In 1977 the focus was on problems around the globe, the proposed oncoming nuclear war (yes, we were taught to duck and cover as we were close to an air force base and thus considered to be a target), terrorism, explosions in London (you see, cars and things blowing up on London was popularised by the IRA, not by some Islamic fundamentalists in the 2000s), hijacked aircraft and dictators like Pol Pot and Idi Amin. I never understood Idi Amin, and Pol Pot, to me, was the name of a place that sold plants. My teacher asked what I was reading, so I told her how I’d devour the library material, Topliner books, Colin Thiele, Enid Blyton (I loved, and still do love, The Secret Seven, the Magic Faraway Tree and The Famous Five) and those unique kiddie books that I can’t remember the titles of but can happily tell you the plots. One of my favourites was about a boy inventor who was named after Thomas Edison and who foils a plot by rigging the entire town with his various adaptations and inventions. That and Captain Midnite – the best Australian book about fictional bushrangers and talking cats ever written – were amongst my favourites.
I expect that my teacher decided that I needed to take the next step, so she gave me a copy of Watership Down, which I read and loved. It’s one of the top five books that I’d happily take with me to a desert island; such is its power and imagery. The final battle between the rabbits is some of the most emotive and impacting writing that I feel I’ve ever read. Watership Down set me on a path of wanting to know more and more than ignited my thirst for knowledge. She then gave me some non-fiction to read, in order for me to rightfully understand my role in the world, and how the world was shaped. Again, my eyes began to open, and open wide. I learned that not all history is what is purports to be, with the best example being the canonisation of leaders such as Winston Churchill, who, when you study things closely, was just as bad as those he fought. If you don’t believe me then ask the millions of eastern Europeans that he knowingly sent into the waiting arms of Stalin’s regime after WWII, not to mention those people he sacrificed for the glory of England in WWI and WWII, Australians and Americans alike. It wasn’t enough, I wanted more.
At the end of the year she gave me a Christmas present – a paperback copy of 1984, which she’d bought from a book sale for five cents. The best five cents ever in my eyes. I took it home and read it, but I failed to understand it, so I left it alone to enjoy my holidays, comic books and other crap.
A few years later I found that book and sat down to read it again. At the time I was engaging in Bible studies by mail – just because I wanted to know what the fuss was about, because it was free and because it meant I got mail and something else to read. Once I started to read Orwell the Bible studies went in the bin, which is not to say that Orwell made me an atheist, far from it. At the same time I read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and began to read Steinbeck and Hemmingway, the former I enjoyed, the latter I thought was a bit overblown and over-hyped, but different strokes. No matter what I read that year, 1982, I came back to Orwell. It was killing me and I felt a real fear that a fascist state would eventually be formed, in a mere two years hence. I’d go to bed, dream and be terrified. I decided to read Animal Farm as an antidote, and that scared the shit out of me even more. Suddenly I began to take notice of the world around me. Ronald Regan was on TV saying things such as, “The country that truly wants peace must first prepare for war.” This was a bit too close to Orwell’s ‘War Is Peace’ slogan for my liking. Reading Time Magazine I found only assisted in my then growing paranoia. I saw reports on the Balibo Five and read how it never happened, but my mother remembered it vividly. I then went to the local library and dug about until I found the contemporary newspaper reports that led me to question what I was now being told and make me wonder – who was this Roger East, why was he assassinated and why was nothing ever said about it.
From Orwell I branched out and found Aldous Huxley and Brave New World. That was it for me – by the time I was 19 I’d read these books, seen the world change and wanted to kill myself – depression via the classics. The fact that there was a certain culture that’d dismiss such authors in public as being subversive made me even more depressed. Books I loved became evil; people wanted me to read Peter Carey, Stephen King (which I did) and other so called ‘safe’ authors. I’d avoid them. One of the highlights of my life came when I found a 1st edition of 1984 in a garage sale. Sure it’s the paperback, but it’s a 1st edition of a book that shaped the world, and still shapes the world. I have that book still, and it will not leave my side.
I was one of the few who read Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta and recognised it for what it really was, an adaptation of 1984. It scared me even more via the immortal quite, "People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of the people". The thought that Governments would slowly, but surely, take over the people by eroding basic rights, removing privileges and engaging in propaganda and sloganeering. To me these were the things that Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin did, but the more I saw the more I realised that every Government does it, some of larger scales than others. Nationalism, censorship, newspeak, doublethink – it’s all there. It was all there, all along, always. We haven’t suddenly been thrust into the world of 1984; we’ve been there ever since Orwell published the book in 1948. Words cannot be written, you cannot comment on things that affect you directly, for fear of being branded a subversive, a traitor or worse. Video games control the masses, we are Borg. Torture; be it physical, mental or emotional is still in vogue, it’s the methods that change from time to time. Censorship really equates to suppression of the truth, of opinion, of fact or of informed view. The world we live in today is controlled by the few, for the few and not for the masses. Slogans are the key – get a good buzzword and you’ll win the race. The media, the internet – everything is monitored. The advice is that you should not even whisper in an elevator for fear that someone may overhear you and report you, that you should not post your thoughts and views on the internet for fear of being disciplined. These days there are more things that you should not do, for fear of your livelihood, for fear of your sanity; for fear that all you have and all you are will be removed. The swords of Damocles hang heavy over your heads.
Don’t believe me? Look out the window and see for yourself.
Big Brother is watching you. I know that they’re watching me.
If Ignorance Is Strength then I am weak. When I was young Huxley and Orwell terrified me like no horror movie ever could. Now I'm older and the world at large terrifies more than Huxley and Orwell ever could.