Something weird happened to me this morning. It happened while I was reading a book. I’m a big fan of reading, because being sat quietly limits the possibility of weird things happening. And I don’t react well to weird things. My usual response is to panic, take liberal quantities of Valium, keep clutching hold of the bag of Valium for dear life, and lock myself in a room. Now obviously this response can be alarming to others when it happens in a public place.
Anyway, I digress before I’ve even begun. The weird thing that happened was that I had an experience that left me feeling as though I had actually slipped into the world of 1984. Sadly, I don’t mean the time of Madonna, Boy George, Ronald Reagan, JR Ewing, the AIDS epidemic, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. No, this was far worse. I’m referring to the Orwellian world of 1984.
In it Orwell describes a world in which truth and history are always in flux, forever changing to meet the needs of the society’s new narrative, he states:
Who controls the past controls the future
The protagonist,Winston Smith, is employed in the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite past articles so that they conform to his society’s current agenda. As the quote says, “who controls the past controls the future.” It’s reasonable to assume that misinformation, the bending of truths, and rewriting the past, played a significant part in Orwell’s dystopian world.
My 1984 experience came about because presently I’m reading The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. If you’ve never read any of his work and you have any self respect, then the next thing you will do today is order one of his books. I buy a lot of books, both digitally online, and old fashioned hard copy. Sometimes I fail to keep track of the books I’ve purchased and buy duplicates, of either the digital or the hard copy. I went for a foot massage, I always read a book during foot-massages, if you’ve never read a book while having a foot-massage, then the next thing you must do today, after ordering a Ray Bradbury book, is go and read a book while having a foot-massage. Think I might’ve just digressed mid digression, sorry. I arrived for my foot-massage, and horror struck as I realised that I’d been stupid enough to have left my book at home. But, then I remembered that I’d been stupid enough to have ordered it on Kindle, and it would be right there on my phone, all that was left for me to do was find the place on my Kindle where I’d read up to in the hard-copy and my reading and foot-massage experience could commence.
If you’ve got this far congratulations because it’s only now that I get to the bit when things get weird.
Settled into my chair, my feet being scrubbed with fresh limes, napalm would probably be more effective, I start looking for where I was in the book. After five minutes I’m convinced that the chapter I was reading doesn’t appear in the Kindle version. With nothing else to read I begin the chapter that is in its place. Oddly I recalled reading this chapter before despite having never read this book, The Martian Chronicles.
I was confused, bewildered, but having my feet rubbed, so I controlled the urge to tear open the bag of Valium. Bradbury’s writing is so enjoyable that rereading any of it is enjoyable, whether somebody’s rubbing your feet or not. The rubbing and reading lasted an hour before I set off for home and the intention of checking the hard copy of the book.
It didn’t take long to understand why the chapter had been removed. The chapter is titled “Way up in the middle of the Air”, and it starts thus :
“Did you hear about it?”
“The niggers, the niggers!”
“What about ’em?”
Now of course, the word nigger is hugely offensive. It becomes even more offensive depending on the context within which it is used. Using the word today will do more than raise eyebrows, and there’s enough reason for that based on history. But let’s consider Bradbury’s use of the word. It’s said by a poorly educated, parochial character. It’s used to establish that the society is backward, and the black population are still oppressed. This leads to them to pack up there things and leave for Mars.
I’ve read quite a lot of Ray Bradbury’s work and never have I in anyway sensed sympathy towards white supremacy, if anything quite the opposite, but just because one of his stories uses the word nigger twice in the first few lines it has been removed. Who removed it? Who decided that I have too delicate a disposition to see the word nigger? I’m capable of appreciating the context in which Bradbury used the word and that at the time of the books publication, 1950, society was very different from today. The story goes on to be a damning indictment of the ignorant, racist attitudes that in 1950 were common to rural, parochial American communities. It’s the most culturally relevant part of the book.
Publishers releasing books on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook record reader’s behaviour. They can tell where readers give up reading a book, or chapters that readers get through slowly. This information is then passed back to the author for the consideration of rewriting. That seems to go against the grain of publishing, but changing the authors work when they’re dead just seems rude
If expression through written works is open to be amended by those empowered to protect us from offensive content, what’s next? Will we see groups of men in art museums TypeXing out offensive parts of great paintings? Why wait I’ve decided to begin.
The X Files was arguably the biggest television sensation of the 1990’s. In truth it’s a lot of the reason why so many people today think lizards run the world, and wear tin hats. The people wear the tin hats, not the lizards, but then you’re happy thinking lizards run the world it doesn’t seem too great a stretch of imagination to have them doing so wearing tin hats, so maybe the people and the lizards both wearing the tin hats, I digress. Every week the protagonist, a credulous FBI agent who believed in anything just so long as it was utterly ridiculous and was supported by a minimal amount of evidence, evidence that nearly always pointed to a government conspiracy. The show was an enormous hit, it tapped into the zeitgeist of the public’s mistrust in their government and authorities. Each week the opening credits would climax with a lightning bolt and a message saying “the truth is out there”. It was powerful stuff for what was really just a silly suspense/science fiction show. “The truth is out there”, it’s a message of hope, implying that we can find the truth if we ask the right questions and go looking for it. Back in the 1990’s it was a message that I could almost buy into.
But then we entered a new millennium, and some ass holes flew planes into some buildings started some wars in countries few of us could pronounce and for reasons even fewer of us understood. Confusion and terror wove the fabric of our society, and it was a fabric as appealing as going through your dead mother’s lingerie drawer. So, today I’m no longer convinced that the truth is out there, even it is, and even if I’m fortunate enough to find it one day, I probably won’t be able to recognise it because it’ll be disguised in the lingerie of dead women, and I’ll be too busy praying to an image of Jesus that’s been discovered burnt onto a piece of toast.
Add to this Donald Trump beckoning in a post truth era, his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway coining the phrase “alternative facts”, and I’m starting to believe that society is on the verge of losing the critical mass of truth necessary to hold this dimension together. Someone, somewere might just tell the lie that breaks the camels back, causing our dimension to implode and be sucked into Donald Trumps rectum. It sounds crazy, but I’ve got the maths to prove it.
Maybe two plus two, does equal five. Maybe, I can learn to love people deciding for me what I can and can’t read, what I can and can’t watch. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
My door remains secured, I’m still clutching my zip lock bag of Valium, but my reserves are running low.
If you’re out there, and you’ve read this message; you are the resistance.