A Washington Babylon Listicle: Seven Reasons Not to Read 1984 under Trump


By the time the book came out in 1949, the Cold War was at its height. The book therefore proved popular. It was almost a matter of patriotism in the West to buy it and talk about it, and perhaps even to read parts of it, although it is my opinion that more people bought it and talked about it than read it, for it is a dreadfully dull book-didactic, repetitious, and all but motionless. -Isaac Asimov

Have you read this book? You must read it, sir. Then you will know why we must drop the atom bomb on the Bolshies!’ With these words a blind, miserable news-vendor recommended to me 1984 in New York, a few weeks before Orwell’s death. Poor Orwell, could he ever imagine that his own book would become so prominent an item in the programme of Hate Week? -Isaac Deutscher

The rich irony of the New York Times pontificating about the necessity of reading George Orwell is about to give me diabetic shock. What next, will CNN promote Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent?

Meanwhile, 1984 was a terrible book to begin with and provides little insight for the Trump era. Here are a few reasons to not read the book, now or ever:

Animal Farm is much better. As a satire on the Bolshevik revolution, it is actually quite good. The prose is tight and accessible. By contrast 1984 is a long, rambling bore.

1984 is actually about the political opposite of Donald Trump. Orwell wrote his book in 1948 as a sort of second Homage to Catalonia and his feelings about the Spanish Civil War. As a member of the quasi-Trotskyist POUM militia, he was an eyewitness to the Spanish Communist crackdown on those in the trenches who believed revolution should be put before defeating the fascists. Whether one agrees or not, resistance to fascism was led by the left wing, not the right, and conflating the two is a dangerous idea.

–Trump’s xenophobic and racist immigration ban through an executive order did not come out of thin air but was enabled by eight years of Obama policies. Obama also acted like Big Brother and we saw nary a peep from the Times about it. Watching the media oppose a strongman Chief Executive merely because he is a Republican is hypocritical at best.

–1984 fails as a dystopian futuristic science fiction volume because it doesn’t seem futuristic. The gadgets are merely tacked on and quickly forgotten. As a romantic story it is banal if not outright misogynist. As a thriller, it is plodding and boring. And as a political pamphlet it is a dud. What is the point of this book anyway?

–It so obviously is a ripoff of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, a Russian novel written in 1921 by an Old Bolshevik who became disillusioned with the Soviet government. I say obviously because Orwell admitted it.

–The grimy nature of the narrative creates the sensation of watching a staph infection grow. The climax in the infamous Room 101 feels like a case of conjunctivitis. By the time you reach the soul-crushing denouement, a moment when the protagonist homo-erotically sells out the heroine to endear himself to Big Brother, your brain screams out for a dose of literary penicillin. William S. Burroughs wrote in a similar style but at least he was mordantly funny about it.

–Isn’t it getting a tad predictable that every time a Republican gets elected president the liberal press grabs this off the shelf? At least when they did it during the mid-Reagan years, there was a hint of logic as it was actually 1984 and Walter Cronkite knew how to write a decent Preface.

Reagan era edition.

And when George W. Bush stole the election in 2000, sure, the whole Florida debacle was a tad Orwellian. But now we have this whole tiresome, misleading comparison being made all over again?

Circa 2003

–Terry Gilliam’s 1985 spoof Brazil remains one of the funniest science fiction films in history. It’s a brilliant dystopian satire with an obvious Orwell connection that has enough post-modern wit to be the perfect film for our first game show host presidency.

Much better!

By contrast, the 1984 version of Orwell’s novel, starring John Hurt as Winston Smith, is awful. And that is saying something itself because the 1980s was a golden age of dystopian films. Blade Runner, Back to the Future Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Escape from New York, The Road Warrior, The Running Man, Terminator, Robocop, and Giorgio Moroder’s coked-out re-scoring of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis featuring Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Freddie Mercury are part of a cinematic decade in which the apocalypse seemed just around the corner. The only possible explanation is that you can’t make a great movie out of such a terrible book.

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