Monday, March 22, 2010

We Need A New Orwell...

Thumbing through my George Orwell Anthology today, I found this newspaper column, entitled "As I Please 23", dated April 21, 1944. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Orwell, or didn't realize that he wrote anything other than Animal Farm or 1984, he once wrote a series of weekly newspaper articles in wartime (Second World War) Britain. In fact, Orwell earned a fairly decent living writing newspaper features and book reviews, as well as writing novels and short stories.

Anyways, Orwell is my favorite writer from this point of view; I'm an amateur historian, and in the pages of George Orwell we find vividly illustrated something which both amuses and perplexes historians of all stripes -- we find that all societies make the same mistakes, repeatedly, and that there very often is very little difference between the world of 1540 and today in many important ways, even if the two periods in question don't appear very similar at first glance. The basic human condition pretty much always remains the same, despite the advance of time and technology. George Orwell was, if nothing else, a great witness; he saw everything, he missed nothing, and he had the talent to put it on a piece of paper so that even the dullest could understand it.

Now, in this particular piece, Orwell is talking about something which we Americans would recognize as a major topic of conversation in our modern society; the trustworthiness and efficacy of the media. Now, what made this piece particularly interesting to me is the little bit where Orwell talks about British newsagents with slates and little pieces of chalk. It reminded me of today's media tug-of-war; who tells the truth better, and who is often more accurate, honest and more accepting of opposing points of view: The Professional Journalists, or the Guy in His Pajamas Writing In His Blog? I also find it interesting that while the media has advanced technologically -- Orwell is speaking of Radio and Print, and these days we have Radio, Print, Television and the Internet and it's demon spawn, Twitter, etc. -- the original question hasn't changed at all.

For those of you who know even less than Animal Farm or 1984 about Orwell, consider this: He was a Socialist. Try to put what Orwell has written in this piece into Barack Obama's mouth, and try to imagine whether or not it fits. Would a modern-leftist talk this way? Would He sound as reasonable? I imagine not.

I sometimes imagine that the United States would have been a much better place if George Orwell had been born here, or if he had decided to emigrate to the United States before his death. His political convictions and past (he fought in the Spanish Civil War for the Socialists) would have meant the McCarthyism of the times would have kept him from these shores, but damn if our political discourse, and our culture, wouldn't have been markedly different with a writer of his caliber working within it. Instead, we get "Professional Journalists" who wrote the same "George W. Bush is a doody-head" articles for a decade, even after he's out of office, and they manage to draw hefty paychecks for it, and still expect to be taken seriously.

Anyways, enjoy, and dream of a world with another Orwell in it. By the way, the link takes you to the specific article, but the page gives you all of Orwell's "As I Please" articles for the first half of 1944, I think.

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