The Medium in 1984 and Brave New World

George Orwell’s novel 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World both depict dystopian societies where technology and government control have drastically altered the human experience. In both novels, characters struggle with adapting to the new medium of communication and information dissemination, which is a central theme in the works of Marshall McLuhan, a prominent media theorist of the 20th century.

Winston Smith, the protagonist in 1984, struggles with the new medium of communication and information dissemination because he was educated in the old medium before Big Brother’s revolution. In the novel, the government controls all media outlets and uses them as a tool for propaganda and thought control. Winston’s job involves altering old news articles to reflect the current government narrative, effectively rewriting history. This manipulation of information leaves Winston feeling isolated and disillusioned, as he is unable to find any reliable sources of truth.

In contrast, Bernard Marx in Brave New World has not known any other environment and is therefore listless and lackadaisical. In Huxley’s novel, the government controls all aspects of life, including reproduction and social hierarchy. The use of technology and genetic engineering has created a society where people are conditioned to be content with their predetermined roles and desires. Bernard Marx, an alpha plus, feels out of place and discontented, unable to find fulfillment in his prescribed role.

McLuhan’s theories on media and communication can help explain the differences in Winston and Bernard’s reactions to their respective societies. McLuhan believed that the medium through which information is communicated shapes the message and the way people perceive it. In 1984, the government’s control of media has led to the manipulation of information, which creates a sense of isolation and disillusionment for Winston. The old medium that Winston was educated in was likely more reliable, objective, and independent from government control. The new medium, controlled by the government, leads to a distorted and biased message, which leaves Winston feeling disconnected and disoriented.

In Brave New World, the use of technology and conditioning has created a society where people are conditioned to be content with their predetermined roles and desires. Bernard Marx, who is an outlier in this society, feels out of place and unfulfilled, but he is unable to articulate why he feels this way. This is because he has never known any other environment than the one he was born into, which shapes his understanding of the world.

In “1984,” the Party’s use of technology and media is a prime example of a hot medium. The telescreen, which is a combination of a television and a surveillance camera, is used to constantly monitor citizens and suppress dissent. The telescreen broadcasts loud propaganda that requires little participation from the viewer, making it a hot medium that overwhelms the senses and creates a sense of immediacy. The Party also uses newspapers and books as tools for propaganda and censorship, with heavily edited versions of history and language used to control the narrative.

In contrast, “Brave New World” relies on more passive forms of media that can be considered cold mediums. The feelies, a form of entertainment similar to movies, provide a sensory experience for the audience but require little engagement or critical thinking. Similarly, the use of soma, a mind-altering drug, is a way to numb citizens to any negative emotions or thoughts, rendering them passive and compliant. The World State also uses hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching, to condition citizens from birth to accept their predetermined roles in society without question.

Overall, “1984” uses hot mediums to overwhelm and control citizens, while “Brave New World” uses cold mediums to lull citizens into passive acceptance of their predetermined roles. Both novels show the dangers of technology and media in the wrong hands, and the importance of critical thinking and individuality in the face of oppression.

In conclusion, Winston Smith’s struggle with the new medium of communication in 1984 and Bernard Marx’s lack of fulfillment in Brave New World can be seen as a result of the medium through which they receive information and understand the world around them. McLuhan’s theories on media and communication can help us understand the role that technology and government control play in shaping our perception of reality. These novels serve as cautionary tales about the dangers of allowing those in power to control the flow of information and shape our understanding of the world.

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