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Comparative Analysis Of Media Media Essay

This essay examines the media as portrayed in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and contemporary media in Britain. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel which describes a future society through the experiences of a particular individual called Winston Smith. My research question is “Is Nineteen Eighty-Four just a science fiction novel or does it successfully reflect the media of 2009 in Britain?” I chose this topic because I intend to study the media. Apart from the positive aspects I am interested in the negative aspects of this particular field as presented in the novel. The essay focuses on London since this is the setting of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Language, reliability and interaction are the three principles through which the subject is going to be analyzed. Newspeak, which was the language used by the media in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is similar in many of its elements, like the reduction and elimination of words, with the language used by the media today. Low reliability and censorship is another phenomenon that appears in Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as today. In both cases, the media, being controlled by the government or even for their own purposes, hide and manipulate information. Lastly, the interaction of the media as presented in the novel is reminiscent of today’s sources of information. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, an electronic device called Telescreen was used for monitoring people’s lives, something that today can be achieved through the internet which is a modern invention that constantly gains popularity. The above three subjects were analyzed for both time periods. Many common characteristics were revealed after they were compared and contrasted. In a sense this is rather unsetting. It seems George Orwell was able to foresee the misuse of the media.

Introduction

Nineteen Eighty-Four, was written by George Orwell in 1948. The author, whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair was born in 1903 and became famous with his novel Animal Farm in 1945. Four years later, he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was his last novel before he died in 1950 [1] . Both these novels refer to the political condition of the era during which they were written, commenting on capitalism communism.

Nineteen Eighty-Four describes a future society in which a Party known as Big Brother, has the British nation under total control by manipulating the police as well as the media. Although Big Brother is represented by the image of a particular male face, it is not clear whether Big Brother is this one particular individual or a group of people. Newspapers never criticize Big Brother, and in case something he has said is contradicted by his actions, it is re-written so that his actions and his words coincide. Telescreens are devices like televisions in people’s houses, which can never be turned off. Apart from informing people, their aim is also to monitor their lives. In this way, actions that could harm the Party can be avoided. The government has the right to punish people who are considered rebellious in any way. People are made “extinct” from one day to the next.

Winston Smith, the main hero of the novel, is against the Party, as the totalitarian government is called. He has understood that Big Brother is lying to the people and that his actions only benefit the inner Party and not the people of Britain. Smith cannot externalize his thoughts as this would lead to his arrest, so he writes them in a diary. Falling in love with a woman, they both decide to give their lives in fighting against the Party. This leads him to his disaster. He is caught and brainwashed by members of the inner Party, in such a way that he ends up loving Big Brother.

In this novel, one of the main things that someone can see is the strength that the media have. Without the control over the media, Big Brother could never maintain his position. Everything he says or does is considered correct and appropriate since the media support it. As a reader though, someone can see that the aim of the media, is not to inform people but to control them.

The year 1984 has passed and Britain has not lost the freedom of speech. Many of the other things that Orwell had described though can be seen in today’s society. I have chosen to focus on Britain since the setting for Nineteen Eighty-Four is the futuristic London. Cameras are everywhere monitoring people’s lives and a video tape can be used as very strong evidence when sentencing someone for a crime. The role of the media in our lives though is, in my opinion, the one that has the most similarities with what Orwell described. In my extended essay, the common elements between the media in Nineteen Eighty-Four and today in the fields of language, reliability and censorship and interaction are going to be examined.

The reason I have chosen to examine the media, as described in Nineteen Eighty-Four and as they are today, is that I am interested in the media and more specifically in advertising. I believe that the particular book is a very strong criticism on the principles of the media as well as the reliability of the information they present. I have heard people quoting the news as a reliable source. In many cases however, TV and newspapers do not aim at informing people but on forcing their ideas on to their readers/viewers/listeners about politics, economy and many other fields. In some cases, the role of the media in people’s lives is reminiscent of the following poem presented in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”:

“TV rots the senses in the head!

It kills the imagination dead!

It clogs and clutters up the mind!

It makes a child so dull and blind.

He can no longer understand a fantasy,

 A fairyland!

His brain becomes as soft as cheese!

His powers of thinking rust and freeze!” [2] 

The aim of this essay is to underline the manipulation of the media, through the futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I believe this essay can help people understand the mechanisms of the media and gain a more critical mind towards the information they receive. My research question: “Is Nineteen Eighty-Four just a science fiction novel or does it successfully reflect the media of 2009 in Britain?” hopefully enhances critical thinking and makes the reader/viewer/listener aware of the manipulative power of the media

NEWSPEAK

Newspeak is the language used by the media in Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to the novel, this language was not used by people yet, as the literature and texts written in Oldspeak (the previous language) would not be translated until 2050 but it was used by the media [3] . The main characteristic of Newspeak was that its vocabulary kept being reduced since it was intended to become the tool for controlling the thoughts of humans. In our days too, one can notice that the vocabulary used by the media tends to be shrinking, just as the author uncannily foresaw. The headlines in newspapers and the way the news is broadcasted on TV often lack adjectives and adverbs making the language stiffer, rapid and focused on the euphony rather than the content. The language is completely reduced to something incredibly simple. In my essay, I will attempt to define the connection between the language used by the media in the novel and the one that the media use today.

Newspeak was a language created to serve socialism in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was a language that developed and changed before it was given its final form. Due to those changes, different vocabularies were created one after another till the final one was formed. The version of Newspeak used in the time period that the story takes place was a provisional one [4] . It was based on the English language, but far more simplified with fewer and more specified words.

Vocabulary A contained all the words used in everyday life. Any word of the Newspeak language could be used as a verb, noun, adjective or adverb. “Think”, was going to replace the word “Thought”. There were no irregular words since all words in Newspeak could be made plural by adding an –s or –es and comparison of all adjectives could be made by adding –er or –est. The word “woman” in plural would become “womans” whereas the comparisons of “good” were “gooder” and “goodest”. In this way, grammar rules were much simpler and the language used by media contained fewer words as it did not include antonyms or synonyms [5] .

Vocabulary B contained words with political meaning. They were compound words such as “crimethought” or “thoughtpolice” with no specific etymological structure. In the above words for example, “thought” comes after “crime” in the first one and before “police” in the second one. As mentioned above, the main purpose of the words was to produce euphony and not a clear structure. The Ministry of Peace, which was actually the Ministry of War, is an example of the Vocabulary B words that “meant almost the exact opposite of what they appeared to mean” [6] . Some other words could have opposite meanings depending on whether they were used by the Party or someone else. This was called doublethink and using it properly was considered strength [7] .

Vocabulary C contained only scientific and technical terms. They described a particular term and could not have metaphoric meaning. Vocabulary C was the poorest compared to the previous ones as there was practically no science as described in the novel. The only development in technology had to do with the evolution of Big Brother and not the treatment of illnesses or the ways human life could become better [8] .

The three mentioned vocabularies that Newspeak consisted of, aimed at banning the words that made possible to describe any negative emotions individuals felt towards the Party. Even if someone was opposed to Big Brother, s/he could not describe her/his thoughts to someone else, as s/he would not have the words. As previously mentioned, during 1984 Newspeak was used only by the media and was designed to be used by all humans by 2050. By then, people would be under the total control of the Party and any connecting link with Oldspeak would be destroyed. The question is, whether the language used by the media in Orwell’s novel has similarities with the language used by contemporary media and to what extent this affects the language used by ordinary people too. In other words, sixty-one years after the novel was written, at what point is Orwell’s prediction about the development of language confirmed?

The vocabulary used by the media today, is more limited than ever. It lacks adjectives and adverbs, something that makes it stiff and rigid, without color and subjective meanings. The phrase “Car bomb kills Spanish officer” [9] for example, could be written as “An exploding bomb put in the car of a Spanish officer sent her/him to death”. The reason the language that the media use becomes so simple and short is to attract the interest of the reader, speaker or listener. The titles of the news try to include as little information as possible in order to make people read the text to learn more. Furthermore, short sentences without many adjectives or adverbs make the style look more objective and the information described more serious and interesting. The headline “Iraq karate coach shot and killed” [10] provides the reader with important information in very few words. The same headline would seem less interesting in the form “An Iraq karate coach was killed by a shot”, as this is a complete sentence. On the contrary, a phrase that lacks articles seems incomplete and makes the reader proceed to learn more. By eliminating the words and the articles in a sentence, the language used by the media resembles the one used in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The media tend to eliminate any word that is not necessary for describing a meaning and report just words that give a basic idea to the listener about what has happened.

Another characteristic of the language used by the media today is the cutting of words. Sentences such as “Michael Jackson, rest in peace”, can be transformed into acronyms such as “MJ RIP”. This makes sentences shorter and easier to read. The reader spends less time reading the information which is very important as time is money in today’s society. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the term “Thought police” refers to the guardians of the thought whereas its Newspeak version, “thinkpol” has not a clear etymological meaning. In the same way, Television which means the picture that someone gets from a screen (tele+vision), when cut to TV, means nothing except the particular electronic device. As previously mentioned, understanding a word’s double meaning was called doublethink and was considered strength in 1984.

Today, the language used by the media and especially TV contains many words that can be interpreted in different ways according to the speaker and the listener. For example, the word Asian could be used both to describe someone’s ethnic background as well as to offend him. The headline “Asian killed in fight” for example, theoretically does not contain racist meaning, but would the ethnic background be mentioned if the person killed was British? From this example, it can be understood that the same word can be used to specify where a person comes from but it could be used to justify his involvement in a fight too. The words that can have two or more meanings are rapidly increasing. This brings the language used by the media today, one step closer to the one used by the media in Nineteen Eighty-Four where the Party was never wrong since most of its words could be interpreted in more than one way.

In conclusion, the language that the media use today seems like the one that was used by the Times and the Telescreen in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the society described in the prophetic novel humans had not started using Newspeak yet, apart from some specific words. In today’s society, television, printed material and the internet use a language that has many common characteristics with Newspeak. Although the language used by the media differs to the one used by ordinary people it has deeply affected their communication by adding newly formed words into their vocabulary or by rejecting others.

RELIABILITY AND CENSORSHIP

The media is our main source of information. It has been questioned though, whether the aim of our sources of information is to spread the facts as they really are or to consciously guide people’s minds. In other words, the reliability of the media is under discussion as, in many cases, the source where we get our information from affects the information itself. Furthermore, people do not know whether the information they get is filtered by the government and media through censorship. In the totalitarian government described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the media supported the party and changed the events in order to destroy any evidence of Big Brother’s mistakes. All kinds of information were filtered to express what Big Brother wanted. The question is whether we receive only the facts the media and governments want us to receive and whether this information is the actual truth or a distortion of the truth.

The hero of the novel, Smith, worked in the Records Department of the “Ministry of Truth” or “Minitruth” in Newspeak. The responsibility of the particular ministry was to change all information that had any opposing evidence to the Party. Any photo, text or generally any form of information was transformed in order to correspond to the current status of the Party. Smith’s office was provided with three tubes: one for newspapers, one for messages and the last one, the “memory hole” as it was called, for the disposal of unnecessary papers. Smith received notes which underlined the things he had to change in specific issues of Times newspaper. He then formed the date of the issue in the Telescreen in order to receive the particular article. An example of what Smith’s responsibility included:

“The Times of the Nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983 which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today’s issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston’s job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones” [11] .

Another application of Smith’s job was to rewrite a whole text that was wrong. As shown from the above example, Big Brother did not only control the present by having the press supporting him, but also controlled the past by transforming articles that contained opposing evidence to his actions. As O’ Brien, a member of the inner Party, said to Smith, “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull” [12] , something that is achieved mainly through the media. Therefore, in Nineteen Eighty-Four the media was not an informative means but one of manipulation. They tried to prove that Big Brother was omnipotent and faultless. All those people occupied in changing declarations, which were later proven wrong, actually believed in the altered information. The few who questioned it were abolished by the Party. Today’s, media coverage is not much different to what we read in Nineteen Eighty-Four; at least as far as reliability is concerned. Do people nowadays become informed by the newspaper and TV or are they bombarded with altered facts that the media present for certain purposes?

In our days, almost all kinds of information we get is censored. Cartoons, books, articles, TV shows, even the news are censored in order not to present material that would shock the viewers. At least, this is the official explanation given as to why the information we get is filtered. Lucky Luke, the famous cowboy cartoon, for example, first appeared with a cigarette in his mouth. At some point, this was considered a negative example for the young viewers, so a wisp of straw replaced the cigarette [13] . The image of a cartoon hero smoking could easily familiarize some children with smoking. Is this the only reason for censorship though? Is the negative influence of an image, the only reason for it to be censored? The answer is no. Through the official Secrets Act, the British government has the authority to issue a “D-notice” as it is called, making illegal any discussion or report on a specific issue [14] . In this way, the British government has a way to manipulate the media and control the information that is let out. There is no restriction on the subjects that can be banned, so it could be information that would panic people or something that would harm the government. People would never learn the specific information as there would be no way for it to be broadcast. We do not know if what we are listening, watching or reading is the whole truth, or the part of it that is considered harmless. If the government decides to hide specific information there would be no way for someone even to be informed of that decision. This is not the only way that information is filtered. According to the American writer Jean Killbourne, many studies have shown that magazines “don’t bite the hands that feed them” [15] . Most channels support specific political parties thus not giving information that could harm them. Therefore, there are times that the media too decide to hide information for their personal gain.

The censorship described in Nineteen Eighty-Four has many common characteristics with the censorship that exists today. Orwell described the control of the Big Brother over the media. As we can see sixty-one years later, it is not only the government that manipulates the information that people get, but the media also hide information for their own reasons.

INTERACTION

Apart from the form of the information, the way it is presented is another common thing between the media described in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the media as they are today. As we can see from the very first chapters of the novel, the media are interactive and cannot only give but also receive information. Today, the internet is a major source of information that is also interactive and has many things in common with the Telescreens described in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the book, the Telescreen could observe anyone’s life at any time to make sure that her/his action could not harm the Party. It would then put her/him back into line by mentioning their inappropriate actions or abolish her/him if the act was considered rebellious. Telescreens were constantly on and acted as a self guard in people’s lives. During Smith’s daily exercise, a woman is giving guidelines from the Telescreen. When Smith is carried away by his thoughts, the woman asks him to focus on the exercise and try harder [16] . This is an ability the media did not have in Orwell’s age but as we can see now, the author correctly foresaw that some years later, the media would assume a bigger role in people’s life by becoming interactive. Although there is no Telescreen monitoring people’s lives today, there are other ways checking up on them.

Internet is a new form of media that cannot only supply people with information, but can also consider the information it receives. Although it is a quite new invention, 70% of the UK households have internet access [17] . By using the internet, someone can get the information s/he needs by engine sites or by surfing in blogs s/he chooses. Every user has a specific “footprint” that can allow internet providers to monitor her/his actions. If a user is caught doing something illegal, like downloading pirated music, the government has the authority to cut her/his internet connection [18] . Therefore, the new form of media can observe the user’s actions and punish her/him if they are illegal. The positive aspect of this is that internet crime can be avoided but in many cases the information taken is not used only for internet safety. Through the footprint that every user leaves, her/his interests and habits can be defined by the sites s/he visits. For this reason, the particular information is given to commercial companies so as to aim their campaigns at the right target group [19] . Therefore this monitoring over the users’ clicks can also have a negative effect on someone’s privacy and not only a positive effect on her/his safety.

The internet is thought to be a revolutionary invention that is constantly gaining popularity. Within 17 years (internet was available for the public in 1992 [20] ) the majority of the UK residents have gained internet access. It is a new form of media that has many things in common with the Telescreen, as described in Nineteen Eighty-Four that is entering more and more into our lives making Orwell’s prediction very real.

CONCLUSION

I have presented, examined and analyzed similarities between the media in Nineteen Eighty-Four and contemporary media. I conclude that, Orwell had foreseen many of the characteristics the media have today, with their negative overtones. The reduction of the language used, censorship and misinformation that affects their reliability and the appropriation of personal information through the internet, make the media a tool for propaganda towards particular events instead of it being a source of information. To sum up, even though the media can be very useful in informing people about particular events, it can also act as a tool of the modern “Big Brothers” for manipulating people’s minds. Therefore, people should have a critical mind towards different sources of information, knowing that behind the different means of media, there are people who have ulterior motives, aspirations and a great desire for power.


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