George Orwell’s novel 1984 is an attack on totalitarian government where the state controls all aspects of life and has impacted how many people see, understand, and talk about modern social movements. In Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the city is a crowded one where people are either of the privileged elite, or of the repressed, impoverished masses.
In their works, Orwell and Lang both present the imminent dangers of the contemporary social and political world. These works evaluate the mechanisms of power in institutions that practice socio-political supremacy and tyranny.
– In 1984, Orwell presents a controlled society in which political terror, along with propaganda, program individuals to obey. The society is controlled in every way of life – work, thought, speech, sex, and every manner of life. The society has fear instilled in them by “BIG BROTHER” who is constantly watching them.
– Orwell represents this environment further by including all-pervading television screens that constantly show government propaganda. These two-way television screens are also used for surveillance.
– Metropolis takes place in the year 2000 in a cold, mechanical, industrial world. The society consists of a lower class that lives underground and runs the machines that keep the above ground Metropolis in working order. The workers run the machines, but the machines run the lives of the monotonous horde of workers.
– The thought is that highly advanced societies are either welfare or warfare states. Welfare states restrict freedom due to the limitations of leisure time, access to necessary goods and services, and citizen’s ability to realize true self-determination. The warfare state hinders a true analysis of society because it keeps people focused on fighting the “enemy” instead of focused on internal social problems. The point is that if societies can learn to use technologies in ways that benefit citizens, instead of restricting them then the problems of humans will be solved.
– In the Underground City beneath Metropolis, Freder Fredersen sees an old worker wrestling with the dials on a piece of clock-like machinery. The worker fails to keep up with the difficulty of the machine and the machine blows up. Freder sees the masses of workers being shoved into the mouth of the monstrous machine.
– Technology is ordered and formed by the interests that produce it. In a capitalist society, certain capitalist interests are rooted in technology, yet technology becomes relatively independent and can take on a life of its own. Metropolis must be fed human slaves to keep control.
– 1984 has open political domination that includes torture and murder, which is at the heart of the society’s social control. By the means of propaganda, manipulation, consumerism and forbidden indulgence that force individuals into advanced capitalism and to produce a one-dimensional society and individual. Capitalism and technology are forms of social control and domination.
– Freder’s father, Joh Fredersen, the Master of Metropolis rules and dominates the city. Freder asks his father,” Why do you treat the workers so badly?” Joh replies that it was, “their hands that built Metropolis!”
– Lang and Orwell both comment on individualism while Orwell clearly shows that it is possible to have both socialism and individualism as long as socialism protects, preserves, and develops individuality to its fullest. Orwell questioned if a centralized state would truly protect the individual because economic liberty is central to capitalism.
– Lang and Orwell both present some form of the lack of language and thought in their contemporary eras. Lang showed in Metropolis how a society would form thought and behavior through control of language through Maria. This theme is central to Orwell’s vision of 1984 as well.
– Maria speaks to the workers deep in the catacombs at an alter with crosses on it. The catacombs are where the ancient Christians used to hide out and worship when seeking refuge from prosecution for their beliefs. Freder collapses to his knees as if worshipping Maria as she tells the workers the story of the Tower of Babel. The parallel is made between the slaves who built Babel, and the workers who built and maintain Metropolis. In Maria’s speech, she talks about how the rulers of Babel did not care about the slaves. The rulers of Metropolis do not care about the workers. Both places need a mediator between those who rule, and those who are ruled.
– Orwell also calls attention to the deterioration of language and truth in contemporary political communication. 1984 shows the dominance of mass communications in politics and the way political speech has resulted in a decline of truth and honesty. This analysis provides powerful tools to develop a critique of language and politics in the contemporary era.
– After Maria speaks, Joh tells Rotwang, the inventor, to make a robot that looks like Maria. Joh believes that if he had a duplicate of Maria that he would have control over and could manipulate the workers. He would have a powerful tool.
– The new robot Maria is an evil, lusty character unlike the pure, angelic real Maria. The robot Maria gives a weak speech to the workers. She ill advises her followers to take up violence, not peace. Maria leads the masses to the machines in the Underground City and orders them to be destroyed. The workers do not know that destroying the machines will flood the area and drown their children. The machines are bound by the people, and the people are bound by the machines. By working together, they can replace the power of the rulers.
– The governments of the advanced industrial societies become part of and use the technological, scientific and mechanical productivity to secure themselves. The machine then becomes the most powerful political instrument, surpassing the political power of any individual or group.
– 1984 is a meticulously pessimistic and anti-utopian text. Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, writes in his notebook and then states, “If there is hope, it lies with the proles.” Smith becomes so broken by his society that in the end he has betrayed everything he ever believed in and loved. Orwell denies that there is any profound capacity for humans to fight for what they believe in such a society.
– Orwell writes that these parties can remold human beings by destroying their ability and desire to fight back and brainwashing them. Winston Smith submits torture by the villain O’Brien; rejects his true love, Julia; and in the last sentence declares that he now loves BIG BROTHER. Orwell proves in fiction that it is possible for the state totally to control thought, behavior, and feeling. Orwell also makes the statement that humans are weak and selfish and they will ultimately submit to whatever sort of state attempts to control them.
– Orwell’s warning in 1984 about repressive and horrendous social trends might drive people to oppose the sorts of oppression he projects. 1984 has become a central part of the contemporary culture and political landscape. Orwell’s language and imagery are effective as critiques that can ultimately be used for the good.
– Orwell projects pessimism so extreme that hope for a better future seems to be ruled out in advance when seeking out forms of resistance and struggle. Freedoms give a wide range of choices, but they still do not permit the individual to determine what can be chosen and what is chosen. They cannot define the number of hours they are willing to work to fulfill their needs. Products serve to teach and control.
– In Metropolis, there is still hope for the better as the masses march into the church, and they realize that Freder is the mediator they where seeking. They found the midway point between Joh and the workers. The ruler and the ruled.