Towards an ironic history of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book about pervasive surveillance and censorship under totalitarianism.
“An Egyptian college student carrying a copy of George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ was arrested in Cairo, raising questions about free speech under the country’s government with President Abdel Fattah Sisi.”
“Thailand has suppressed the film of Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s classic novel of dictatorship and surveillance, in the latest effort to quash dissent after last month’s military coup. Members of a film club in the northern city of Chiang Mai cancelled a screening of the film in an art gallery after police intimidated organisers with suggestions that it violated the law. Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a symbol of peaceful opposition to General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power from Thailand’s elected government last month after months of violent street demonstrations.”
“Police in Thailand yesterday arrested eight people for demonstrating against the nation's increasingly repressive military junta, including a man dragged away by undercover officers for reading a copy of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
“In George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the ‘memory hole.’ On Friday, it was 1984 and another Orwell book, Animal Farm, that were dropped down the memory hole — by Amazon.com. In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.”
“The [CIA] also changed the ending of the movie version of ‘1984,’ disregarding Orwell’s specific instructions that the story not be altered. In the book, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is entirely defeated by the nightmarish totalitarian regime. In the very last line, Orwell writes of Winston, ‘He loved Big Brother.’ In the movie, Winston and his lover, Julia, are gunned down after Winston defiantly shouts: ‘Down with Big Brother!’”
“It was banned and burned in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin’s rule for its’ negative attitude toward communism, and reading it could’ve resulted in your arrest. It has also been banned and challenged in many U.S. schools. During the Cold War, a teacher in Wrenshall, Minnesota was fired for refusing to remove 1984 from his reading list. In 1981, it was challenged in Jackson County, Florida (for being pro-communism!).”
It’s fascinating seeing elements of pop cultural representations of protests feed back into the visual vocabulary of real political protests in the streets:
“Do u hear the people sing,” a banner at the protest in Hong Kong right now comes from the title of a song in Les Misérables, that hugely successful Broadway musical set during French Revolution.
This past June, Thailand’s Junta warned protesters: “[T]hey are monitoring a new form of silent resistance to the coup — a three-fingered salute borrowed from “The Hunger Games” — and will arrest those in large groups who ignore warnings to lower their arms.”
And of course, the Guy Fawkes mask from Alan Moore's comic book V for Vendetta, later adapted into a Hollywood movie, was adopted by various Occupy protestors.
Related, the Pink Bloque (2001-2005) was a Chicago-based radical feminist dance troupe challenging the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal empire one street dance party at a time.
The group used matching pink outfits, choreographed dance routines, and humor as tactics to draw attention. For instance, performing Janet Jackson’s Nasty in front of Chicago Police Department, and Outkast’s Hey Ya! at a pro-coice rally, and in the face of anti-abortion protestors.
Excerpt on photography and nationalism in Thailand, from The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thalians’s Bhumobol Adulyadej by Paul M. Handley:
“At each juncture his power and influence increased, rooted in his silent charisma and prestige. Thais, who believe it is their land’s fortune, their karma, to be blessed with such a king, saw a man who worked tirelessly for them without reward or pleasure. His sacrifice was readily visible: while Thais are known for their gracious smiles and bawdy humor, and a what-will-be fatalism, King Bhumibol alone is serious, gray, and almost tormented by the weighty matters of his realm. Ever since the day his brother mysteriously died [in 1946, when Bhumibol ascended to the throne], he seemed never to be seen smiling, instead displaying an apparent penitential pleasurelessness in the trappings and burdens of the throne.
For Thais, this was a sign of his spiritual greatness. In Buddhist culture, either a smile or a frown would indicate attachment to worldly pleasures or desires. Bhumibol’s public visage was unfailingly one of kindly benevolence and impassivity. In his equanimity he resembled the greatest kings of the past, the dhammarajas of the 13th-century Sukhothai kingdom who were called Chao Phaendin, Lord of the Land, and Chao Cheevit, Lord of Life. Increasingly many Thais compared his noble sacrifice to the Buddha’s own.”
Photo from a 2006 subway mural in Bangkok, part of the King‘s 60th anniversary celebrations.