The Age of Facecrime

It’s time for Part Seven of my latest Tale for Our Time: Nineteen Eighty-Four, a tale that is almost too timely. Josh Passell, a Massachusetts member of The Mark Steyn Club, writes:

I’m a couple of nights behind on listening, but these words from your third installment tolled like Big Ben in my mind (emphasis mine):

‘To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone— to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!’

Are those not antitheses? ‘When men are different from one another and do not live alone’ … ‘From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude.’

Uniformity is not the same as unity, it is in fact solitude. To be different is to ‘not live alone’. Why, that sounds a lot like our present situation, where differences are being driven out to leave only uniformity of thought behind. And solitude. And ‘to live alone’. Whaddya know that the same ‘curatives’ for the Chinese Lab virus–solitude, loneliness–also work on the virus of free thinking. Neither virus is actually cured by solitude; merely the soul is crushed. Close enough for government work.

PS: Music by Shostakovich? He would fit the bill, and it sounds like him. I did once see his 10th Symphony performed by the Bostonians under Haitink. A brutal experience in the hall, more terrifying than any slasher movie or war epic. Bone-crushing.

Well, I think I’ll hold the identification of the music for a few nights, Josh, but that’s a respectable if, alas, not accurate guess.

As to the other questions you raise, a tangential matter is the subject of tonight’s episode. When lives are lived in solitude, going out among your fellow man becomes fairly nerve-wracking. Thus Winston Smith, lunching in the cafeteria, is unsettled by a colleague eyeing him from a nearby table:

His earlier thought returned to him: probably she was not actually a member of the Thought Police, but then it was precisely the amateur spy who was the greatest danger of all. He did not know how long she had been looking at him, but perhaps for as much as five minutes, and it was possible that his features had not been perfectly under control. It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called.

It is a testament to the detail of Orwell’s vision that even “facecrime” has come to 21st-century America, literally. Two years ago a high school boy was found to be “wearing an improper expression” in an unsought encounter with an alleged Native American elder. The kid pushed back, lawyered up, and has taken gazillions of dollars from the wanker media. That’s the only reason that, for the moment, facecrime has not caught on. But “wearing an improper expression” remains ill-advised in an age of universal surveillance.

Members of The Mark Steyn Club can listen to me read Part Seven of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. And, if you’ve missed the beginning of Nineteen Eighty-Four, you can start fresh with Part One and have a good old binge-listen here.

If you’d like to join Josh in The Mark Steyn Club, we’d love to have you along for our fourth season. So please click here for more info – and don’t forget, for fellow fans of classic fiction and/or poetry, our Steyn Club Gift Membership.

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