Nineteen Eighty-Four and 1984

Using the Timeline has begun to shed some light on the theme that I am following. Though there are still some flaws with the Timeline, it has become clear through using this that the greatest concentration of works currently in the database were released between the years 1981 and 1985, with 1983 holding the most texts. My immediate thought here was that this may have been because of the association of the year 1984 with dystopian and nightmarish visions of the future. Though George Orwell’s novel cannot really be classed as apocalyptic as much as dystopian, the cachet of apocalyptic narratives around this year may was likely related to prominence of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) in the lineage of fiction dealing with alternate and anti-utopian futures. A cursory glance at the texts released around this time, however, shows not a clear-cut influence of Orwell but perhaps one that is more subtle and complex. Not only do many of the texts not revolve around future depictions of London and instead seem to prefer younger cities, but a significant number are first released in languages other than English (specifically French, Italian, Polish, and Filipino). To analyze this prominence I began a series of experiments with Gephi, and read these results alongside the themes of Orwell’s novel to determine whether there was more evidence to support the idea of this correlation.

First of all I must add the disclaimer that as the database is not filled-out completely, the data fed into Gephi is only that which I have chosen to add so far. As a result many of these results may change as more information is added. What follows, then, is not a complete reading of the texts from this period, but one which addresses themes in the works from this period I currently feel are the most important.

To avoid the problems with Gephi graphs being non-recursive I decided to use only two columns at a time from the database. To begin this exercise I therefore created three .csv files, one featuring the “year” and “type” columns, one with the “year” and “city” columns, and one with the “year” and “tags” columns. For each of these I included only the texts which currently have entries for both of these columns. I then used the “ego-network” filter to reduce the results to each of the years 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985 individually.

What follows are the results for the “type” column:

type 1981 type 1982 type 1983 type 1984 type 1985Interestingly these results show a fascination not with the cataclysmic events themselves (except in the one instance of the appearance of “apocalypse”) but in the aftermath of such events. In other words, post-apocalyptic and dystopian worlds, rather than utopian worlds under threat. This shows a rather bleak outlook in texts released around this time, in accordance with the London depicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

These show the results from the “city” columns:

cities 1981 cities 1982 cities 1983 cities 1984The year 1985 had no associated cities. Again the results here are interesting. At the start of the decade is a concern with the city of London, but as 1984 approaches and passes this transforms into a concern with the younger cities of New York and Los Angeles. Not only does the Old World face decay in these works, therefore, but as time goes on the New World faces this decay in increasing degrees. This climaxes here with the concern with Los Angeles, the westernmost city of the New World at the very edge of the frontier, and one of the youngest big cities in the West. Perhaps this can be read as showing that the kinds of concerns presented by Orwell are systemic, not particular to the specific scenario he depicted but inevitable and inescapable.

Finally, these are the results from the “tags” column. These were more sparsely populated, so 1981 and 1983 had no representation here, but these images show the results from 1982, 1984, and 1985:

tags 1985 tags 1982 tags 1984Again the results show a relation to the kind of dystopian future of Orwell’s novel. Prominent in each of these years is a focus on government, the military, police, conspiracy, and science and technology. These seems, from these results, to be a feeling of disconnect between the protagonists of these works and the authorities and power structures of the worlds they inhabit. Slavery, extinction, zombification, and darkness seem to be the consequences of worlds in which these power structures hold a significant apocalyptic or dystopian role.

A closer look at one of the most significant of these dystopian texts from the period 1981-1985, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), shows these correlations more clearly. Set in the post-biological-war-torn Los Angeles of 2019, Blade Runner portrays a dystopian urban world in which similar questions are posed about the democratic process and the extent to which humanity can be determined in legislation. In contrast to the ubiquitous thought police of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the dominant police force of the movie, the “blade runners,” are shown as a bumbling and all-too-human, mercenary group of misfits. Deckard and his predecessor, Holden, are accident-prone and improvisational in their methods, eventually only surviving by the hand of those they were hired to “retire.” The eye of Big Brother from Orwell’s novel is, in Blade Runner, looking in the other direction: it is the eyes of the citizens that are foregrounded in the Voight-Kampff test, although again this is the method of control. By studying their eyes the blade runners are able to determine if the citizens are innocent or guilty of a lack of emotion in their responses (in other words, perhaps, a “thought crime”).

BladeRunner_Voigt-Kampff_machine tumblr_m11buhkKDo1qdj0hbo1_500Through using Timeline and Gephi, therefore, it has become clear that a large number of post-apocalyptic and dystopian works were released around the famous date of 1984 that bear at least some influence of Orwell’s novel. As more information is added to the database and the entries currently there are fleshed out in more detail, it will be interesting to see if there are any more points of contact between Nineteen Eighty-Four and the fiction of the early 1980s.


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