Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence – where the ruling Party wields total power for its own sake over the inhabitants.
In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state.
Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the term "Big Brother" has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance.

Purported origins

In the essay section of his novel 1985Anthony Burgess states that Orwell got the idea for Big Brother from advertising billboards for educational correspondence courses from a company called Bennett's, current during World War II. The original posters showed Bennett himself; a kindly looking old man offering guidance and support to would-be students with the phrase "Let me be your father" attached. After Bennett's death his son took over the company, and the posters were replaced with pictures of the son (who looked imposing and stern in contrast to his father's kindly demeanour) with the text "Let me be your big brother."
As well as Bennett, speculation has also focused on Lord Kitchener,[1] who among other things was prominently involved in British military recruitment in World War I. As a child Orwell (under his real name Eric Blair) published poems praising Kitchener and war recruitment in his local newspaper.
Additional speculation from Douglas Kellner of UCLA argued that Big Brother represents Joseph Stalin and that the novel portrayed life under totalitarianism.[2]

[edit]Appearance in the novel


In the novel it is not clear whether Big Brother is (or was) a real person or a fiction invented by the Party to personify itself.
In Party propaganda Big Brother is presented as a real person: one of the founders of the Party, along with Goldstein. At one point in 1984 Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell's novel, tries "to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big Brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. His exploits had been gradually pushed backwards in time until already they extended into the fabulous world of the forties and the thirties, when the capitalists in their strange cylindrical hats still rode through the streets of London..." In the year 1984 Big Brother appears on posters and the telescreen as a man of about 45. Goldstein's book comments: "We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born."
When Winston Smith is later arrested, O'Brien, his interrogator, again describes Big Brother as a figure who will never die. When Smith asks if Big Brother exists, O'Brien describes him as "the embodiment of the Party" and that he will exist as long as the Party exists. When Winston follows up his question by asking "Does Big Brother exist the same way I do?", O'Brien replies "You do not exist."

[edit]Cult of personality

A spontaneous ritual of devotion to Big Brother ("BB") is illustrated at the end of the "Two Minutes Hate":
At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of 'B-B! .... B-B! .... B-B!'—over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first 'B' and the second—a heavy murmurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamps of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For perhaps as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.[3]
Though Oceania's Ministry of TruthMinistry of Plenty, and Ministry of Peace each have names with meanings deliberately opposite to their real purpose, the Ministry of Love is perhaps the most straightforward: "rehabilitated thought criminals" leave the Ministry as loyal subjects who have been brainwashed into genuinely loving Big Brother.


Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four the phrase "Big Brother" has come into common use to describe any prying or overly-controlling authority figure, and attempts by government to increase surveillance.
Ukrainian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff makes frequent reference to both Big Brother and other Orwellian traits in his Russian Reversal jokes.
The magazine Book ranked Big Brother No. 59 on its 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 list. Wizard magazine rated him the 75th greatest villain of all time.[4]
The worldwide reality television show Big Brother is based on the novel's concept of people being under constant surveillance. In 2000, after the U.S. version of the CBS program "Big Brother" premiered, the Estate of George Orwell sued CBS and its production company "Orwell Productions, Inc." in federal court in Chicago for copyright and trademark infringement. The case was Estate of Orwell v. CBS, 00-c-5034 (ND Ill). On the eve of trial, the case settled worldwide to the parties' "mutual satisfaction"; the amount that CBS paid to the Orwell Estate was not disclosed. CBS had not asked the Estate for permission. Under current laws the novel will remain under copyright protection until 2020 in the European Union and until 2044 in the United States.
The iconic image of Big Brother (played by David Graham) played a key role in Apple's 1984 television commercial introducing the Macintosh.[5][6] The Orwell Estate viewed the Apple commercial as a copyright infringement, and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and its advertising agency. The commercial was never televised again.[7]

The December 2002 issue of Gear magazine featured a story about technologies and trends that could violate personal privacy moving society closer to a "Big Brother" state and utilised a recreation of the movie poster from the film version of 1984 created by[8]
In 2011, media analyst and political activist Mark Dice published a non-fiction book titled Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True which analyses the parallels between elements of the storyline in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and current government programs, technology, and cultural trends.[9]
Computer company Microsoft patented in 2011 a product distribution system with a camera or capture device that monitors the viewers that consume the product, allowing the provider to take "remedial action" if the actual viewers do not match the distribution license.[10] The system has been compared with 1984's telescreen surveillance system.[11]

See also

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