In 1964 I could not finish 1984. I got about 100 pages in to the dystopic novel by George Orwell and I really thought that if this was the future, life was not worth living. I put the book down and have never looked at it since. Would I have had a better young manhood and maturity if I had finished it? Would I have been better prepared for the shenanigans of capitalism and the development of markets and consumerism and the vast increase in the world’s population that has taken place?
Or was 1984 a bit like The Shining or some such movie that frightens the shite out of you because you like to frighten the shite out of yourself ? I’ve certainly avoided horror movies, having been horrified aged 14 and unable to fathom why anyone would like to frighten themselves almost senseless.
But then it might have been that there were too many horrors in my life that were real, so I didn’t need a top-up, or to find artificial ways to manufacture fear. Give me Elvis Presley in GI Blues any time, or Phileas Fogg trying to get around the world in 80 days, via the imagination of Jules Verne. Or the film I have wanted to see but have never managed to, Around the World with Nothing On, all about you know what.
Pain, suffering and fear were not my thing and never have been. Although I can get behind some TV detectives, so long as it’s not too gruesome and it doesn’t involve murdered children.
I am a viewing ‘softie’, therefore. And actually subscribe to the idea that knowing too many of the bestialities of the world does not bring you any nearer to solutions; so why would you line yourself up for knowing the terror of what is being done somewhere in the world at this moment, if you are powerless to influence a satisfactory conclusion.
But 1984 seems to have become popular again and is enjoying new reprints and new relevance and status. Another generation is reading it for the signs and indications that we have arrived in a dystopic world. And to some extent you could say that that is true. Certainly there is Big Brother, as expressed through digital culture and the state knowing so much more about you than you have ever wanted them to know. And the Covid emergency has brought us very close to a state that has a tab on all of us.