Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence – where the ruling Party wields total power for its own sake over the inhabitants.
In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state.
Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the term "Big Brother" has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance.
In the essay section of his novel 1985, Anthony Burgess states that Orwell got the idea for Big Brother from advertising billboards for educational correspondence courses from a company called Bennett's, current during World War II. The original posters showed J. M. Bennett himself; a kindly looking old man offering guidance and support to would-be students with the phrase "Let me be your father" attached. After Bennett's death, his son took over the company, and the posters were replaced with pictures of the son (who looked imposing and stern in contrast to his father's kindly demeanour) with the text "Let me be your big brother."
Appearance in the novel
In the novel it is not clear whether Big Brother was ever a real person or a fiction invented by the Party to personify itself.
In Party propaganda Big Brother is presented as a real person: one of the founders of the Party, along with Goldstein. At one point in 1984 Winston Smith, the protagonist of Orwell's novel, tries "to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big Brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. His exploits had been gradually pushed backwards in time until already they extended into the fabulous world of the forties and the thirties, when the capitalists in their strange cylindrical hats still rode through the streets of London..." In the year 1984 Big Brother appears on posters and telescreens as a handsome man in his mid-40s. If the man who came to be known as Big Brother was indeed one of the leaders of the revolution, he is very probably long dead.
When Winston Smith is later arrested, O'Brien describes Big Brother as a figure who will never die. When Smith asks if Big Brother exists, O'Brien describes him as "the embodiment of the Party" and that he will exist as long as the Party exists. When Winston follows up his question by asking "Does Big Brother exist the same way I do?", O'Brien replies "You do not exist."
Cult of personality
A spontaneous ritual of devotion to Big Brother ("BB") is illustrated at the end of the "Two Minutes Hate":
At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of 'B-B! .... B-B! .... B-B!'—over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first 'B' and the second—a heavy murmurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamps of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For perhaps as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.
Though Oceania's Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Plenty, and Ministry of Peace each have names with meanings deliberately opposite to their real purpose, the Ministry of Love is perhaps the most straightforward: "rehabilitated thought criminals" leave the Ministry as loyal subjects who have been brainwashed into genuinely loving Big Brother.
Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four the phrase "Big Brother" has come into common use to describe any prying or overly-controlling authority figure, and attempts by government to increase surveillance.
The worldwide reality television show Big Brother is based on the novel's concept of people being under constant surveillance. In 2000, after the U.S. version of the CBS program "Big Brother" premiered, the Estate of George Orwell sued CBS and its production company "Orwell Productions, Inc." in federal court in Chicago for copyright and trademark infringement. The case was Estate of Orwell v. CBS, 00-c-5034 (ND Ill). On the eve of trial, the case settled worldwide to the parties' "mutual satisfaction"; the amount that CBS paid to the Orwell Estate was not disclosed. CBS had not asked the Estate for permission. Under current laws the novel will remain under copyright protection until 2020 in the European Union and until 2044 in the United States.
The iconic image of Big Brother (played by David Graham) played a key role in Apple's 1984 television commercial introducing the Macintosh. The Orwell Estate viewed the Apple commercial as a copyright infringement, and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and its advertising agency. The commercial was never televised again. Subsequent (now posthumous) ads featuring Steve Jobs (for a variety of products including audio books) have mimicked the format and appearance of that original ad campaign, with the appearance of Steve Jobs nearly identical to that of Big Brother. In 2008, the Simpsons animated television series spoofed the Apple Big Brother commercial in an episode entitled "Mypods and Boomsticks."
The December 2002 issue of Gear magazine featured a story about technologies and trends that could violate personal privacy moving society closer to a "Big Brother" state and utilised a recreation of the movie poster from the film version of 1984 created by Dallmeierart.com.
In 2011, media analyst and political activist Mark Dice published a non-fiction book titled Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True which analyses the parallels between elements of the storyline in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and current government programs, technology, and cultural trends.
Computer company Microsoft patented in 2011 a product distribution system with a camera or capture device that monitors the viewers that consume the product, allowing the provider to take "remedial action" if the actual viewers do not match the distribution license. The system has been compared with 1984's telescreen surveillance system.
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- 1984 (television commercial)
- Big Brother (TV series)
- Big Brother Awards
- Cult of personality
- Mass surveillance
- Memory hole
- Narcotizing Dysfunction
- New World Order (conspiracy theory)
- Patriot Act
- Douglas Kellner
- From 1984 to One-Dimensional Man: Critical Reflections on Orwell and Marcuse
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- Wizard #177
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- Apple's 'Big Brother' sequel BBC News, 30 September 2009
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- Siegler, MG (1 December 2008). "The Simpsons Apple spoof likely has many wondering what a "myCube" is". VentureBeat.
- Big Brother is Watching You – George Orwell 1984 Movie Prop Print DallmeierArt.com
- Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True Amazon.com
- "Content distribution regulation by viewing use". Appft.uspto.gov. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
- Evans, Robert (12 November 2012). "Kinect Makes 1984 Reality: Well, one part anyway". I4u.com. archived 8 November 2012.