Thursday, November 18, 2021

Orwell On Media Mischief

Eric Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell
This year I have been on something of an Orwell jag. After reading 1984 and Animal Farm last year I dove into Thomas E. Ricks' Churchill and Orwell this spring, which ignited a renewed interest in reading more Orwell. According to Ricks, both Churchill and Orwell produced their best work at the end of their writing careers.

In the case of Orwell, the books 1984 and Animal Farm were his best, but Ricks cited Homage to Catalonia as a turning point. I thus purchased Homage to Catalonia, in part because of the Ricks endorsement and in part because of a recurring interest in the Spanish Civil War. 

But Ricks also noted that Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Blair, wrote innumerable essays in the twilight of his career. (He only lived to be 47.) Currently I have been dipping in to a collection of narrative essays assembled under the title Facing Unpleasant Facts.

The essay currently in my hands during my bedtime reading is titled Looking Back On The Spanish War. In the fourth section of the essay he discusses the manner in which the media cover events, not just the specificities of the Spanish conflict but media in general. It is no wonder that people are so misinformed, as all the events we read about are mediated to us. We are not there and so we rely on others to convey what is happening.

Here's what Orwell has to say about this.

The struggle for power between the Spanish Republican parties is an unhappy far off thing which I have no wish to revive at this date. I only mention it in order to say: believe nothing, or next to nothing, of what you read about internal affairs on the Government side. It is all, from whatever source, party propaganda--that is to say, lies.

A little further down the page he writes:

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports that did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.

I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traders, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing those lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various "party lines.”

These observations seemed to jump off the page in light of current events and a few experiences from my own lifetime. 

Something to think about.

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Related Links

Orwell's Homage to Catalonia Is Instructive on Many Levels, Plus a Good Read

Staying Human Is What Is Important

Bertrand Russell's Free Thought and Official Propaganda Has Much to Say about the Current State of Cancel Culture

He Who Controls the Narrative Controls the People

1 comment:

DavidAsch said...

Thanks for bringing Orwell back to the fore. Agree that "Homage" is a good read!

When I was in college, they had a January term where students could create their own curricula. One year I read all of Orwell's books and followed his paths in England and France - "Down and Out in Paris and London," "The Road to Wigan Pier," etc. What a boondoggle!

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