Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Name: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

Type: Book

Written in: 1949

Set in: ...1984.

Why it's a dystopia: The world is broken up into three super-dictatorships, two of which are always at war with the third; everybody is spying on everybody else, everybody lives in more or less abject poverty, and eventually the secret police comes, takes you away, tortures you until you break, and then shoots you.  Also, you can't turn off your television set.  Everything in that first sentence may or may not be true, by the way, even in the context of the book.

Why it's significant: You probably read this book in high school.  Also, every politically-motivated online idiot on the Left will eventually reference this book while whining about whatever the Right's done, or thought to have done, or is incorrectly alleged to have done this week (don't smirk; there's a similar problem on the Right with regard to Atlas Shrugged).  Nineteen Eighty-Four has also more or less interjected itself into our popular culture, and to a certain extent our language.  All in all, it's probably the most mainstream piece of masochism porn in Western literature.

What happened? Well, two things, really. 

First off, as is usual for this type of fiction the author has too low an opinion of human beings, particularly Americans.  Again, don't smirk: lots of people have this problem, and some of them probably share your political views.  In this particular case, Orwell assumed that the postwar West would participate in its own self-immolation... including the parts that weren't actually wrecked in the war itself.  It is never adequately explained how and why the comfortable, optimistic, and confident middle class that runs the USA would voluntarily transform itself into the starving subjects of a multi-continental dictatorship; mostly because there actually isn't a valid reason*.

Which leads to the second point: Nineteen Eighty-Four is actually masochism pornography.  Quite well done masochism porn, at that: the book is almost surgical in the way that it cuts away the extraneous fleshy bits and gets right to the stuff about power imbalances.  Oceania is, for some people, the ultimate dream world: everybody wants power over you, conditions are miserable, and you're given just enough control to delude yourself before the brutality and the pain starts.  There are people pay serious money in the real world for this kind of scenario; I'm moderately surprised that there isn't a specialized theme resort along Oceania's lines. 

Or possibly there is, and I'm just too vanilla to hear about it.

Moe Lane

*A very useful corrective is Charlie Stross's "Big Brother Iron," which can be found in the story collection Toast.  The story updates Nineteen Eighty-Four as things would have happened in that world, absent the author's need to control the plot: I won't give sp0ilers, but if you're familiar with the daily life of Soviet elites in the Brezhnev era and afterward then you can probably guess them anyway.

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