Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two Minutes Hate

A still from the movie based on George Orwell's dystopic novel,
1984. Depicted here is the daily two minutes, during which citizens
of Oceania rail against images representing enemies of the state.

George Orwell's concept of Two Minutes Hate is an effective propaganda tool, with ingenious psychological effect. On the surface it reinforces recognition of ackowledged state threats. Yet, it is an opportunity for Party members to exorcise their fear and anger in a way that reinforces the state's purpose. In fact, it is the only accepted period throughout the day, when emotion of any kind can be expressed. Here, the frustrations borne of personal privation and grim existence are diverted away from the state, which determines these bitter realities, and onto figures who are not responsible but still pose a threat--even in theory--to the state's power. After Party members have exhausted themselves hurling their pent up emotion at the screen, an image of Big Brother appears, intended to instill a reassuring calm to their weary spirits. Someone capable is in control, even if (we, the readers, suspect) he is actually a political concoction by the party rather than a figure truly at the helm.

During one of the Two Minute Hate rituals, the character Julia, with whom protagonist Winston Smith eventually becomes involved, even goes so far as to attack the screen onto which the state enemy, Emmanuel Goldstein (whom critics believe to be modeled on Leon Trotsky), is projected. And apparently, as Orwell indicates, this type of attack is not uncommon. Yet it is here that Orwell's plot device points up the ways in which our culture is prone (or perhaps we will one day learn, our political system has facilitated) the creation of public villians, against which citizens--feeling similarly burdened by unemployment, their own inauspicious life choices, and narrowing personal options--can vent their frustrations.

Consider this: why offer 24-hour coverage and perpetual analysis of the Casey Anthony trial, other than to divert attention away from people's individual woes? What value does repeatedly showing Anthony's picture, or focusing on her impasssive face during the trial, have other than to inspire a deep-seated hatred that leads away from constructive activity or focus on one's own concerns? She becomes a flashpoint, an object of derision that channels disgust away from personal circumstances created by troubled economic and political issues.

24 Hours Hate: the impassive face of Casey Anthony on trial.
 Another example is Ruppert Murdoch. Regardless of my feelings about what he may or may not have done, I realize the constant media coverage has made him into an enemy of the state, and not just one state, multiple states. In the image below, taken during the parliamentary probe in the UK today, he was assaulted with a shaving cream pie by an angry protester, later determined to be a comedian. Here, the Two Minute Hate had its inevitable consequences: attacking the reviled figure. Yet it was the 80 year-old man, not the telescreen, the symbol, or the intangible idea that was attacked.

Ruppert Murdoch, assaulted with a pie by a protester,
during a parliamentary probe.
Certainly, we want to know what's going on in the world. But vilification and doom appear everywhere in the media. Hasn't then the news actually become the outlet for setting up the political pariahs, against whom we citizens can vent our disgust with our social and economic circumstances? Of course, I've compared the media to Rome's bread and circuses (all circus, no bread, of course) before. But is the way topics are covered actually designed to divert attention from real isseus or, alternately, ignite public outrage against figures, whom various governments no longer find politically expedient? What does this remind us of? And shouldn't we be incredibly scared of the consequences of these patterns of thinking?

Germany's Dolchsto├člegende, circa 1919

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