George Orwell President Obama and PRISM

George Orwell, President Obama and PRISM

With schools across the country making Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series part of the curriculum, it makes you wonder just how far the country’s literacy level has dropped. Sure Ms Meyer’s series has been made into a few Hollywood blockbuster type films and placed number one on the best seller list, but, on a literary level her books don’t hold a patch to the work of that visionary author George Orwell. And since I am singing the praises of Orwell, have I told you the story of George Orwell, President Obama and PRISM?

Apparently, sales of George Orwell’s 1949 science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four have gone up. At the close of business on Tuesday June 11, the sales of the book, went up a staggering 29 percent. The reason this came about is that President Obama made reference to the book in a statement where he was defending PRISM.

With the recent unveiling of the National Security Agency’s nefarious dealings in the area of personal privacy, which consequently raised the question of just what constitutes infractions of our rights, is it any surprise that the book that invented the phrase “Big Brother” would suddenly become popular?

The sudden leap in sales figures for the book, put Orwell’s vison of the future on the Amazon “Movers and Shaker’s” list and moved the book’s ranking up an incredible 667 spaces from its spot of 871 to 209.

Of course none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for President Obama referencing the phrase that originated from Orwell’s book. In a statement last Friday where the president was defending the PRISM program, he said, ”In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

The phrase “Big Brother” was invented by Orwell in his 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which describes a totalitarian surveillance state in the future. The book, which celebrated its 64th anniversary on June 8, also introduced the world to other phrases and terms.

Besides “Big Brother” the book introduced the terms: doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and memory hole. Words and terms that have entered everyday use since the novel’s publication in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four also popularised the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past by a totalitarian or authoritarian state.

With the government helpfully telling us, the common citizenry, just how much of our private lives are not private any longer; the people who have purchased the 64 year-old book may be looking for answers. Or, at the very least, looking for the right questions to ask when and if they get the opportunity.

Or, they could be purchasing the book for use as a sort of training manual.

It seems almost like serendipity. George Orwell writes a science fiction book that prophesies a very scary future. The world did not come about until much later and now we have President Obama and PRISM. Is it serendipitous or ironic? Or perhaps it was destined to be this way.

We know that companies have been providing our “private” information to the government for years. But after Microsoft’s public admission that they have been supplying information about their customers to the NSA and the reveal of their new Xbox One, that must always be hooked up to the internet, (something which the company is now saying is isn’t necessarily true) it looks like disturbing parallels of Orwell’s future dystopian and paranoiac existence may already be here.

For those of you who are not “hard core” gamers, the Xbox One looks set to replace many things that each home already possesses. Your new Xbox can replace your laptop, telephone, television receiver and your remote control. With Skype, Kinect, and the “voice recognition” capability, you can control several things at once.

But Microsoft will be able to do much more than provide information to Big Brother, they can go one step further, they can let Big Brother right into your home; legally. Without all the hassle of going through the court system. Skype is Microsoft’s “free” replacement for your house’s telephone. For the government to “legally” tap your phone, they need a court order.

Would Skype, which uses Broadband, fall under the same laws?

It’s doubtful.

And that just deals with the issue of phone tapping. We know that the government already monitor our internet usage. Just not as much as they want to.

Now, read this extract of what life in Orwell’s future consists of, “The telescreens (in every public area, and the quarters of the Party’s members), have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone and so identify anyone who might endanger the Party’s régime; children, most of all, are indoctrinated to spy and inform on suspected thought-criminals – especially their parents.”

Quarters, in case you are a Stephanie Meyer fan, means home or house. If reading the above extract and remembering the Xbox One reveal doesn’t cause you to have goosebumps run down your spine, you need to read the entire book Nineteen Eighty-four. Not that it will make you feel any better, but it will let you know where we are right now. Although knowing won’t really help.

The book follows the love affair of Winston Smith and Julia, but the prevalent theme of the story is government control and the depth’s of it. It is also about the pain and futility of fighting said control.

One poignant scene has Winston and Julia meeting again after being forced to admit their “crimes” and by the act of admission they each betray the other. Mainly because of the horrid tactics practised by the authorities. While Smith and Julia have their very uncomfortable conversation he has a song stuck in his head:

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me—

But the song itself isn’t so disturbing as what it represents; a whole scale “selling out” of individuality and freedom.

Just as disturbing is a president who thinks his government has “struck the right balance” between Orwell’s future and ours. The very fact that President Obama made his “Big Brother” reference shows that he is aware of the implications of PRISM and his nod to George Orwell’s book crosses the line of disturbing and becomes frightening. Of course considering how the book turns out perhaps it shouldn’t really be referred to as an training manual, it may prove to be more of a survival manual.

By Michael Smith