Daily Archives: June 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Frye on “1984”


From the “Foreward to 1984″ (1967):

“It would be a great mistake to assume that 1984 simply exhibits Communism to us like a monkey cage in a zoo, with the aim of making us feel more complacent about our superior liberties.  The book shows us not a monkey cage but a mirror.  Its society is the logical form of what a great many of us have already shown that we want.  One of the things that most disgusted Orwell was the masochism of some of the intellectuals around him, who thought that any totalitarian government was better than democracy because it was more logical.  Those who were pro-Communist ignored or explained away all the evidence that Stalin’s government was brutal, corrupt, and treacherous.  In other words they were willing to rewrite history in terms of their own prejudices.  The history incorporated into 1984 remarks that most of the intellectuals in the democracies had become authoritarian by 1940, and there is far too much truth in that statement.  Or, again, take McCarthyism, something that grew up after Orwell’s book.  I have read many letters in American papers defending McCarthy, and what most of them said in effect was: “Communism is such a danger that it doesn’t matter if his accusations are true or not; how are we going to feel protected unless somebody is constantly being denounced?”  That attitude was exactly the attitude that makes Big Brother possible.  Nobody wants to have the tortures and spying of that world applied to himself, but many of us would feel more comfortable if we knew that they were being applied to someone else who we could think of as dangerous.  The fact that the world’s most powerful  democracy let McCarthy get away with pure bluff year after year did not indicate a fear of losing freedom to Communism; what it indicated was a fear of freedom itself.”  (CW 29, 281)

Saturday Night at the Movies: “1984”


The 1984 film adaptation of 1984.  I cannot embed this video, but you may watch it in very high quality and in full at Google Video here.

The film was actually shot in the industrial ruins of England during the same time period of the events depicted.  It’s a very powerful little movie made at a time when the Brits still made such movies.  Note the propaganda film being shown during the opening “two minutes hate” sequence.  The first minute of it sure looks familiar.  Authoritarianism of the left and authoritarianism of the right end up in much the same place.

After the jump, the 1954 BBC production of the novel, if you’d prefer something more vintage.

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The Volkish Kitsch of Sun News


The cartoonish patriotic rhetoric of the Sun News promotional video posted Thursday — with its apparently out of nowhere military snaredrum motif that actually seems like an involuntarily blurted out confession of intent — is suggestive of the template for all such films.  These people too were “strong” and “proud” and occupied “the greatest place on earth,” as the Sun News people characterize Canada.  The formula is unmistakable and familiar: boilerplate nationalist narrative, lots and lots of sentimental images of mountains, lakes, and people dressed in native costume (whether lederhosen or cowboy hats), and music used alternately to reassure and to rouse.  Oh, and flags.  Flags, flags, flags, flags, flags.  It’s the semiotics of the inarticulate and easily led.

I harp on this because it is impossible to overlook at this late date what just two men — Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes — have done to degrade the state of reporting in the U.S. in little more than a decade, turning public discourse into a mad scramble of talking points and public opinion contests to be won or lost every news cycle.  Murdoch and Ailes have demonstrated that we can never be complacent about this noxious form of hidden-in-plain-sight plutocracy.  It’s not okay.  It’s never okay.  It costs us more than we can afford to lose at the best of times, and these are not the best of times: 1% of the population now possesses more wealth than the “bottom” 80%.  The attitude of the new right increasingly seems to be that only they are allowed opinions, and only their opinions have any basis in truth.  Their primary tactic is the shouting down or shutting out of dissent, either directly or (much more insidiously) indirectly through the brute accumulation of misrepresentation and lies and ginned up resentment.   As we’ve seen with Fox News, it leads very quickly to the denial of verifiable evidence altogether.  How else to account for the daily insanity that is Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin?  How else to explain that the hate-mongering of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly — not to mention a distressing (and apparently increasing) number of elected Republicans — has become an accepted part of America’s weekly fare?  We don’t need that here.

Salman Rushdie


Salman Rushdie on The Hour with George Stromboulopoulos

Today is Salman Rushdie‘s birthday (born 1947).  Rushdie, of course, was subjected to a death sentence by the Iranian Supreme Ayatollah Khomeini on February 14th, 1989 for his novel The Satanic Verses.  Frye makes reference to it in his last posthumously published work, The Double Vision.

I am, of course, isolating only one element in Christianity, but cruelty, terror, intolerance, and hatred within any religion always mean that God has been replaced by the devil, and such things are always accompanied by a false kind of literalism.  At present some other religions, notably Islam, are even less reassuring than our own.  As Marxist and American imperialisms decline, the Muslim world is emerging as the chief threat to world peace, and the spark-plug of its intransigence, so to speak, is its fundamentalism or false literalism of belief.  The same principle of demonic perversion applies here: when Khomeini gave the order to have Salman Rushdie murdered, he was turning the whole of the Koran into Satanic verses.  In our own culture, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a future New England in which a reactionary religious movement has brought back the hysteria, bigotry, and sexual sadism of seventeenth-century Puritanism.  Such a development may seem unlikely just now, but the potential is all there.  (CW 4, 177-8)

Twenty years later, the potential only seems more potent.