6 May 2014

Beware the memory hole

It was in everyone's school bags when I went to school and it was about Stalinism, not about our world, but there's something in common and we're talking of it now. We've been talking of Orwell for decades and he's claimed by right and left. We'd seen this very company, shake & stir theatre co., doing Animal Farm sometime last year. We caught them last Saturday with 1984. It was not an easy night. The performance was without interval. The story was close to what I remember. Room 101 and the prior torture were excruciating. The love scenes were hopeful. The perverted response of one character whose 7-yo daughter had dobbed him in for thoughtcrime (supposedly talking in his sleep, "Down with Big Brother") was agonising. He could only agree that thoughtcrime comes uninvited. And we shivered with the commitment of youth who will dob in a dad for an ideology. An imposed ideology at that. There are warnings here, of course, for all manner of politics. Memory as the basis of truth, and how it can be manipulated. Think our constrained media and our life of pleasurable immediacy. There's a line about wars that can't be won but must continue. The obvious recent case is the War on Terrorism that is without end, but Abbott said just in recent days (paraphrasing), that we can't win the War on Drugs but we can't cease it. No way do I think he's expressing tyranny, but the thinking is inherently Manichaeistic and dangerous; in Bush's words, with us or against us. How much are we influenced by Orwell: newspeak, thoughtcrime, doublethink, Big Brother, memory hole, Ministry of Truth, Room 101, unperson. The spin that is expressed in the label, Ministry of Love: we see it every day, even in the naming of legislation. The two-way telescreens that are everpresent are parallelled in our big data, surveillance-rich society. We haven't come to 1984, yet, but this is a parable of warning. It's frightening but worryingly familiar.

shake + stir theatre co was established in 2008; they are a youth theatre company; they tour with Australia Council assistance; they are convincing and the works I've seen have youthful intelligence and wariness. Long may that last. They are annually seen by an audience of 180,000. The cast were Bryan Probets (the central character, Winston Smith), Nelle Lee (Julia, his lover), David Whitney (O'Brien of the Inner Party) and Ross Balbuziente and Nick Skubij. Michael Futcher directed. This was a terrifying and uncomfortable night of premonitions and warnings.

This is CJBlog post no. 1200

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