Another Victory Gin, please

1984 Signet Classic1 175x300I’ve just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984, and without giving away the end, I’ll say forthright that the ending is exactly as it should be. It might be silly to point that out first, but so many books & films have ruined themselves through predictably lame endings that such sublime endings are in short supply.

The story is already familiar, thanks to decades of imitation, spin-off and parody. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is under the boot of a totalitarian state. Crime is committed by thought, rather than by a tangible act. Government surveillance is ubiquitous. Doublespeak exists, so that people can tell lies and wholly believe in them.

Come to think of it, there’s another reason the story is familiar: the dystopia Orwell so cleverly imagined is not unlike our own. While Thoughtcrime doesn’t formally exist, citizens of all nation can be taken at the will of the American government and locked away indefinitely in secret prisons. And government surveillance: if you’re uncertain whether the U.S. government is spying on you, take our handy quiz:

Have you ever:

1. Made a phone call to someone outside the United States?

2. Had contact with known terrorist organizations?

3. Used the Internet since 2003?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re under government surveillance. And Doublespeak? Wikipedia has a page for Doublespeak, but I prefer a more concrete example.

And Victory Gin*……..is Bud Light.

Fortunately, my situation is not as extreme as that of Winston Smith, and I live in a country which allows p0litical discourse to take place freely (which does not happen frequently enough, as far as I’m concerned).

Political bandying aside, it’s an interesting book. Orwell does not display any amazing talent with dialogue (which may be intentional, given the nature of the book). Instead, Orwell describes the mental development/disintegration of the protagonist with profound clarity, and therein lies the real pleasure of the novel.

Even though I enjoyed the novel immensely, I don’t agree with the premise upon which Orwell builds the totalitarian regime which dominates the story. He seems to suggest (perhaps genuinely, perhaps artificially) that the human spirit can be extinguished, or at least reduced to nearly nothing, through a number of convincing techniques (victory gin notwithstanding). This premise strikes me as fundamentally wrong, for reasons that have nothing to do with 1984, totalitarians or anything of the sort. I can’t put my finger on why (yet), but I’m certain that a man deprived of human spirit would die, voluntarily or not….

More on this to come; for now, one last victory gin and then it’s off to bed.

*Victory Gin: The alcoholic beverage drunk by Outer Party members–it is colorless, oily, tastes like nitric acid and has a sickly smell. Drinking it causes an effect like being hit on the back of the head with a rubber club. It is the only product in Oceania that is both cheap and easy to find.

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