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Elizabeth Milias: 1984 revisited

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant

Last weekend, amid the current political and social chaos, I reread George Orwell’s “1984.” Written in 1949 as a warning for mankind, the fictional dystopia reads today as improbably prescient and frighteningly familiar.

Thoughtcrime and the notion that “no one who had once fallen into the hands of The Thought Police ever escaped,” the abolition of private property, rejecting “the evidence of your eyes and ears,” acceptance of revisionist history where “the past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth,” the power of simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs and accepting both, known as Doublethink, and political ideologies where “not even the slightest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated” are a bit too recognizable.

I’ve also learned that the tech whizzes at M.I.T. recently created a video using NASA footage from the 1969 mission to the moon, and enhanced it with a digitally doctored President Richard Nixon reading the very speech prepared for him in the case of a tragic instead of triumphant ending. Why? According to the techies, they “aimed to invite viewers into an alternate history, asking us all to consider how new technologies can bend, redirect and obfuscate the truth around us.” But of course. A theme was emerging.

In the context of “1984,” I reflected on several of that year’s events that uncannily foretell the somewhat Orwellian goings on of today.

In 1984:

The terrifying and tragic mystery retrovirus named HIV was identified as the cause of AIDS, which was killing thousands, not unlike today’s novel coronavirus that has wrought a frightening global pandemic.

• Ronald Reagan was overwhelmingly reelected to a second term, denying the vice presidency of Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major political party’s ticket. Today, it is likely that a woman candidate again will stand to become vice president, and perhaps president in short order should Joe Biden be elected.

• The case of New York’s “Subway Vigilante,” Bernhard Goetz, sparked a national debate about race and crime when the Queens native shot and wounded four African American youths on a Manhattan express train. The two sides of the story (panhandling versus robbery) questioned the legal limits of self-defense and the extent to which citizens can rely on the police for safety. It could just as easily be a headline today.

• China and the United Kingdom came to terms for the 1997 return of Hong Kong as a special administrative region of China, but with a high degree of autonomy and Western-style civil liberties. Just last month, China imposed a national security law and assumed legal jurisdiction there, effectively erasing the legal firewall between the two systems.

• During the Super Bowl, Apple’s Orwell-inspired commercial for the Macintosh computer debuted, changing not only the landscape of Super Bowl advertising but notably foretold technology’s pervasive influence in our lives. The controversial power of today’s largest tech companies continues to stoke fears of Big Brother.

• The Summer Olympics were held despite a Soviet boycott, a notable disruption not unlike the Tokyo 2020 games, postponed amid a global pandemic and threatened with reduced participation if and when the games actually occur.

• Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial. Is life imitating art when our major metropolitan cities are currently in flames, the result of violent protests and people with their hair on fire and more than just a little time to burn?

• The longest game in Major League Baseball history was played between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, lasting 8 hours and 6 minutes over 25 innings and two days. Due to the global pandemic, 2020 will mark the shortest MLB season in history with teams playing just 60 games.

• The artist formerly known as Prince, in his epic “Purple Rain,” sang of judgment day and the end of the world. With the unprecedented division between today’s red state and blue state politics, that red plus blue equals purple means little when each side fears the apocalypse is upon us.

• In the hit movie “Footloose,” Kevin Bacon’s character kicked off his Sunday shoes in a small town, challenging established norms and respectfully petitioning for change. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for all of us.

Recall Aspen in 1984, when, pre-gondola, it took three chairlifts and 45 minutes to reach the top of Aspen Mountain. Three ski patrolmen lost their lives in a Highland Bowl avalanche. And American Bill Johnson won Aspen’s World Cup downhill. What might these events foretell?

Wendy’s famously asked “Where’s the Beef?” But, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters?

The Red Ant was fascinated by this trip down the 1984 rabbit hole. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net


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