It has become cliché to make comparisons of the modern world to Orwell’s 1984. Government collection of metadata means we are always being watched. Homeland Security illustrates the penetration of doublespeak in our lives. That we are engaged in a never-ending war against terrorism is analogous to having “always been at war with Eastasia.”
However, despite many important parallels, I find the primary theme of 1984 to be an inaccurate portrayal of modern life. 1984 imagines the evil of unified power. It is personified through Big Brother. The primary theme, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” is simply not apt.
Most people do not feel the boot on their face. Obama, despite the fact he occasionally drones children, is not Big Brother. Homeland Security is not the Ministry of Love, it is the DMV with police powers. Rather than the horrors of totalitarian dictatorship, we have the horrors of rampant, dysfunctional bureaucracy.
“Brazil,” directed by Terry Gilliam and loved by those who have seen it, captures these themes expertly. It follows Sam Lowry, a low-level bureaucrat with fantasies about saving a woman from his dreams.
A clerical error leads to the imprisonment, looking very much like a modern SWAT raid, of a Mr. Archibald Buttle, instead of terrorist Archibald Tuttle. This is reminiscent of putting Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list because of a clerical error. It took 8 years for the government to admit its error.
Later, Archibald Tuttle, an air conditioning repairman gone rogue because of his dislike of paperwork, helps Sam fix his air conditioning. I can’t help but think of licensing laws and how they keep people impoverished.
Overall, the picture is painted is not one of evil, but incompetence. The bureaucracy is impossible to navigate, but no one is responsible. It is the result of human action but not human design. Our world today is the same.