In 1984, there was a lot of talk about “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel was referenced in one of the great commercials of all time, the Apple Macintosh ad directed by Ridley Scott that aired during the Super Bowl. “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984,’ ” the commercial proclaimed.
Later that year, a film was released based on the novel. John Hurt played protagonist Winston Smith. The work was critically praised but didn’t do well at the box office — no surprise for a piece that ends with the hero, who has sought to break free of his totalitarian state, tortured and once again loving Big Brother. (A similar film, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 “Brazil,” was more inventive — when you had Bob Hoskins as a malevolent technician and Robert De Niro as the fix-it hero Tuttle, how could it not be? — but also had a downbeat ending.)
But the work I remember was a CBS documentary that aired in the summer of 1983, “1984 Revisited.”
What stuck with me was less host Walter Cronkite’s concerns about what the next year would bring — it ended up bringing some great albums and Ronald Reagan’s re-election — but his look at how easily the past could be rewritten. Among the visuals were photos from the Stalin era of the Soviet Union in which purged figures had been erased, and even a copy of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia in which readers were asked to cut out the entry on disgraced KGB chief Lavrenti Beria and replace it with an anodyne article on the Bering Sea.
These tales were later expanded into a 1997 book, “The Commissar Vanishes.” It would be funny if it weren’t so chilling.
Well, tragedy becomes farce, as someone once said.
On Sunday, #alternativefacts was trending on Twitter. It had been prompted by President Trump’s, Press Secretary Spicer’s and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s assertions that the crowds for the inauguration were yuge — far bigger than what the lying, corrupt media were saying. Never mind the many aerial shots from many sources, the empty spots on the Mall, the lighter load on the Metro — obviously, it had all been made up. So folks took the opportunity to make up their own:
Orwell, of course, got a shout-out:
This, too, would be funny if it weren’t so chilling. The inauguration crowd numbers are simply something for a pissing contest, but we depend on facts and hard data to make decisions in a reality-based world. Are they going to become like so many stretch marks on a Photoshopped celebrity?
In “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Winston Smith’s job was to rewrite the past to fit with current party doctrine. I’d like to believe he’ll remain a fictional character, but I’m not so sure.
Update, 5:50 p.m. ET: Brian Stelter has a lot of questions: