Although by no means do I consider myself an Orwell scholar, I did teach 1984 for a number of years, so I can claim a fairly deep acquaintance with its text, so it irks me when I see or hear the adjective Orwellian employed as a sort of catchphrase to describe any situation that occurs when information brought to light results in negative political consequences.
For example, take Senator Josh Hawley (R MO) seen above co-opting the Black Power clenched fist from the 60s to show his solidarity with the soon-to-be rioters amassing outside the Capitol last week. Because Hawley spearheaded a Senate faction that challenged electors during the certification process and exacerbated the grievances of the mob that ransacked the Capitol, Simon and Schuster rescinded a contract to publish one of those PR tomes aspiring presidential candidates produce prior to launching their campaigns. According to Hawley, a private for-profit corporation’s decision to back out of a book deal after its author had played a role in encouraging a violent takeover of the Capitol building “could not be more Orwellian.” He goes on the call the cancelled contract “a direct assault on the First Amendment” as “[t]he Left look[s] to cancel everyone they don’t approve of.”
Actually, there is nothing “Orwellian” about Simon and Schuster’s decision not to publish Hawley’s book. Now, it would have been Orwellian if Simon and Schuster had translated the text into Newspeak and manufactured a fake biography of Hawley’s life or had company spies record Hawley’s every move or had had him seized and transported to a reeducation facility. However, if my First Amendment right meant that a publishing company that earned 184 million dollars in sales last year was obligated to publish my novel Today Oh Boy, I would be one very happy fiction writer.
In fact, the insurrectionists’ subsequent identification by the authorities as commissioners of crimes stemmed not from the omnipresent surveillance of Big Brother but from their own narcissistic need to record themselves in live streams and selfies and to capture their fellow rioters in action to demonstrate how important they all are. To echo William Blake’s phrase from his poem “London,” our “manacles” are “mind-forged” in that we ourselves choose to bind ourselves to devices that track our every movement, our purchases, our internet searches. We are, if not exactly Big Brother, Little Brother and Little Sister, documentarians of our own little lives, seeking fame thorough exposure, amassing “likes” to validate our existence in a culture that reckons worth by numbers.