LAST WEEK, thousands of folks flocked to theaters all over the country to watch 1984, the film adaptation of George Orwell's 1949 fictional futuristic dystopian nightmare creepily resembling our daily newsfeeds.
As the current administration appears to be using the remedial Cliff Notes version as a blueprint for its national security strategy, draconian immigration policies and gleeful strangulation of art and culture, it’s no wonder we’re all side-eying Oceania like Etruscan soothsayers sifting through sheep entrails.
Phrases like “Perpetual War” and “Ignorance is Strength” echo the willful idiocracy of a $54 billion blank check to the military and the installation of a real-life Professor Umbridge in charge of the Ministry—er, Department of Education. You can’t deny that the story’s supposed Party Enemy No. 1 Emmanuel Goldstein, with his revolutionary ranting and Trotsky-esque threat to the oligarchical power structure, bears more than a passing resemblance to Bernie Sanders.
I mean, Big Brother may or may not be an actual person, but how many Americans have quit discussing family secrets in front of the microwave?
If you really want to catch a case of nail-biting paranoia, take a refresher course in Orwellian newspeak—a choppy language expressly designed to confuse and control that includes the mind-melting notion of blackwhite, the blind compliance of not only swearing that black is white and 2+2=5 but believing it and forgetting “that one has ever believed the contrary.”
The parallels are so absurd it would be hilarious—if it weren’t for actual paradoxical facepalmers like “clean coal,” “alternative facts,” “illegals skewed the popular vote,” and “it’s all Obama’s fault.” Critical thinking skills, meh, who needs ‘em?
As many resistors already know, it’s useless and exhausting to argue with the stubbornly stupid. It’s time to fight the morons with our own oxymoronic weapons.
That’s where aggressive civility comes in.
The brainchild (or thoughtcrime, depending on your loyalty to the Inner Party) of local freethinkers Jim Reed and Phillip Reynolds Price, this cheekily contradictory concept invites those who believe in truth, justice, dignity and decency to step up their game.
“Like many folks, I’ve noticed a coarsening of culture recently,” shares Reed with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m tired of being sad about the way people interact with each other. We have to start calling out the assholery.”
Whether that entails addressing ignorant comments by a co-worker or taking time to volunteer at a local literacy program, Reed defines aggressive civility as “basically being as good at being nice, friendly, polite and inclusive as other people are at being assholes.”
It also means putting a little more money where our big mouths are. He and Price have co-founded the new social action organization, #AggressivelyCivil, which not only makes a fabulous hashtag but stages events and sells swag to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While there are plenty of worthy causes in this brave new world, they’ve chosen these two civil rights giants for their proven records when it comes to defending the Constitutional liberties of all Americans and advocating for our most vulnerable citizens. It also keeps the mission of #AggressivelyCivil blessedly simple.
“We raise money. We give half of it to the ACLU. We give the other half to the SPLC. They’re two established organizations that we trust and believe in. That’s it,” says Price.
The doubleplusdogooders debuted the project in conjunction with Reed’s regular Wednesday screening of the Psychotronic Film Society at the Sentient Bean, long a teeming bastion of thought criminals and potential unpersons.
Keeping to its rebellious origins, the Psychotronic Film Society didn’t present the same film version of 1984 as the other 200 theaters across the country, the one starring recently-deceased John Hurt as the love-and-truth tortured Winston Smith.
Instead, Reed scared up a rare screener of the BBC’s original 1954 black-and-white telecast that caused massive uproar in Great Britain for its “subversive nature and horrific content.” (The rat scene is tame compared to, say, Willard standards, but was icky enough to have terrified one housewife to death, as reported by the Daily Express.)
Members of Parliament got involved, introducing various amendments to censure its “sexual and sadistic tastes” and counter motions that lauded the show’s depictions of inhuman practices “already in common use under totalitarian régimes.” (Let it be known that the young Queen and Prince Philip enjoyed the show immensely.)
The BBC responded by staging an encore, this one caught on film. Produced by legendary British screenwriter Nigel Kneale, 1954’s 1984 remains one of the oldest preserved live telecasts.
Huh, history. Written by the victors and all that.
I’ve always met overreactive Orwellian references with an eyeroll, but watching Winston toss “malreported” articles down the memory holes and rewrite the story of the world, I couldn’t help but shudder. The new administration’s war on truth has more fake news and propaganda propagating the bandwidth than ever, freakishly reflecting Orwell’s pablum of “rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology.” (At the risk of resembling that remark, Rob Brezny reminds that Mercury is in retrograde for the next three weeks.)
Will future Americans read about 2017 as the beginning of a blinding new era when war became peace and freedom became slavery? Will anyone remember the hypocrisy of 59 missiles in response to gas attacks on Syrian children who would have been denied sanctuary within our borders? Will there be a record of apparent collusion with vowed enemies of democracy?
As we parse the distractions, are the true victors to be the poison-shilling pharmaceutical industry and corporate conglomerates jacking up health care and fracking up the water?
Orwell’s 1984 may seem simplistic and stark compared to what’s oozing out of the White House, but there’s no escaping the kinship. We must continue to resist by practicing kindness harder, shouting the truth louder, and participating in the civility that this country so desperately needs—aggressively and without compromise.
“If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them,” wrote Orwell on the wall of the once-and-future free world.
And even though Big Brother definitely isn’t watching through the microwave, I’m still giving it the middle finger every time I heat up my tea,just in case. cs