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Monday, February 9, 2009

1984 - Steampunk?

I was moved to re-read 1984 by Ann Coulter who said she is the liberal-left's "Emmanuel Goldstein". She noted that although we all claim to have read the book, few got her reference. It is a good book to read (or re-read) in our times. Maybe it is always a good book to read to think about your own time.

It strikes me first of all that this is a steampunk book, as I understand the category: technology projected inaccurately (by chance or on purpose) resulting in a much darker, grimmer vision than actual technological advances have produced.*

Secondly, I suffered several shocks of recognition as I was reading, not police state, totalitarian stuff, but the shifts in the experience of normal daily life:

Children are trained to be wild and ungovernable, while also remaining zealous followers of the party line, questioning only their parents' authority, never the state's. (Think anti-smoking, think environmental issues - the level of programming is comparable.)

Mass-produced "art" for the masses - pornography, cheap broadsides covering crime and sports only, music fabricated by computer-like machines.

The working tax-payers can be seen to be the Outer Party members, held to a boring and rigid orthodoxy, squeezed into position between the luxury-loving, nonsense-issuing Inner Party, and the unconfined, irresponsible Proles. Think of Al Gore, leaving his mansion to fly in his private jet to preach energy-responsibility, or rock star Sheryl Crow thinking we could all start using a little less toilet paper to save trees, while on the other hand, mortgages are given to people who have no hope of paying them, and little girls feel that they want to dress like prostitutes.

The marigold asks nervously: 'Twas ever thus or is it worse now?

* The Toronto Public Library defines "Steampunk" as a "steam-powered and clockwork-driven" future. I think that fits 1984 in style.