What George Orwell’s New Statue Stands For

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The Anvil Breaks The Hammer. BBC

It is no coincidence that The Angry Bird movie, made $350 million dollars the same year we appointed Count Fosco head of state. It is understood that those that choose to defend provocative entertainment will be met with meaningless pejoratives like “pretentious” or “snob.” The modest band of filmmakers that dare to defy the hums of the franchise machine are ostracized to art house theatres, so that if you were blessed with half a brain but cursed to a residence in some podunk town, you either pirate The Florida Project, or trudge to your local shithole movie theatre with the hopes that Dean Devlin gets it right this time.

"Our civilization is decadent, and our language, so the argument runs, must inevitably share in the general collapse.” writes George Orwell in his revered essay Politics and The English Language. His point, I’m sad to say, has maintained relevance since it was published more than seventy years ago. Orwell had it right to suggest that the poverty of imagination currently plaguing our contemporaries is both a cause and effect of social unrest. Maybe that’s why the BBC is honoring him with a new bronze statue.  

Do you really think the rise in “leave your brain at the door” attitudes are exclusive to movies?  Ask someone to name the first five amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Or why Thomas Paine is so important. Or what color blood is inside the human body. We are encouraged by the nature of our technology and popular culture to keep our facts tethered to the stuff in our pockets, not the stuff in our skulls.

Expression, in any medium, becomes tenth-rate when we allow our thoughts to become vague and imprecise. I enjoy a good piece of schlock as much as anyone else, but the fact that the term “ originality” or “risky” pops up in so many reviews of this stuff suggests a serious flaw in our evaluation of culture and our expectations of it.

My occupation dictates I consume a lot of film and literature. On balance, I observe the same stories more or less told the same way. Recycling themes and images deprives them of meaning. Whether you're presently aware of it or not, imprecise expression is harmful to society at large. Don’t misunderstand me. Filmmakers, writers, musicians painters etc. should not be burdened with an obligation to say meaningful things, but they should be expected to uphold a responsibility to say things meaningfully.  

When deciding upon a film to watch, a book to read, a sentence to write, a leader to elect, take care to do some ruminating. You owe it to yourself to know why you're doing what you're doing. This is a virtue we must defend at all cost. “Language is not a natural growth but an instrument that we shape for our own purposes,” wrote Orwell.  

It isn’t too late. Reject the use of “ready made phrases.” Reject the industry’s insistence that you will imbibe whatever they present. Reject the temptation to allow convenience to destroy the rewarding labor that breeds clarity and candor. Let’s make heedlessness unfashionable.

 

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