March 23, 2012

The Most Inappropriate Nausea of the Day.

A writer over at Pajamas Media whose name appears in an unreadable font — Jebuda? Jehuda? — assumes we readers will all want to puke when we see that Shepard Fairey — the artist behind the famous Obama "Hope" poster — is working on a new movie version of George Orwell’s 1984.
That’s right: we may soon see in screens big and small a movie that could very well be advertised as “From the Dishonest Propagandist Who Brought You the Obama ‘Hope’ Poster.”

There’s something very fitting about a dishonest propagandist pushing for a whole new 1984 movie, but coming from Obama booster Ron Howard and Shepard Fairey, this project might amount to – if it’s ever produced – a version of 1984 that would make George Orwell spin in his grave.
First, I think what would make Orwell "spin in his grave" is your use of the phrase "spin in his grave." Good lord, you purport to care about Orwell, yet you blithely violate one of the most memorable rules in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language": "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print."

Second, Shepard Fairey is a brilliant graphic artist. Look at his cover for "The Medium Is the Massage." This is exactly the talent you want to create a visualization of a novel that is — in large part — about posters!
The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.
That's paragraph 2 of the novel.
Outside, even through the shut window-pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black-moustachio'd face gazed down from every commanding corner.
That's paragraph 4. Later:
Down in the street the wind flapped the torn poster to and fro, and the word INGSOC fitfully appeared and vanished. Ingsoc. The sacred principles of Ingsoc. Newspeak, doublethink, the mutability of the past.... He took a twenty-five cent piece out of his pocket. There, too, in tiny clear lettering, the same slogans were inscribed, and on the other face of the coin the head of Big Brother. Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps, on the covers of books, on banners, on posters and on the wrapping of a cigarette packet— everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed— no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.
On and on. Government graphics are central to Orwell's work, and Shepard Fairey made that crazy Orwellian poster that made us love Big Brother Obama. It's utterly thrilling to think of Fairey applying himself to this project. Where's the danger that it will be noisome pro-Obama propaganda? The danger, if any, cuts in the opposite direction.

BONUS: More poster passages from "1984":
As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, soundtracks, cartoons, photographs — to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date....

'Did I ever tell you, old boy,' he said, chuckling round the stem of his pipe, 'about the time when those two nippers of mine set fire to the old market-woman's skirt because they saw her wrapping up sausages in a poster of B.B.? Sneaked up behind her and set fire to it with a box of matches....

Then he saw the girl standing at the base of the monument, reading or pretending to read a poster which ran spirally up the column....

Winston's evenings were fuller than ever. Squads of volunteers, organised by Parsons, were preparing the street for Hate Week, stitching banners, painting posters, erecting flagstaffs on the roofs and perilously slinging wires across the street for the reception of streamers....

A new poster had suddenly appeared all over London. It had no caption, and represented simply the monstrous figure of a Eurasian soldier, three or four metres high, striding forward with expressionless Mongolian face and enormous boots, a sub-machine-gun pointed from his hip. From whatever angle you looked at the poster, the muzzle of the gun, magnified by the foreshortening, seemed to be pointed straight at you. The thing had been plastered on every blank space on every wall, even outnumbering the portraits of Big Brother. The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism.... There were further angry demonstrations, Goldstein was burned in effigy, hundreds of copies of the poster of the Eurasian soldier were torn down and added to the flames, and a number of shops were looted in the turmoil....

Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot....

What was the most horrible, sickening thing of all? He thought of Big Brother. The enormous face (because of constantly seeing it on posters he always thought of it as being a metre wide), with its heavy black moustache and the eyes that followed you to and fro, seemed to float into his mind of its own accord. What were his true feelings towards Big Brother?

38 comments:

ElPresidenteCastro said...

Always happy to have another movie made from my favorite instruction manual.

That AP photo was suitable to wrap fish. He made it the image of the century (so far).

AP should have left him alone and he should have fought their suit honestly.

News photos should have a 10 day copyright term.

Chip Ahoy said...

Yes, it is interesting observing 1984 transmuted from dystopian novel to user's manual. Wish I made that observation but I didn't.

Ann Althouse said...

If Fairey were all about reverence toward Obama he would not have chosen "1984" as his project. He's taking his style, which is strongly associated with Obama, and using it to create posters and other graphics that will represent a horrifying totalitarian regime.

There is no way that a movie will be made of "1984" in which the government will somehow come out seeming good. Not going to happen.

Obama's image will be retrospectively tainted, especially if the Big Brother image at all reminds us of the Hope poster.

John M Auston said...

"1984" remake?

Most blatant Hollywood wish-casting yet.

Amartel said...

This seems a bit daft.

Shepard Fairey's poster for the Obama campaign in 2008 is like the poster in Orwell's "1984," and therefore he's ideal to work on the movie version of "1984"?
Maybe he could PLAY a propaganda artist IN THE MOVIE. Bring that first-hand knowledge to the role.

Otherwise,
Nope.

fivewheels said...

Ann, I didn't think Hollywood could make a hatefully anti-military movie out of Starship Troopers, but by god, they found a way. They're pretty determined.

ElPresidenteCastro said...

Who knew Emanuel Goldstein was black?

Andre the Giant (OBEY) imagery will be most fitting.

edutcher said...

Well, you'd feel a little better about the whole project if it were being run by someone who might actually make a good movie that stuck to the story, not one being run by Opie and one of the people who showed us what Ignorance Is Strength really means.

(remember, the masthead of GodZero's campaign website said, "I'm asking yo to believe", not I'm asking you to think)

Ann Althouse said...

If Fairey were all about reverence toward Obama he would not have chosen "1984" as his project. He's taking his style, which is strongly associated with Obama, and using it to create posters and other graphics that will represent a horrifying totalitarian regime.

There is no way that a movie will be made of "1984" in which the government will somehow come out seeming good. Not going to happen.

Obama's image will be retrospectively tainted, especially if the Big Brother image at all reminds us of the Hope poster.


Somehow, I have a feeling in this version, Winston Smith will turn out to be a mixed-race intellectual who will somehow manage to take over Oceania and institute free health care and make the oceans stop rising by imposing $40 a gallon gas.

Consider past movie versions of your favorite novels.

Amartel said...

"There is no way that a movie will be made of "1984" in which the government will somehow come out seeming good. Not going to happen."

This is why Gaia made Republicans. The face on the propaganda poster will look just like the dreaded
BOOOOOSH.

EDH said...

I think the following rules will cover most cases... (vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous...

Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.


George Orwell
"Politics and the English Language"

Coketown said...

Good observations. Fairey is a talented artist and, depending on the extent of his involvement in the movie (whether it's merely as an adviser or something more like the production designer) his contributions could be great.

I don't like the PJ Media lifestyle site at all. It's mostly just grating and irritating. They have no grasp of culture and regularly confound culture with politics.

The "Hope" poster is a good example. That poster was not--at all--an expression of politics. It was an expression of culture. Obama in 2007-8 was a cultural phenomenon, not a political one. He was not political because he had no politics: he was post-partisan, post-racial, a vote-present kind of guy. As many noted at the time, he was a tabula rasa onto which people projected their values.

The "Hope" poster was most striking because it obliterated Obama as this kind of blank slate phenomenon. It precluded its audience from projecting and instead projected onto them: "Hope." Here's a face. Here's a word. Associate the two. That's what good propaganda does: it makes one associate two disconnected ideas with one another.

PJ Media wants to critique the "Hope" poster as a political poster and that's why their criticism falls flat. They need to consider the poster's effect on the culture of the time. They need to appreciate Fairey's grasp of mass psychology. And they need to connect those two observations to understand why Fairey would offer incredible insight into a visual rendering of 1984.

(But if you just can't get over Fairey's poster, let me offer succor: the AP won their counter-suit against Fairey, and almost the entire street art movement despises him.)

Robert said...

It seems like that's exactly what you want for a Nineteen Eighty-Four movie: someone who knows how to make propaganda.

I think we forget that Orwell himself worked as a propagandist during the Second World War for the BBC's "Indian Section." Every week he'd sit in front of a microphone with prepared editorials aimed at convincing subjects of the Raj to stay in the war on the British side -- which, it's widely believed, influenced the Winston Smith character in the novel.

Palladian said...

Fairey's a hack, with an ugly and irritating graphic aesthetic, largely cribbed from early Soviet constructivist graphics.

I always thought it fitting that a fundamentally empty self-promoter got really famous for promoting another fundamentally empty self-promoter.

Patrick said...

"There is no way that a movie will be made of "1984" in which the government will somehow come out seeming good. Not going to happen."

There is no way that a movie will be made of 1984 in which the government will somehow come out seeming leftist/liberal. Not going to happen.

Harry Phartz said...

...and Shepard Fairey made that crazy Orwellian poster that made us love Big Brother Obama.

Ahem. Speak for yourself on that one.

Robert said...

"There is no way that a movie will be made of 1984 in which the government will somehow come out seeming leftist/liberal. Not going to happen."

It seems a bit unfair to criticize Shepard Fairey for being a leftist and involved in this project when Orwell was much further to the left than Fairey is. Orwell took a bullet in the throat while fighting for a Marxist militia in Spain.

Two years before his death, and before the book's publication, Orwell wrote: "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."

The idea that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a work of anti-leftism or anti-socialism massively misses the point.

Palladian said...

It's "The Medium is the Massage".

And the funny part of it is, Marshall McLuhan, you don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan!

Palladian said...

The idea that Nineteen Eighty-Four is a work of anti-leftism or anti-socialism massively misses the point.

Maybe it was Mr Orwell who massively missed the point of his own work, Robert.

Mary Beth said...

His Obama poster reminded me too much of his Dexter poster. It was only after I saw the Hope poster a few times that I stopped automatically thinking (fictional) serial killer every time I saw it.

chuck b. said...

"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print."

I thought about reciting this back to you when you wrote "raise your game" and a bunch of other stuff yesterday in the post about mobys.

I guess I have more energy today than I did yesterday.

Maguro said...

There is no way that a movie will be made of 1984 in which the government will somehow come out seeming leftist/liberal. Not going to happen.

This. If the movie is made, there will obvious, ham-handed cues instructing the audience that the government is Republican/rightwing.

Rabel said...

Feb 24, 2012

"Shepard Fairey pled guilty Friday to a federal charge of criminal contempt for destroying documents, fabricating evidence, and engaging in other misconduct amid litigation over his use of an Associated Press photo to create one of the 2008 presidential campaign's most iconic images."

Sentencing hearing in June.

Ron Howard should note that Orwell also wrote:

"You lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas."

Or maybe that was Aunt Bee.

ricpic said...

I agree with Palladian about Fairey, a one trick pony, the trick being the elimination of half-tones, reducing subtle and complex images to brutal blocks (or bands) of darks and lights. Nothing wrong with simplicity per se but Fairey's is simplicity by formula, always lifeless.

ricpic said...

What Cookie leaves out is that Orwell was as suspicious of his fellow democratic socialists' dogma as he was of Uncle Joe's or Adolph's. Orwell was an equal opportunity sceptic, the only thing that lifts him above his own democratic socialist prejudices and makes him one for the ages.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's "The Medium is the Massage"."

Oh, no! I just reread that book a few weeks ago.

Sorry for the brain-fail.

Palladian said...

Funny, so did I, after re-watching "Annie Hall" with my boyfriend (who had never seen it!).

Skyler said...

Bansky is the new version of 1984. I don't know if the vandals realized that they were the ones in the end that were being ridiculed along with their sheepish cult followers.

cfkane1701 said...

I think that font is called Mistral.

caseym54 said...

The Michael Radford version is definitive.

William said...

I don't think Big Brother or Richard III will ever be portrayed wearing a red beret.

bgates said...

Who knew Emanuel Goldstein was black?

He's not. His father is white, and his mother was born in Peru.

Alan said...

I've long called the color scheme of Fairey's creepy Obama posters "Orwellian," so I think he's perfectly qualified for the project.

(I also suspect that he and the guy who created the 2008 GOP convention's elephant roadkill logo are secretly working for each other's party.)

lemondog said...

Rather than 1984 why not entitle 2 0 0 9?

Paco Wové said...

"Orwell was an equal opportunity sceptic, the only thing that lifts him above his own democratic socialist prejudices and makes him one for the ages."

↑ This.

Robert Cook said...

"Ann, I didn't think Hollywood could make a hatefully anti-military movie out of Starship Troopers, but by god, they found a way."

Yes, and it was GREAT!! Superior to Heinlein's rather schematic book in every way.

By the way, I LOVE Shepherd Fairey's work...some disdain him for appropriating imagery, but it's what he makes of his appropriated imagery that makes his pictures ssmemorable.

Writers will tell you: ideas are a dime a dozen--isn't every other movie/novel/story based on the idea "boy meets girl"?--it's what is made if the idea that counts.

Steve Koch said...

It is understandable that non lefties would not be too thrilled about a lefty propagandist re-doing "1984".

On the other hand, maybe Fairy's role is to define the look of the picture and not the content. If so, then maybe Fairy will do something interesting. It seems like designing the look of an movie is waaaay more complex than designing a poster. Maybe Fairy is just designing the propaganda posters in the movie, in which case he is just the guy for the job.

Orwell's advice is probably fine for those who aspire to be professional writers but for the rest of us who don't have such aspirations, it is ok for us to agree with many of Orwell's political insights while continuing to write in our mundane, non professional writer style.

I found this post of Althouse's to be particularly Carol Herman-esque (i.e. goofy and wrong headed). Althouse is stronger at free association riffing than thinking in a fact based logical linear progression, more of a creative type than a rational logician. Which is ok.

Don Singleton said...

It is Jehuda

the html is

img src="http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/wp-content/lifestyle_signatures/jehuda-lifestyle-2055757443.gif

John Lynch said...

It depends if the movie wants to confront Communism. For a lot of people, "1984" is more about invasion of privacy than Communist dystopia.

Denying that Orwell was talking about Communism, after the defeat of fascism in the Second World War, is an odd position to take, but I've heard it.

For all we know, in the remake it's corporations and their advertising running the world. Wouldn't surprise me.