Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Images of Nineteen Eighty-Four: Fiction and Prediction Colin Greenland

To live in London during the first months of 1984 was a surreal experience. Coming through a dingy alley into Wardour Street, I passed torn posters of Big Brother, his image taken from Michael Anderson's film of George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four. There I was in 1984, looking at a real picture of an imaginary picture from 1955 of an imaginary person of 1984, an imaginary year in a real book written in 1948. I began to feel like Winston Smith, who wasn't sure what year it was.

In fact, in Britain in 1984 nobody could possibly have escaped knowing what year it was. Since months earlier, politicians, publishers, journalists, booksellers, television personalities and advertising copywriters had been falling over each other to remind us that this was the year of George Orwell, adapted from his book of the same name. In Orwell's book, people walked through dingy alleys past posters of Big Brother. The prediction had come true!

How people appropriate Orwell's creation, and how it offers itself for appropriation, make an interesting study. After all, George Orwell was not the first author to invent 1984. G. K. Chesterton had already done so, in 1904. No one appropriates Chesterton's invention, because he published it under the title of The Napoleon of Notting Hill, referring it to the past rather than the future. Orwell, in an act of conceptual piracy, stole the year and copyrighted it, so that when it eventually appeared, it would carry his face as trademark: our very own Big Brother watching us with consumptive concern from his Hebridean retreat thirty-six years before.

January was his peak. By April he was looking decidedly unfashionable. This Big Brother could be taken down from the wall, his image changed for that of Harrison Ford or a packet of Quaker Oats.

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