Big Brother's Propaganda in Orwell's 1984 FSU
in the Limelight
Vol. 3, No. 1
Oct 1994

Big Brother's Propaganda
in Orwell's 1984

Tri Pramesti

I have always maintained that every artist is a propagandist. I don't mean a political propagandist. If he has any honesty or talent at all he cannot be that most political propaganda is a matter of telling lies, not only about the facts but about your own feelings. But every artist is a propagandist in the sense that he is trying, directly or indirectly, to impose a vision of life that seems to him desirable. I think that we are broadly agreed about the vision of life that proletarian literature is trying to impose" (Orwell, 1968 : 41).

George Orwell believes an artist is a propagandist. But he hates political propaganda which deliberately falsifies reality, especially the hypocritical kind used only for the purpose of keeping totalitarian regimes in power. During the 1930s and 1940s he was repelled by the propaganda machines of dictators like Hitler and Stalin (Colmer, 1978:183).

1984 has been called George Orwell's most ferocious propaganda. In this novel he presents his vision of life--in reverse as Ralph A. Ranald stated that:

Orwell's 1984 is about religion reversed, law and government reversed, and above all, language reversed: not simply corrupted, but reversed. In the world of nineteen eighty-four, the mad word which Orwell sought by his writing to lead men to avoid--for he was a political activist not interested in simple prediction--in this world, which I call Orwell's "antiuniverse,"... Orwell converts) all the positives of western civilization into their negatives (1967 : 544-53).

And in Orwell's crazy word, it is Big Brother's political propaganda that helps to sustain and perpetuate this reversal of values.

To control society, to sustain the power of the State, Big Brother uses what Oliver Thomson calls the most dangerous kind of propaganda : a "steady drip, drip" of toxic, power oriented ideas not recognized as propaganda these ideas pollute the environment and saturate all art forms. Such propaganda deadens the awareness of its target" (1980:132).

Big Brother is always watching, and his eyes have cast a spell over the inhabitants of Oceania. Thoroughly propagandized, they act like stupid herd. They mechanically respond to every command, though it is illogical. If any person dares to act or even think like independent human being, Big Brother resorts to liquidation or re-education. Such an individual either becomes an unperson, one who never existed, or a reprogrammed android, one who again loves and serves the State.

Ironically, the Oceanians have seen Big Brother--only big picture of him. In fact, Big brother does not exist. He is like the mythical leader that is created by propagandists. His image is projected by the Inner Party to maintain its ruling powers. "Nobody has never seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. Big Brother is the guise in which the party chooses to exhibit itself to the world "(Orwell, 1980 : 209). Propaganda depicts Big Brother as a daity. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent in the world of 1984: "Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration" (Orwell, 1980:209).

Oceanians are programmed in the art of doublethink, defined "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them "(Orwell, 1980 : 215). The Oceanians not aware of their loss of human rights, firmly believe that everybody is equal in their society, but they serve king and accept the State's hierarchy. The pyramidal power structure is the natural order of things in their classless society. Naturally, Big Brother sits on top of the pyramid; he represents the Inner Party, less than 2 percent of society. Just below him or them is the Outer Party, the bureaucratic toadies, about 13 percent. At the base of the pyramid are the proles--"the dumbmasses" - about 85 percent (Orwell, 1980:209-210).

Big Brother's bureaucracy consists of four ministries. These ministries are housed in huge white buildings, enormous pyramidal structures dominating London, the capital of Airship One, a province of Oceania. These towers contrast sharply with the rundown stores and shabby houses of the rest of the city. The very architecture of Big Brother's government building is an important propagandistic symbol it is a "graphic communication" (Orwell, 1980 : 210). Like the great Egyption pyramids, they project a political image of massive, lasting power (Thomson, 1977:41).

All four ministries are active, interrelated parts of Big Brother's propaganda machine. For example, they work together when grinding out materials for Hate Week. Each cog, however, has its particular job to do. The ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty), specializes in economic propaganda. It promotes confidence in economy. The ministry of Peace (Minipax) promotes the military typeby using war films, military music, etc. Ministry of Love (Miniluv) reinforces or intensifies ideologic propaganda. And the biggest, most responsible cog in the machine is the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue). Minitrue with its slogan WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH not only produces political images and rhetoricin accordance with Big Brother's input but also coordinates and edits the output of Miniplenty' and Minipax. The huge machine never stops its propagandistic output, and its perpetual, continuous noise has a mesmerizing effect on the whole society.

According to Richard S Lambert, the internal propaganda of a totalitarian government "seeks to impose complete uniformity of thought, as well as of action, upon its citizens". Lambert also points out that the totalitarian state is more concerned with internal propaganda than with external "but great as have been the external propagandist effort to the dictator-ruled countries, they are half-hearted and indirect as compared with their internal organization" (1970: 138). All-wise Brother knows this. "Where film production, the press, and radio transmission are not centrally controlled." Jacques Ellul writes, "no propaganda is possible" (1965:102). Big Brother knows this too. In fact, he harnesses every channel of communication, holding tight reins on the party specialists who run the Ministry of Truth. Minitrue provides Oceanic society with all its:

newspapers, films, textbook, telescreen programs, plays novels - with every conceivable kind of information, in struction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child's spelling book to a newspeak dictionary (Orwell, 1980: 43-44).

Those outside the party--the proles--have such limited intelligence that Big Brother has to adapt his communication to their level. For their benefit, Minitrue supplies:

rubbishy newspaper containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator Orwell, 1980:44).

This kind of escapist material, along with the state lottery and numerous pubs, not only contributes to the contentment of the proles but also keeps their minds busy with things other than the impact of power politics on their lives.

Big Brother uses media for attracting mass. He disseminates misinformation (largely lies but a number of selected, twisted truths) that goes unrecognized as propaganda. His propaganda preaches only one gospel: the Party's ideal.

The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering - a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting - three hundred million people all with the same face (Orwell, 1980 : 74).

With the exception of a few characters like the lovers Winston and Julia, the doublethinkers of Oceania parrot the media's message; and, putting no gods before Big Brother. They--as one ody--live their religion.

Orwell considered " the disappearance of objective history and the willingness of individuals to work toward its elimination" as the "most frightening propagandistic achievement of the twentieth century" (Zwerdling, 1974:52). In 1984, the work of the Records Department in Minitrue is the control of history. A Party slogan declares : "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past" (Orwell, 1980:35). Always tampering with records, Big Brother distorts, recreates, or destroys the past. As Zwerdling noted:

No matter how intolerable the present is, the sense of alternative possibilitie that objective history inevitably presents can still liberate the imagination and perhaps lead to significant change. But once the past is perpetually rectified to conform to the present, this escape is no longer possible (1974:53).

Thousands working in the records Department look upon such "rectification" as daily routine. This department falsifies the past to make it fit changes in present government policies.

False promises must be changed to suit present conditions. A clerk at the Speakwrite machine, Winston Smith "rectifies" materials sent to him through a pneumatic tube. Proficient in Newspeak (the official language), he reads a message : "times 14.2.84 miniplenty malqueted chocolate rectify" (Orwell, 1980:39). Winston dials on the telescreen for the copy of the Times (February 14, 1984) that carries Miniplenty's promise not to reduce the chocolate retion in 1984. He changes the optimistic promise to be a pessimistic prediction : retioning may be necessary in April. He returns the altered version for filing and destroys the original by putting it into the memory hole, a kind of incinerator for irrelevant history, outdated information about vaporized persons, and other trash.

It is the state's policy to be in a constant state of war either with Eurasia or with Eastasia. Yet the Party insists that the present enemy has always been the enemy. When roles are reversed, the former enemy has never been in enemy but always an ally. Record clerks work frantically to make expedient changes in mountains of references to Eurasia and Eastasia. Minipax's military propaganda must constantly be rectified to protect the vital interest of the State: maintenance of power.

Eventually, Winston's experiences teach him to recognize totalitarian propaganda for what it is. Very disturbed by the systematic attack on the past, he thanks: "If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened--that, surely, was more terrifying than torture and death "(Orwell, 1980:35).

As might be expected, Big Brother manipulates language to suit his purpose. His aim is to destroy words--the material for expressing ideas-- and to eventually wipe out completely the necessity for thought. The words in Newspek are formed in various ways: for example, by compounding (thoughtcrime, duckspeak, prolefeed, Minipax) and by adding prefixes or suffixes (ungood, thinkful). Doubleplusgood gets rid of superlatives like best or finest and synonims like superb or excellent. According to William Steinhoff, Newspeak is "the principal intellectual means by which doublethink is transformed into a conditioned reflex" (1975: 166). Doublethink is Big Brother's "reality control" (Zwerdling, 1974: 54). Working in the Research Department as a compiler of the Newspeak dictionary, a clerk remarks that, unlike Oldspeak, the new language has a vocabulary that grows smaller, not larger. He says, "We're destroying words-scores of them, hundreds of them every day. ... It's a beautiful think, the destruction of words " (Orwell, 1980:51-52).

Big Brother's propaganda not only straight jackets thought but also manipulates emotions. Doublethink Oceanians know that unqualified hatred of the State's enemies is a social necessity in their kingdom of love--love for Big Brother. Though living in a police and Junior Spies, loyal citizens have nothing to fear, for they love their Leader and his enemies.

Those who love their leader, however, must have no room in their hearts for anyone else. When affection for others rises spontaneously, that love is considered subversive, something to be eliminated (Howe, 1971:49). Though necessary for child-bearing, the sex must be stated-controlled. Winston's affair with Julia is a capital offense; the State must purify his heart in Miniluv's torture chambers.

Big Brother wisely turns the sex drive into political hysteria (Howe, 1971:49). The fanatic Oceanians stand ready to strike terror into the hearts of any enemies. To stimulate hatred, Big Brother not only sets up a mythical Adversary but also uses such propaganda techniques as exciting rituals, stirring military music, barbaric rhythms, noisy rallies, slogan-chanting mobs, rabble-rousing war films, staged hangings. The two Minute Hate and Hate Week intensify the mood. Like many another propagandist, Big Brother knows the unifying value of hate.

In 1984, Orwell uses artistic exaggeration to make his warning clear. He also warns us about veiled censorship in a free press. The reader can easily recognized Big Brother's propaganda for what it is--an obvious mixture of absurd lies and gross distortions of truth. Such propaganda often eulogizes the Leaders, hiding their mistakes and magnifying their successes (Lang, 1979:43). Today's propaganda, according to Cantril and Hart in their book World Book Encyclopedia, however, is not always so easily recognized, for it tells the truth -- convincing parts of it. By cleverly manipulating carefully selected facts, propagandists today either ignore or downplay any evidence that might effectively refute their one-sided arguments--the old card-sticking trick. Modern propaganda has various names, such as government "publicity," political "advertising," or even official "communication packages" (Lang, 1979:42).

It has been said that Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 are probably the most widely read literary/political polemics ever written in English. Stansky and Abrahams stated in their article's "The Transformation" that:

Orwell was never very clear about what sort of political system might work, nor was he particularly sophisticated about the peculiarities of any political organization. But he knew what he didn't like, and he knew why; the two short novels that emerged from his metamorphosis--Animal Farm and 1984--are probably the most widely read literary/political polemics ever written in English Atlantic Monthly.

Of the two novels, perhaps 1984 is more likely to be remembered. It is a kind of nightmare that haunts the memory because its world looks much like our own. Before 1984 readers of this novel asked question like these: Will 1984 be like in 1984? If do not happen in 1984 will it happen in 1984? and the answer is NO and We HOPE NOT. 1984 has already past and nothing happened like in 1984. Now we are in 1984, we hope the nightmare do not become reality. As Small stated:

For it can be said that, so long as we can talk about 1984 and discuss whether it has come or not, then certainly it has not come: the one certain is that when 1984 is actually here and we are living in the kind of world that Orwell described as a warning, we shall be unconscious of it, and they very title of his book, which has become a monitory symbol for us, will have ceased to have any of its present meaning (1975 : 21).

Whatever people say about 1984, whether it will happen or not, the only thing I can say is 1984 is a good literary work. It says something worth saying. It adds our understanding of life in the world around us. It embodies thought and feeling on matters of human importance.


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Howe, Irving. 1971. "1984: History as Nightmare". Twentieth Century Interpretations of 1984: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Samuel Hynes. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Lambert, Richard S. 1988. Propaganda. Discussion Books 13. London: Nelson.

Lang, John S. 1979. "The Great American Bureaucratic Propaganda Machine." U.S. News and World Report, 43-47.

Orwell, George. 1968. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Ed. Sonia and Ian Agus. 4 vols. New York : Harcourt.

---. 1972. "The Freedom of The Press." New York Times Magazine 8 Oct.: 12.

---. 1980. 1984. New York : Harcourt.

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Tri Pramesti, lecturer at the Faculty of Letters, Universitas 17 Agustus 1945 Surabaya.