2010: Volume 3, Issue 2, pp. 49-66

Propaganda and Surveillance in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Two Sides of the Same Coin

Michael Yeo



Propaganda and surveillance are pervasive in contemporary society. Extensive literatures have developed around each. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is an important point of reference in both literatures. Orwell takes both propaganda and surveillance to extreme limits: total surveillance and total propaganda. Writing them large he brings important aspects of each into sharp relief, which is why his novel has the iconic status that it does for theorists in both literatures. However Nineteen Eighty-Four is of interest not just for its potential contribution to theorizing about propaganda or about surveillance. Propaganda and surveillance in the novel are not just accidentally related but essentially linked. I show how they work not just individually but in tandem in Orwell’s text, playing complementary roles in an absurd project of total social control directed not just at behaviour but also thought. Relating propaganda and surveillance in a sustained and systematic reading of the novel reveals it to be an even richer resource for theorizing about either surveillance or propaganda than it is when read, as it typically is, with an emphasis on one or the other. Additionally, from a literary perspective this reading opens up what I believe is a fresh perspective on the novel and makes it more inviting for a thoughtful and rewarding reread.



Full Text: