1984

In 2017, during the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a false statement during a press conference. The following day, on television, her lie was rebranded by Trump’s Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway as an ‘alternative fact.’ After this incident, George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 saw a new surge in popularity; so much so that the book was completely sold out on Amazon in the United States for several days.

These days, in the era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, Big Tech spying, ubiquitous social media, and questionable political decisions all around the world, 1984 is still as relevant as ever. Its central themes of totalitarianism, massive surveillance, and State control of the population and media speak to the reality of the digital age.

This is precisely the inspiration behind the imaginary exhibition titled ‘1984: An Influential Book, 1949 – 2020.’

Orwell typing © Vernon Richards, 1946

Translated into 65 different languages and with over 30 million copies sold worldwide, 1984 has infiltrated popular culture to the point that people who haven’t even read the book still know the story. Phrases like “Big Brother is watching you” or “the thought police” can be quoted by virtually everyone.

The exhibition would have an immersive aspect. The walls throughout would be concrete-grey, covered with graffiti-like writing evoking the slogans of The Party: ‘War is peace’, ‘Freedom is slavery’, and ‘Ignorance is strength.’ There would also be cameras in the rooms, connected to small screens where people could see themselves as if they were being actively surveilled. The visual inspiration for the exhibition would come from the film adaptation released in 1984, as well as from the stage design for Greenday’s musical American Idiot, created in 2010.

The first room would be called the Ministry of Sound. It would contain book covers from around the world, as well as from different years. Given the large number of examples, the collection would be organized according to what is represented on the cover, such as eyes, cameras, a single dominating character representing Big Brother, multiple rebel characters, etc.

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

(Inspiration from https://bookriot.com/1984-in-covers/)

The second room would be titled the Ministry of Fiction. It would showcase the real-life inspiration behind the book, complete with posters, articles, and even videos exhibited alongside corresponding book excerpts.

For example, the phrase ‘2+2=5 ‘ was an actual Soviet Union slogan used to promote their Five Year plan. (The above poster is from 1931.) In the United Kingdom as well there were posters created during both World Wars to positively portray death in battle, as well as the erasure of individual identity through the act of becoming a soldier. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Truth’ was based on the real-life Ministry of Information that existed during WWII and served to promote British propaganda. It was located in the Senate House in London, which is currently a building of the University of London.

The room dubbed Ministry of Fiction would also contain links to today’s world. For example, it could include images of Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal, or the now infamous ‘alternative facts’ live broadcast segment.

The following room would be the Ministry of Paper, showcasing audiovisual references to the book in popular culture. It would include the Apple Macintosh commercial that aired during the 1984 Superbowl and excerpts from two film adaptations, one released in 1956 and the other in 1984. It could even include images from the 1984-inspired reality television franchise Big Brother (1999- ).

This same room would also contain musical references from artists such as Muse, Eurythmics, The Jam, David Bowie, Rage Against the Machine, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, and Radiohead.

Finally, the last room would be called the Ministry of Uniqueness. It would be a gateway to discover other dystopian works that hold relevance for today’s world. It would include novels such as Brave New World (1932), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

There could also be films inspired by 1984, such as THX 1138 (1971) or Gattaca (1997). It is particularly interesting that in every dystopian work, there is an emphasis on the control of words and reading in general. We have ‘newspeak’ in 1984 (1949) burned books in Fahrenheit 451 (1953), or women prevented from reading anything in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The latter leads to a terrifying visual in the series by the same name (2017- ) that was adapted from the original book. There isn’t a single letter left in the grocery store, and everything has been replaced by symbols.

For more information on elements mentioned above, here are a few links to useful articles.

  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/19/legacy-george-orwell-nineteen-eighty-four
  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/1984-george-orwell
  • https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/may/19/david-bowie-nineteen-eighty-four-george-orwell-diamond-dogs-dorian-lynskey
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/11/death-truth-propaganda-alternative-facts-gripped-world
  • https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/aug/10/how-wartime-britons-were-easily-persuaded-by-the-propagandists
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Information_(United_Kingdom)

Elodie Katan
Master 2 MC2L, Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones

‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’: Literature that never dies

Chicago. Nearly 10 years after the internationally renowned writer’s passing, ‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ (May 2021-May 2022) explores the ways in which Bradbury’s work has inspired readers, scientists, and fellow artists alike throughout his life, and even well after his death. 

 

Split into three sections, the virtual exhibit traces how Bradbury’s early life led him to the prolific career he is known for today. Family tragedy led him towards a passion for magic, which in turn developed into a fascination for science fiction. He was an avid reader of many literary genres, influenced in particular by Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and John Steinbeck. As a young man, his love for reading quickly grew into a love for writing, which in turn led him to connect with like-minded peers. He began publishing a fanzine titled Futuria Fantasia (1939-1940), which included work from several science fiction writers and artists that, like Bradbury, would become quite famous later on. Some notable names include Hannes Bok, Henry Kuttner, Robert A. Heinlein, and Forrest J. Ackerman.

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo credit: Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

Ray Bradbury in 1923 in Waukegan, Illinois Photo ©Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press

While most have heard of Bradbury’s McCarthy-era dystopian fiction Fahrenheit 451 (1953), not everyone may be aware of his extensive writing about space travel. His work inspired an entire generation of astronauts and engineers not only from his home country, but also their Space Race-era opposition in the Soviet Union.

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

Futuria Fantasia Hardcover reprint featuring original artwork from Volume 1, 2007

Aside from science-lovers, Bradbury also inspired the imagination of beloved creators like Walt Disney, who was one of the writer’s close friends for many years. His influence can be seen in multiple installations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris.

Interestingly enough, despite the out-of-this-world nature of both his work and cultural influence, Bradbury was much more down to earth than some may have thought. He was never much of a fan of technological advances. In fact, he allegedly never learned to drive and for years preferred to write on a manual typewriter at his wooden desk at home. Bradbury was however a fan of oil painting and exchanging letters. Throughout his life, he made a special effort to personally respond to fans from around the world.

Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts

“Ray Bradbury’s Desk From the collection of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts.” © American Writers Museum

Recently, many have referred to the classic Fahrenheit 451 (1953) in a pessimistic reflection on the political, social, and cultural woes of the digital age. However, if this exhibition on Bradbury’s life and work has anything to teach us, it’s that within creativity and imagination lies infinite power to transform the world, far beyond what we may think possible. Moreover, creative expression can bring the world together in exciting and unexpected ways.

While Bradbury passed away in 2012, his ‘inextinguishable’ influence continues to live on in authors, scientists, screenwriters, artists, filmmakers, comic book artists, and students of all ages. Something about his futuristic work and the humanity of his literature continues to light a spark in readers everywhere.

‘Ray Bradbury: Inextinguishable’ will be on view from May 2021 to May 2022 at the American Writer’s Museum in Chicago, as well as online in a virtual exhibit. Visit the American Writers Museum website for more information: exhibits.americanwritersmuseum.org 

Sam Gabbert, étudiante en M2
Master MC2L
Université Paris 8
Département d’Études des Pays Anglophones