IN 1984 I read George Orwell’s 1984 and the world seemed all the more sinister.
He didn’t get all of it right, but it felt there was a lot going on that mirrored a book published 35 years before its title.
I had just moved into the sixth form and politics surrounded everything.
Workers at the local Silentnight bed factory in the village next to where I lived were on strike and a petrol bomb was thrown onto their caravan HQ. The textile factories around us were closing down and the Miners’ Strike was in full swing.
Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From The Blackstuff had brought working class struggle and strife back into the spotlight as main character Yosser Hughes asked a glued-to-the-TV nation: “Gizza job?”
Musicians were on the case with the likes of Billy Bragg leading the Red Wedge tours in protest at the Tory government, and the NME, which then sold 100,000 copies a week, packed full of bands offering up a smorgasbord of left-wing opinion.
If anyone agreed to be interviewed by the music press of the day they had to know their politics and if they weren’t on board with the manifesto they quickly became persona non grata. The likes of Phil Collins and Gary Numan were cast aside for supposedly espousing pro-Thatcher opinions, and Status Quo and Queen for breaking sanctions in apartheid-era South Africa and playing to whites-only audiences.
There was no room for escape with anyone deemed guilty of racism, sexism or simply being middle-class thrown to the wolves.
The Toxteth and Brixton riots had proceeded all this and set the tone for smaller-scale uprisings across the country — well, with obvious exceptions.
The Berlin Wall was starting to crumble, countries were boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics, the IRA and the UVF were bombing each other, there was famine in Ethiopia, Liechtenstein became the last country in Europe to grant women the right to vote and President Reagan “cleverly” announced: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
As a 17-year-old reading Orwell and the politically-charged dramas of Arthur Miller as part of my studies I wasn’t really equipped to deal with much of this, though I did start to arm myself. With information, not guns — obviously (I hope).
I thought I knew everything, but had little ability or relevant experience to consider the realities surrounding most people’s lives, the reasons behind the decisions they made and the opinions they had.
I’m not sure George Orwell did either, but that wasn’t the point. The reason for writing what he did, and for magazines such as the NME providing platforms for varied opinions, for TV and theatres to put on dramas highlighting issues and bands singing about what they perceive to be social injustice is to put a view out there, to highlight the wrongs and rights of the world.
It seems these days if someone doesn’t agree with someone else it’s the end of that relationship, all respect gone — cancelled. Intelligent discussion has been killed.
Orwell said as much in 1984 — and yes I’m aware much of the above didn’t actually happen that year but the premise for this column would only have worked if his book had been called 1980-89.
Yes, we’re all guilty of re-writing history — our own and that of the world.