This is a scene from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-four” where the main protagonist Winston is in the custody of the Ministry of Love and is undergoing treatment to correct (or cure) his contempt of the ruling government. Standing guard and watching impassively is a heavily armed member of the thought police, symbolic of absolute authority while the tiled room is representative of the “institution” – a place where people are processed in one form or another.
The thought policeman in this scene does not necessarily represent an oppressive totalitarian state; it could be any group or majority at any level of society in any area of human affairs. Indeed, it is pointed out that the underlying ideology held by the group is irrelevant; the most disturbing thing is the enforcement of those ideals or values (groupthink) upon those that disagree or question or have any other ideas contrary to what is accepted. The book not only portrays power taken to its logical extreme, but it is a frightening illustration of how individual will and thought can be manipulated, broken and re-shaped to suit the beliefs of the state or society at the time. Consequently, Winston’s willful act of rebellion by loving someone other than Big Brother, the apparent figurehead of the pervasive ruling party that controls every single aspect of human behaviour (including thought) leads to his downfall.
The themes of constant surveillance, misinformation, the shifting nature of accepted fact and orthodox thought examined in Nineteen Eighty-four resonate within our modern world more than ever with the tremendous impact of the Internet, social media and the introduction of mobile devices into people’s lives. Orwell’s profound insight is summed up by the following quote from the book that also provided inspiration to this picture:
“The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.”