Americans live in a different age than when the Founding Fathers first framed the Constitution. In the beginning, those men set a standard for the government and even established the Bill of Rights in order to protect the citizens of this country from losing civil liberties. Now, nationalization has increased. The government is involved in all policies that concern US citizens. Similarly so, in the movie 1984, the government infringed on every civil liberty and right of its citizens; all for the sake of maintaining power and control. The United States is currently developing new ways to prevent terrorism within our borders. Several steps have been taken, such as the installment of the USA Patriot and new measures in technology that are being implemented. It passed overwhelmingly in Congress because its measures were meant to prevent terrorist activity within the United States. This is a vital issue to discuss solely for the purpose that the government can throw everyone in the same pool as being a suspect. Government control is not a widely discussed topic in America because it is assumed the government would never overstep their boundaries. However, the people in 1984 were kept uninformed and were stripped of every imaginable right. It is imperative that people stay informed on the topic so the totalitarian form of government in 1984 does not sneak up on the Land of the Free. Strong supporters of the USA Patriot Act suggest few freedoms might need to be sacrificed to ensure the public safety, however, the government could one day use the USA Patriot Act to gain power over the people; this would be the worst case scenario for Americans because of the high value placed on individualism that is protected by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
1984 portrays the life of individuals stripped of their rights; American values and the Bill of Rights seeks to prevent such a life. The movie takes place in a country called Oceania in the year 2050. One would assume the living conditions would be advanced compared to today, however it is quite the opposite. The people of Oceania live in prison like conditions, the settings are depressing and dull; and are constantly monitored by telescreens- televisions that allow Big Brother and the Thought Police to see what the people are doing. They are brainwashed into loving their leader “Big Brother” and are expected to do everything out of love for Big Brother. However, among these melancholic conditions lies two individuals, Winston and Julia who refuse to go along with the idea of having the government control what you eat, where you live, down to who you love. Winston and Julia fall in love with each and begin an affair. Unable to escape what seems to be an all-knowing system, they are caught by the Thought Police, officers of the government, who arrest Thought Criminals, individuals who go against the government by exercising their own thoughts, such as having sex. They are taken to the Ministry of Love where Julia and Winston are brainwashed into allowing the government to do all the thinking for them. Through brutal and extreme torture they slowly lose their ability to think for themselves and become what the government calls “sane”. For example, they are taught that two plus two is not four, but whatever the government wants it to be. Still unable to completely give up their own ability to think, the movie shows Winston escorted to room 101, where people’s greatest fears reside, for Winston it is rats. He is strapped to a chair with his head placed inside a cage full of rats, with nothing but a wire door separating the rats from his face. Unknowingly, Winston finally demonstrates that he has finally become “sane”. In shear terror he screams “No! do it to Julia! Not me!” He turned against the woman he loved to save himself, and she did the same to him. The closing scene has Winston and Julia meeting in a café talking about how they betrayed and feel different about one another, they seem callous and unemotional, Julia gets up and leaves, Winston is left sitting there with tears in his eyes proclaiming his love to “Big Brother” whose image is on a big screen behind Winston (Orwell).
1984 is an appropriate movie to investigate, especially post 9/11 because of the increasing amounts of terrorism followed by what seems like increasing amounts of government control and its use of technology to monitor suspects. The movie is not related and makes no reference to terrorism; however it does portray the living in a totalitarian government. It is argued that the increased security in the airports and the implementation of the Patriot Act puts the United States on a track to a more controlling form of government. Author Andrew Dart stated:
The Patriot Act expands the ability of the government to conduct secret searches – even in criminal investigations unrelated to terrorism. And it grants the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental-health and educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and without a court order. Many people believe the USA Patriot Act is much more likely to be a threat to the rights of ordinary Americans than an impediment to terrorists. If the USA deteriorates into just another totalitarian police state… then a handful of terrorists have succeeded in disrupting our society forever (akdart.com).
Dart is referring to a measure of the USA Patriot Act that could possibly pass, it is Patriot Act II: H.R. 3179 :
…enhance the government’s secret power to obtain personal records without judicial review. It would also limit judicial discretion over the use of secret evidence in criminal cases and allow the use of secret intelligence wiretaps in immigration and possibly other civil cases without notice or an opportunity to suppress illegally acquired evidence. If passed, this bill would be a major and unwarranted expansion of the government’s secret surveillance powers under the USA PATRIOT Act.
These excerpts from Dart’s website give reasons to the importance of investigating the issue of government control and how it could use technology against Americans. However on the other hand, H.R. 3162 Sec. 102 expresses that the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans must be protected, every measure must be taken to preserve our safety and any violence or discrimination against any American is condemned (USA Patriot Act 2001). This sounds like the government wants to preserve Americans rights, liberties and safety, or it could serve as a sort of Trojan horse.
The Patriot Act is not the only government program raising questions however. Politicians have been debating on whether the government should administer vouchers to school for spending purposes. Since it is the government’s money, the government would play a role in managing America’s public school systems (Schlect). The upside to government spending on education results in more money for schools to hire teachers and create special programs, but at what non monetary cost.This worries some critics citing the schools would all be the same, and allowing the government to assert “mind-control”. Mind control played a huge role in 1984, and it was due to the government’s involvement in everything.
The government’s power and the people’s struggle to resist it reoccurs in the movie until they can not help but to be surrender their very thoughts to the government. The movie clings to people’s desire for freedom and individualism and instead is replaced with restriction, conformity and fear. It portrays the totalitarian form of government as a war mongering, abusive power that forces its people to live in deplorable conditions, forcing the people to all dress alike and stating that in order to maintain order from the people obedience is not enough, the people must suffer so they are never powerful enough to rise up against the government.
The relation between the topic of government control and 1984 is that the movie’s stance portrays how individuals live and are affected by the form of a totalitarian government, a government that possesses sole power. It portrays people’s lives without the Bill of Rights. Life in America without the Bill of Rights would probably not be as bad as those conditions in 1984, but it would not be ridiculous to assume that the government’s power over the people would be much more evident. For example, life for Americans living under British rule prior to the Revolutionary war would have had no Bill of Rights. And it showed; the British took the liberty of quartering soldiers in colonist’s homes, enacting the Stamp and Tea tax, among other provisions, all without the consent of the colonists. Similar to the 1984, the colonists rebelled and won their independence, unfortunately the people in 1984 were so controlled, they were unable to upraise.
Excessive government control was a fear after the Revolutionary war, especially for the Anti federalist who wanted the new government to stay as far away from the British monarchy as possible. So the Bill of Rights were adopted to ensure the government would never take control over the people the way the British monarchy tried to control the colonists. . The movie shows cruel and unusual punishment, they had no freedom of speech, had no public trials and they were not allowed to pursue their own goals, but rather those set for them by the government. The movie strives to show the viewer the horrors of a life with no liberties. However, it never told how the government got to this point; it is assumed it was always not this way because there were still pockets of resistance from the people. The Bill of Rights was solution to the people’s and Anti Federalists nervousness about adopting a strong central government. A major strength in the movie is that it is almost believable, back in the 1700s when the Bill of Rights were drafted, it would have been completely unbelievable, but times have changed, along with an increase in technology.
In an article written by Robert Conquest, a historian of Stalinist Russia, he asserts that technology would be a necessity to carry out such measures as mind control and tracking down rebels, as it was used by Stalinist secret police (Conquest 39- 71). Technology was the means used in 1984 to keep people under control. Tele-screens monitored by the Thought Police made it impossible for anyone to do anything in private for the monitors were hidden all throughout Oceania. Obviously in the 1700s this type of surveillance would have been impossible because there really was no technology. 1984 and this belief that technology helps serve government surveillance, strengthens the movies point, and with the US government enacting measures such as the USA Patriot, people residing within the United States should be alarmed.
1984 did not have a concrete plot; it did show the means the government used to control the individuals, specifically turning rebels like Winston and Julia into dedicated citizens who were solely in love with Big Brother. Most sources analyzed imply or outright state that technology is necessary for a totalitarian government like the one in the 1984 to exist. True enough, in the movie Winston and Julia were found by the technology of surveillance, a camera hidden behind a picture in a bedroom, soon afterwards helicopter propellers were smashing in the windows. This is but a taste of the type of invasion the government had over the people. And if the government chose to do so, it could use this technology against the people.
Sources ranging from Andrew Dart, who is skeptical of the ACLU, to the ACLU itself oppose the Patriot Act. On its website, the ACLU is calling for the government to stop what it calls illegal spying because it is a violation of the Fourth amendment which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures (USA Patriot Act). Bob Barr, a conservative and former Representative in the House is also a strong opponent of the Patriot Act stating “…government can invade our privacy and gather evidence that can be used against us based on no suspicion whatsoever that we’ve done anything wrong…” (2005). In 1984 information was gathered on everyone at all times, this is how they maintained control of the people. Activists like Barr are not wanting to cripple the governments ability to go after terrorists, but to make sure that the Bill of Rights are preserved and similar to what Andrew Dart said, not allow the terrorists to be the ones that disrupt our liberties and society, for this is what they want.
Overall, there are good points and concerning points to the USA Patriot Act, however it is most important to focus on how the Act could be used to gain more control over Americans, across this board this has been acknowledged. The Patriot Act ,if severely abused would turn us into a 1984 reality, perhaps not to the extent. Sources noted however, that in order to turn America into a totalitarian form of government, technology would be needed, as it was used in 1984. The Framers of the Bill of Rights would have never expected a device such as technology would ever be used to exploit people. Terrorist Expert Steven Weber said during an interview that it is difficult to attribute whether or not the Patriot Act can take credit for uncovering terror plots, citing the US government would not make that information readily available (2006). So the government gives credit to the Patriot Act, but won’t cite specific incidences, which may be wise but others still view the Act as a step closer to 1984. Overall, measures to prevent terrorism are a necessity and with today’s technology it is easier to prevent terrorism, however does the Patriot Act really need to apply to all Americans, and why are there new measures stating it can apply to unrelated terrorist activity. This is such an important issue for Americans to pay attention to because all though the government is probably well intentioned, it is up to the people to make sure the Bill of Rights itself are not being manipulated, even erased. Times have changed since the Bill of Rights were written, which makes it all the more important to stay attuned to the bills Congress is trying to pass so we don’t end up in a time such as 1984. David Rousset a French writer, political activist, and survivor of a Nazi concentration camp once said, “Normal men do not know that everything is possible”. This statement is all the more true in this day and age, especially if the normal working-class American pays no attention to what is going on in politics.
1984. Dir. Michael Radford. Perfs. John Hurt, Richard Burton. Umbrella-Rosenblum Films Production, 1984.
Dart, Andrew. http://www.zen55864.zen.co.uk/