Orwell's Oversight in action

Fiction - first published in 1949
Orwell's Oversight

Any instance where the establishment's official line is contradicted by the communications revolution. Orwell suggested a society where citizens were constantly watched and controlled by surveillance technology. Instead we live in a world where everyone is watched by everyone else and "the rulers of the world" are no exception.

Orwell's Oversight is a turn of phrase invented a few years ago to describe one of the forces behind the current "Global Awakening". The term reminds you that Orwell's masterpiece "1984" was a great work of fiction, not prophecy.

Penned as a warning of the dangers of Government the story of Winston Smith is one of a hopeless struggle against unaccountable state bureaucracy. The work is so successful as a prophetic vision that it manages to anticipate a form of the internet. With webcams fitted on most computers as standard these days his futuristic telescreens are no longer a leap for the imagination.

However, Orwell's understandings are filtered through the lens of his time. He's describing hyper surveillance through the broadcast media of his time. The net is a fundamentally different mode of mass communication to either the television or the radio. The information superhighway is a two way street. It's this oversight which now wrecks havoc on a daily basis for those who claim to rule us. It makes maintaining the façade of democracy in the UK even more challenging than was the case during the 20th Century when an easily tamed mass media called all the shots.

I'm from the UK, I was raised on Western science fiction and superhero stories. A familiar plot to anyone who has enjoyed that genre involves an evil character managing to take control of a TV station.

The above video shows you a gripping scene from Batman (1989) where The Joker manages to do just that, he gets his own advert on television. In a modern context the scene is rendered absurd. A contemporary audience would expect The Joker to have his own YouTube channel, easy access to Twitter, Facebook and all the similar sites which are less controlled but deliver the same service.

The point of this article is to alert you to the above dynamic. There are two news stories which emphasize "Orwell's Oversight" to my mind at the moment. There are likely to be others you can add to the mix. Understanding how dramatic the shift in power we're witnessing appears to be is essential because the more its exploited and protected the less likely we are to find ourselves living in 1984.

Firstly, the tragic story of Ashya King. Initially the media reported a version of events mainly from establishment bodies such as the police and the NHS. It was implied that religious nutters had absconded with a child to prove some damn fool point on behalf of their God:

Jehovah's witnesses eh, they're a nightmare aren't they?

His parents Brett and Naghemeh King took the "missing boy" from Southampton General Hospital on 28 August. It took less than 24 hours for the focus to be upon their 'odd' religion and by extension their credibility as parents. Hampshire Police warned if the boy was not found, his health would "rapidly deteriorate". The above freeze frame is taken from a website called "The Wayback Machine" as the article in question has been edited a little now sympathy has shifted towards the parents.

The hunt was on. 'How could the parents be so selfish and stupid,' ran the intended narrative. Then a wonderful thing happened. Orwell's Oversight kicked in and an apparently sensible, eloquent man, popped up on YouTube putting his side of the story over. The father revealed a very different narrative, one with which the public was familiar, and opinion shot dramatically towards the parent's favor.
The story continues and the tragic parents have yet to get through their ordeal. What's positive though is that from the moment the father took charge of the narrative and used his right to reply a more complex and believable narrative has emerged. It involves authoritarian bureaucrats and an NHS service which treats its patients like cattle. To many the "Nazi Health Service" has started to look like another arm of Big Brother clutching the scruff of our necks from cradle to grave, rather than a helping hand.

From the moment the father's video was up as far as the papers were concerned the establishment had lost the story. The editors changed direction and widespread mockery kicked in soon after. Her Majesty's Government has had to go into damage limitation ever since. This article in the Telegraph is symptomatic of how contrite those involved have had to become: Ashya King's doctors signal U-turn over proton therapy, as The Mayor of London asks prosecutors to drop the case.
Having worked in the media all my adult life I cannot emphasize enough how upset the establishment will be about all this. Previously misunderstandings like that were swept under the carpet. Victims of state power like the King family were only ever granted a voice to respond if they were lucky enough to be picked up by a campaigning journalist.

Multiculturalism's counter narrative
The flip side of this is that videos of humans being tortured and killed are also part of Orwell's Oversight. In a sense these are problematic because they allow precisely the kind of attacks outlined in the stories of my youth. "I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State," harangues 'Jihad John', likely aware that he seems like a villain in a superhero film. However that these people upload their voice patterns and other identifying information to the internet could be seen as a good thing, our world is worse when people like that operate in secrecy.

The stated intent of the message was to inspire Obama to stop bombing them. I suspect in that sense it has already failed.

It's interesting to wonder which establishment narrative is being questioned by "Jihad John" and his mates. I can think of three:

Multiculturalism? The idea that people can ignore the main culture of their home nation and create their own has taken a savage beating over the last twenty years. His London accent further challenges the wisdom of it. This is unfortunate for multicultural apologists in the wake of the Rotherham scandal which has also poured scorn on the idea of disintegrated communities.

The "mission accomplished" version of the Iraq war? Unfortunately for Blair's apologists and The Labour Party, ISIS's origin story is inextricably intertwined with the failure of their adventures in Iraq.

The attempts made by our Government to intervene in Syria alongside ISIS? Those who advocated  yet more "liberal interventionism" in Syria now have the difficult task of explaining how exactly they were NOT going to be on the same side as the likes of 'Jihad John'.

If you notice other examples of "Orwell's oversight" do post them in the comments section of this blog.

Nick Margerrison


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