On propaganda and birthdays

George OrwellOne of the things I like about George Orwell’s Animal Farm is…what’s that?  I promised not to write about it anymore?  I did, didn’t I?  But I have to, for this morning the interwebs informed me that yesterday would have been Mr Orwell’s eleventy-first birthday.  (The reason the interwebs only informed me of it this morning is because the pages I follow which inform me of titbits like this are mostly based in the US and as such are at their most active when I’m snug in bed, thus the belated tribute to ol’ Eric (what Orwell’s mother called him).)

His two best-known novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (the latter published only months before his death), both describe totalitarian societies where power is vested in a small minority who uses a combination of intimidation and propaganda to keep the masses in check.

The themes of abuse of power and control through intimidation and propaganda are central to most dystopian fiction, including the Hunger Games trilogy, and the good folks at Lionsgate Entertainment clearly understand that.  Consider the newly-released trailer for Mockingjay Part 1 out this November.  It’s not your typical teaser trailer filled with random scenes from the film seamlessly thrown together in the editing room.  Rather, it’s a presidential address straight out of the Capitol.  Give it a look…

Chilling, isn’t it?  The trailer was accompanied by a collection of posters paying tribute to the various districts, published on the Capitol’s very own website.

Zimbio refers to this as propaganda marketing and has compiled a list of eight films that have used this technique with great success, including the most recent X-men film and the new Transformers film which arrives tomorrow.

I kind of like to think the marketing guys at Lionsgate chose yesterday to release the Mockingjay trailer because it was Orwell’s birthday.  That’s probably not the case, but considering that he made it his life’s mission to warn us against the dangers of totalitarianism, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute.

To see all the posts where I’ve managed to somehow drag in Mr Orwell, click the link.

8 thoughts on “On propaganda and birthdays

  1. I’m a bit late to this one… It occurs to me that our friend Mr Blair was framed by the world he had lived through – the early twentieth century with its regimented society, its narrow definition of ‘normal’ as compliance with an increasingly tightening set of social parameters – and the pressure to conform to that ‘normal’ at all cost. Much of it was a reaction, to my mind, to the trauma of the First World War. It was a general trend even in the democracies and, of course, taken to dangerous extremes by the totalitarian dictatorships. Today? I suspect the underlying human ‘things’ that drove societies in that direction back then are still around, but expressed in different ways. What worries me is that, my phone tells Google exactly where it is every second of the day, I can look up on just about any street corner and see a camera – and so on. All of it pretty benign just now – indeed, to our benefits. But what happens if there’s a major shift like there was in the early twentieth century? Ouch…

    1. That is very true. When I taught Animal Farm to my school’s seniors I often told them in South Africa’s case we are poised on a knife’s edge and have been since ’94. Our democracy is still so young that it can very easily fall into a dictatorship like what happened in Zimbabwe and so many other post-liberation African countries.

      And even here the technological surveillance so rampant in the developed world is growing. I was, for example, very amused by the whole Snowden uproar last year, with all the Americans so upset about government monitoring their communication meta-data. Over here there’s a law authorising government to do that. In fact, you can’t purchase a sim card without handing over your ID document and proof of living address (same with bank accounts). No burner phones over here.

      But the fact that there is a law like that is actually a little disconcerting. In reality it is government infringing on our privacy, with our permission, in the name of crime prevention. And nowhere than with government is the saying more true: Give them a finger…

  2. The saddest thing is films and TV series and books that show the individual winning against totalitarian systems. Then we come out of the cinema/tv/book with hope and the false knowledge that things have been accomplished.

    1. Individuals can make a difference, but it’s more often as martyrs whose death rallies others to the cause, or otherwise many individuals who achieve small victories that over time has a cumulative effect. But in either case it only works if the totalitarian system has inherent weaknesses. In a system as completely oppressive as Orwell’s Big Brother? No individual can make a difference there, methinks.

      I think there has been a shift in dystopian literature in recent years. No longer does it seek to warn us of what we could become. Now it merely seeks to entertain, leading as you say, to a false sense of accomplishment. If I were paranoid I’d wonder if this very shift in dystopian literature isn’t itself a machination of Big Brother…

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      1. The only question is, are we already so far gone that, like Winston Smith, we are merely deluding ourselves by struggling against a system that’s controlling us even as we think we’re beating it, or are we still in the early chapters of Animal Farm, where things can still change if Benjamin the donkey would only speak out about what he’s seeing happen on the farm.

        Goodness. This is way too philosophical for a Sunday afternoon 😀

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