Why ‘1984’ Got It All Wrong
At school I became obsessed with US politics, and now the obsession has returned.
As someone who grew up with the relatively fair-play concepts behind soft-spoken British manoeuvrings, the idea that a leader entrusted with the nation’s voice could be impeached for burglary and lying about it seemed surreal. Nixon proved the tip of an iceberg that led to calls for Henry Kissinger to be placed on trial as a war criminal for illegally dragging neutral Cambodia into a war started by America.
This was breathtaking stuff, but I knew my Orwell well enough to see that we were gradually moving away from the totalitarian concepts behind ‘1984’ – that is, until social media arrived to flip everything upside down.
The internet meant that instead of there being one channel of state-controlled ‘Big Brother’ news where contradictory states could co-exist (‘War is Peace’) there were so many thousands of public sites open to manipulation and abuse that information would eventually become meaningless.
Into this confused and changing picture stepped arch-manipulators like Roger Stone, the subject of the Netflix documentary ‘Get Me Roger Stone’. The jaw-dropping film about him is the kind of wide-ranging full-access documentary even the BBC can no longer make.
No epithet is strong or dark enough to stick on Stone (the documentary unearths a few, from ‘Prince of Darkness’ to ‘Ratf*cker’) because he doesn’t care. The man with the tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back says he hopes you hate him, because it proves you’re weak and he isn’t. Stone began at a legal firm that represented some of the world’s most horrifying dictators. He did it for money, he says, and anyone who doesn’t is a moron.
Applying dirty tricks to the Democratic party by conning them into taking a contribution from a fake socialist group, then exposing it, first brought Stone to public attention when he was barely out of his teens. How did he think this was any kind of a victory, even then?
What emerges is a clear through-line from Nixon to Reagan to the Bushes as the powers of darkness gradually converge on Trump. The process started three decades earlier and has now reached its logical conclusion with the election of a man who makes up the day’s truth each morning in a version of Groundhog Day, the difference being that in this version the mistakes of the past are not learned but shouted down.
We’re now so far beyond ‘1984’ that we can look back on Orwell’s book as a cheery wartime fantasia. Orwell thought of the government as having a co-ordinated plan for domination, never seeing that a president might simply throw out all the facts and make them irrelevant.
The oddest thing about the Stone documentary is trying to understand what it is their subject wants. Wealth? The rewards don’t seem worth the game. He’s filmed at his horrible Florida house, which looks like a tastelessly decorated seaside bungalow. Power? Trump replaced him, and now he’s ignored.
So what was it for? To make the world a worse place? Or to fulfil the demands of some aberrant psychopathology? Kudos to directors Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme for sticking to their guns and allowing the fixer to expose the rotten corpse of Washington democracy. Perhaps we’ll look back and see this as a golden time when at least such a documentary could still be made.