young man; pumping with enough hormones, vitality and monetary backing to have occassional lapses in judgement and make mistakes like the rest of us yet as soon as he does something slightly wrong we jump straight up and express our vitriolic condemnation. We are willing to accept his shortcomings as long as he is entertaining us yet at the same time are absolutely appalled by it and would want to have nothing to do with the man…
Lindsey Lohan falling out of a club at 3am blind stinking drunk. Raise your hands if you’ve done that…my that’s a lot of you. Oh look, my hand’s up too.
It’s not just individuals but programmes as well. Many of my friends religiously watch The X Factor and are absolutely in love with how entertaining, exciting and touching these talented people can be yet, when pressed, admit that Cowell and the judges are the ones making real money out of it, are only looking for good television and know that a malleable voice and personality with a suitably emotionally-blackmailing sob story wins out over a talented by dull individual any day.
People nowadays are a lot smarter than some media outlets would have us believe. They know it’s a con, they know these people are monsters and they know the lifestyle is as misleading as any sentence starting with the phrase “I’m not a racist but…”. It’s doublethink – these preconceptions about the horrific nature of this true reality are substituted with a distorted one where everything is entertaining and lovely whilst still gaining some smug satisfaction from secretly knowing how fake it all is.
So the question is not do people know about this but rather do they care? We are looking at this world as if it were a shining diamond but underneath we are safe in the knowledge that it is in fact plain old carbon, filled with ordinary people making ordinary mistakes but, ultimately, under the scrutiny of the barking hounds of the public. Sometimes we really do forget that the only thing seperating these people from our own mistakes and personal agendas is that they are being watched, and guess who’s doing the watching.
I feel I may have somewhat lost sight of what I was originally saying in this post but hopefully it makes sense to all of you. Doublethink is a tricky phrase at the best of times but hopefully your confusion resulting from this post may make you pick up Orwell’s masterpiece and give it a try. Once you’ve read into the psychological minefield like I have maybe this look at the world will make more sense. it is a classic for a reason you know.