Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Huxley and Orwell Redux

So, Stuart McMillen from Brisbane, Australia is a cartoonist who does a blog that is a cartoon blog, which I guess would be a cartblog, or cartbloog or cartbloon, I don't know, you tell me. But even if you call it late for dinner, he calls it Recombinant Records, and that's good enough for me. He's also the creator of a music-related webcomic which you can read by clicking here.

Anyway, he recently posted a cartoon that's has brought him to the notice of many of us in the media ecology community. It's a cartoon based on Neil Postman's introduction to his popular book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. As you no doubt know, in the foreword to that book, Postman contrasts the dystopic visions of George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, arguing that while we were in turn worried and relieved about Orwell's vision coming true as the actual year 1984 approached, it was Huxley's view that was the more accurate one.

I should note, and this is not meant to take anything away from the originality, and certainly not the eloquence of Postman's essay, that at the time that I was in junior high school--I attended JHS 190 aka Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills, New York--we actually were asked to read both novels, and discuss them. We never made the kind of connection that Neil did, but I think that assignment was fairly widespread throughout the New York City school system at that time (I was in junior high from 1968-1971).

And in an interesting case of parallel thinking, Hal Himmelstein, who taught here at Fordham long before I came to the Bronx, and who went from here to Brooklyn College, made the same comparison and contrast in the introduction to his book, Televison Myth and the American Mind, published around the same time as Amusing Ourselves to Death. I think there was just something in the air at that time, given the school assignments, the fact that the year 1984 had actually arrived, and the fact that an actor, Ronald Reagan, had been elected and then re-elected President and was enjoying unprecedented popularity.

And television was in its heyday, enormously popular and powerful, older media on the decline, newer media barely catching on at this point. And no one captured that moment, and its implications (which remain relevant today), quite so well as Neil did. So Stuart did well to retain Neil's words in addition to his own, original illustrations, which I will now bring to you via the miracle of web 2.0:

So, I went to the comments section following Stuart's post and left the following message for him:

Lance Strate wrote::

Nice work. As someone who enjoys comics and was a student and friend of Postman’s I can really appreciate what you’ve done here, and I can tell you that Neil would indeed have been amused.

Now, I want to encourage you to go see the full size version of the comic strip over at Stuart McMillen's blog post (just click here)--I had to reduce the size to make it fit into this blog's format. And when you're over there, when you get to the bottom of the page, click on View/add comments for this article. You can read the comments, including mine, and why don't you add one of your own while you're there, just to reinforce his good judgment? You can tell him I sent you. He may not know who the hell I am, but hey, it's a brave new world out here in the blogosphere, isn't it?


Mike Plugh said...

Brilliant. Thanks for introducing me to this. I'll get right on Tweeting it, just as soon as I find out if Brad and Angelina have really split.

Anonymous said...

Aristotle talked of the same thing and called them "deficiency" and "excess". He said moderation was not mediocrity, but achieving excellence. A point where nothing need be added and nothing need be taken away.

Stuart McMillen said...

Thanks a lot Lance. Glad you like it, and especially your touching comments about being a friend and student of Neil Postman's.

You are right...this particular cartoon has increased my website visitors about 500 times. Crazy stuff!

Lance Strate said...

sure, and we could also go back to Plato and the chariot with the two horses of reason and emotion, with Orwell representing an excess of reason, Huxley an excess of emotion. But there are very general statements, whereas Postman's commentary was much more specifically directed towards contemporary culture and the electronic media environment.

mbgith said...

Lance, are you now part of the media that control or that entertain? ;-) For instance, I could be out working for social justice RIGHT NOW, but instead, I'm sitting on my butt reading your blog and thinking about Huxley v. Orwell.

Lance Strate said...

I'm tempted to answer yes, I'm part of the conspiracy, ha ha ha ha ha!!!! But if my post got you thinking about Huxley and Orwell, maybe that kind of thinking is the kind that Huxley and Orwell's dystopias don't encourage? I would certainly distinguish between media functioning to educate or simply inform, as opposed to media functioning to entertain, to persuade, propagandize, and even coerce. Not that this blog necessarily fulfills the function of education, but that's certainly my goal.