By Helen Buyniski
Complaining about authoritarian government intrusion into one’s life or surreptitious rewriting of history no longer qualify as “Orwellian,” according to an article that ironically embodies the concept in trying to redefine it.
News outlet USA Today has managed to personify the term ‘Orwellian’ in its profoundly condescending writeup scolding readers for “using the term ‘Orwellian’ wrong.” Published on Monday, the piece goes to great lengths to shame those insecure about their vocabulary by suggesting the term “Orwellian” can only be used correctly by liberals.
“Chances are, you’ve seen George Orwell’s name thrown around a lot in the past week on social media, either by conservatives invoking his name with sincerity or by liberals poking fun at conservatives for its misuse,” the article starts, smirkingly laying the groundwork for canceling out all usage of the term by those on the Right.
But the examples it holds up to mock – presidential scion Donald Trump Jr.’s complaint about the disappearance of his father’s Twitter account and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s blaming the “woke mob” for the cancellation of his book contract – are not as wide of the mark as the thought police at USA Today would have us believe.
Hawley’s book denouncing the “tyranny of Big Tech,” for example, isn’t just “a publisher drop[ping] your book because your brand has become toxic” – it’s a disturbing example of what are supposed to be separate industries (social media, book publishing) marching in ideological lockstep with the prevailing political ideology.
Nor is the younger Trump’s complaint about Twitter deleting his father’s account ‘just’ an example of “an internet platform enforcing its terms of service.” For better or worse, Trump’s Twitter feed was a historical document, his primary means of addressing the American public throughout his presidency. Suspending it permanently is the equivalent of throwing four years of official proclamations down the memory hole, never to be seen again, as 1984’s protagonist Winston Smith did with inconvenient historical documents as a loyal Party member.
USA Today brings in a scholar who wrote his dissertation on Orwell to connect the iconic “Two Minutes Hate” to the “social media mob mentality” and the QAnon conspiracy theory, perhaps missing the forest (four years of “Orange Man Bad!” ritualistically shouted at the top of one’s digital lungs) for the trees.
The article notes that Orwell fought fascism in Spain, strongly implying today’s conservatives are the ideological descendants of Franco’s fascists – a conclusion it doesn’t try to support with facts, but merely guilt by association. Which dovetails perfectly with the writer’s efforts to narrow the definition of “Orwellian” by the use of “the manipulation of language” to conceal reality.
After all, even this heavy-handed propaganda piece acknowledges that Orwell discovered “the failures of Soviet communism,” finding it one of “two sides of the same totalitarian coin” with fascism and disowning both extremes.
And as much as 21st century liberal revisionists would like to lay claim to the term “Orwellian” just for themselves, the dystopian future-Britain of 1984 was crafted in the image of the Soviet Union, not fascist Spain or Germany. “INGSOC,” the name of the Party’s totalitarian ideology, is short for “English Socialism.” Attempting to dismantle the author’s own intent to sell the ideological flavor-of-the-month is pretty, well, Orwellian.