My favorite part of the book 1984 by George Orwell is the appendix, entitled “The Principles of Newspeak.” In 1984, Newspeak was the official language of the Party that ruled Oceania.  As the Appendix states:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.[…] This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words…

Orwell then explains how, through shrinking the vocabulary of the language, heretical thoughts became unthinkable. He illustrates by quoting the following passage from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

Orwell then states that “it would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”

Why do I mention this?  Well, it is very relevant to our present political situation.

One of the most notable things about Donald Trump is how few words he seems to know. People mock his tiny hands, but to me what’s truly amazing is his absolutely minuscule vocabulary.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in his tweets, where he will often conclude one of his communiques insulting someone or complaining about something with an imperative “Sad!” or “Bad!”

If Trump needs to lengthen some statement, usually all he can do is add the word “very” or, if he is talking about something he does not like, interject “so terrible”.

When Trump wants to add extra emphasis to some point, he often adds that it will be “big league”. (e.g. “We are going to win big league.”) Thanks to Trump’s peculiar accent, many people have misheard this as “bigly”; a child-like non-adjective that seems extremely fitting for the man, with his penchant for gaudy, oversized buildings.

If the problem were merely that our President-elect was a man incapable of eloquence, that would be one thing.  But it is far worse than that.

The scary thing is that his style of communicating is very infectious.  People–myself included–have picked up his habits of saying “sad!” or “big league”. It’s addictive, I won’t deny it; and there is an alarming pleasure in mimicking him–even for people like me, who find him utterly appalling and oppose him completely.

But that is the frightening thing: once you start to talk like him, you will start to think like him.  And once that happens, you could reach a point where “a heretical thought” becomes, as Orwell warned, “literally unthinkable”.

To be clear, I think Trump’s rhetorical style (if you can call it that) is more a symptom than the disease itself. I wrote back in 2010 that “Twitter = Newspeak”, and that was before Trump was even on the political map. I do think that the ascendance of Trump, who communicates through Twitter far more than most candidates, supports my point. It may be that Twitter itself made Trump possible.

 

I tried to read the first book of the Hunger Games series awhile back, and although I thought it was well-written and had a good setting, it was hard for me to get into it because it was fairly predictable.  I’m sure that’s partially because it was written for a younger audience, but I think it also is a just a little too cliche filled.  I’m not saying it’s bad.  It’s a decent book, but I pretty much knew where it was going from a very early point.  This is a problem I have with a lot of dystopian fiction–it all seems cut from the same cloth.

You know, I had an idea for a dystopian movie once.  It would be set at an undefined place and time, in a country where a totalitarian, fascist government had taken over.  The main character would be some kind of violent goon for the government who went around suppressing all dissenters.  And the whole film would present him as the hero–he’d be played by a “leading man”, the camera angles would present him heroically–the whole film would seemingly approve of the dystopian society.  Then, at the end, there would be some kind of title card or something telling the audience that this was a propaganda film approved by the fictional government, perhaps even detailing some of the techniques involved.

The point of this would be to pull the rug out from under the audience; see how many of them would have found themselves being subtly seduced into rooting for the main character–and the society he represents–by the film’s technique.  The “plot twist” would actually be a test to see how much people would start to buy into something awful because of good cinematography. Then they would have to re-evaluate what they had just watched.

The trouble is, this is more of a science experiment than an entertainment movie.  The trick of the movie is that usually, in dystopian stories, the protagonist begins to question his society, and through him, the audience is told about the society’s problems. (e.g. Winston Smith in 1984, Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)  There would be none of that in this movie.  He’d be 100% behind the society, and looking to maintain it.  It would be kind of like 1984 from O’Brien’s perspective.

The thing about my idea–and I’m not saying it’s a good idea–is that it plays with the tropes of the dystopian genre.  Dystopian stories give the audience some character they can turn to to see the dystopia’s flaws; or at least the “tone” of the piece, or the “voice” of the narrative give it away.  Here, there are no societal outcasts or anything like that for people to turn to. (The main character takes care of that.)  I thought this up largely from noticing that every dystopian story seems to rely on the same devices, and that makes them pretty predictable.