News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, October 2, 2016

How "1984" sneaked up on us

At its best,  journalism is a literary enterprise.  It utilizes all the arts of story-telling to give us knowledge and insight.   For those of us to whom any support for a low-life wretch like Donald Trump is incomprehensible,  Washington Post writer  Stephanie McCrummen gives a penetrating but empathetic account of a woman who is a Trump supporter, who sees him as a messianic figure.  The story is headlined 
‘Finally. Someone who thinks like me.’

The woman has experienced harassment and misfortune,  and what she has fallen back on for some sense of survival is media fare at its worst with its often racist conspiracy theories.  

"Like millions of others, she believed that President Obama was a Muslim. And like so many she had gotten to know online through social media, she also believed that he was likely gay, that Michelle Obama could be a man, and that the Obama children were possibly kidnapped from a family now searching for them."
 George Orwell's 1984  is often invoked to describe aspects of our current political situation. However, during the Cold War, the novel was  largely regarded as a warning about the ambitions of Soviet Union Communism to take over the world.   Once the Soviet Union was dissolved,  people largely thought that the danger had passed.

But an important thesis of the novel that was either glossed over  or ignored completely by teachers and commentators on it is how the electronic media can be used to spy upon and condition citizens.   Our streets and gathering places are watched over by surveillance cameras.  Videos from those cameras are largely responsible for solving some terrorist crimes such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the recent Chelsea bombing in New York City.  Our economic decisions are tracked and tallied and given credit scores,  which are readily available to government agencies and any business.  Our online searches and readings are tracked and summarized.  Our telephone and social media communications are tracked and recorded.   We live under a level of scrutiny that surpasses anything imagined in 1984.  Our own government is involved in some of this surveillance,  but foreign governments also have access.   And people tend not to consider that the biggest threat to our privacy and our well-being is in the surveillance of huge, global corporations,  which often exercise more power over us than any government.  

For many people,  the media conditions and shapes them, and in many ways controls them.  It, in fact,  as in the case of  the woman portrayed in the McCrummen story,  preys upon people experiencing stress and oppression and supplies them the information and mental processes with which they try to survive.  One can disprove an disapprove of everything the woman thinks,  but one can also understand how she came to think it.

It is no mere conspiracy theory that there are forces out there vying to take over our minds and our lives.  Given the realities of our time,  1984 lis almost utopian.  For a truly informing reading experience,  click the headline above and see a case history in what is happening.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States