George Orwell's 1984: How some in the media like to try to make you think something is a big deal when its not

by Rachel Baker on August 12, 2013

First, let me start with this: my annoyance is not at the Daily Beast although I am starting this out by referencing an article or two they wrote. Over at the Daily Beast, there’s an interesting excerpt from George Orwell: A Life in Letters which is published today by Liveright.

The excerpt is from a letter Orwell wrote in May 1944 and could have been and probably is the beginning of a thought that several years later turned into the book, 1984.  The letter is written in answer to the question:

whether totalitarianism, leader-worship etc. are really on the up-grade and instance the fact that they are not apparently growing in this country and the USA.

In reading the above mentioned article, I noticed another interesting 1984 article.  This article is in regards to the LA Times notification on June 11, 2013 that Amazon sales of Orwell’s 1984 have spiked since Snowden and the NSA Scandal broke.

I particularly liked the statement:

A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984.

Two things to consider in regards to the rise in 1984s status on the Amazon Movers and Shakers list is that 1984 is a classic – which also marked its 60th anniversary recently.  Most likely it is on a VERY high percentage of of the school summer reading lists in our country.  June is typically the time that two things happen: School lets out, and parents buy the summer reading books.

These are three of the top 5 search results for 1984 summer reading list (A berkley site is listed as number one, but there’s a lot of lists to click through, though I’m sure its probably there) :
Common Sense Media
Barnes and Noble

Frankly, I think its shameful for some in the media to decide there was a story in 1984 moving up the Amazon movers and shakers list unequivocally because of the Snowden/NSA Scandal. Likewise, I think politicians need to have a little bit of restraint before they declare kids are growing up in an Orwellian world – this revelation certainly isn’t because of the NSA as much as everything ever on the internet is saved (people thought it was a wonderfully cool thing that the Library of Congress was saving Twitter posts).

I expect more, and so should everyone else; Kudos to the media outlets that at least put out there that 1984 is a typical school summer reading list find.  I found this quote interesting:

Liz Keenan, director of publicity for Plume publishing, which produced Orwell’s book, told ABC News that sales of “1984? always spike this time of the year because teachers and students are buying copies for summer reading, but the increase has never been this large.

I don’t know, maybe its just me, but show me that the increase has never been this large. I’m a little bit cynical about the director of publicity for the publishing company that published the book telling me the increase has never been this large. EVERY ONE KNOWS that if you create controversy it will sell – ask Stephen King with the Bachman books and J. K. Rowling with The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Just out of curiosity, I went to the movers and shakers site (for the 1pm hour of August 12, 2013). 17 of the 100 books are full on summer reading list classics:

28. J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
41. Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea
47. Erich Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
49. Toni Morrison: Beloved
51. Albert Camus: The Stranger
58. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
59. Ernest Hemingway: The Sun also Rises
69. John Knowles: A Separate Peace
71. John Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men
72. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
78. Homer: The Odyssey
79. Mark Twain: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
87. Jon Krakauer: Into the Wild
88. George Orwell: 1984 (60th Anniversary Edition)
91. Arthur Miller: The Crucible
99. Diana Hacker: A Pocket Style Manual
100: C.S. Lewis: Screwtape letters

Not included in the above list are the dictionaries, and the manuals typically used in college and high school classes. Now, my point for showing this is that IF the reason for the increase in 1984s movers and shakers had been the snowden/nsa scandal, 1984 would have remained higher…just on sheer word of mouth and people buying it because EVERYONE was talking about it.

I also went to look on the Kindle Movers and Shakers and there’s nothing there about it at all.  In fact, interestingly, there’s no typical school summer reading books on the Kindle Movers and Shakers lists.

Further 1984 did not show on the New York Times best selling list for the same week.  For there to been a huge meaningful leap on the movers and shakers list for 1984’s popularity that week to have been brought to light as a consequence of the scandal, I would be willing to bet that the NYTimes would have listed it as a best seller for the week.

Just a little bit of actual research and a bit of common sense would have had any journalist making the assumptions that Snowden leaks and the rise of 1984 was simply a coincidence.  If this had been the reason, it would have shown up on the Kindle list as well – because so many people would have bought the book so they could make their phony outrage arguments about how crappy our government is around the dinner table or at the townhall meetings with their congressmen/women this month. That’s how these lists work, and frankly, it is my opinion, they can’t be relied on for any real sort of trending.

In closing, its incredibly irresponsible for a news outlet to make half-assed correlations as had been done with 1984 and the Snowden leaks.  These types of stories happen way too often and frankly, I am of the humble opinion that more audiences and readerships should demand a bit more intellectual respect from their media outlets.

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