Home Culture recent The Cultural Inversion of 1984
Home Culture recent The Cultural Inversion of 1984

The Cultural Inversion of 1984

On the first Friday in December, a production of 1984 is reserved for black people.

It’s only fair since a few weeks earlier the show about a totalitarian dystopia had been reserved for ‘LGBTQIA+’ attendees at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, California.

George Orwell’s masterpiece depiction of Communist totalitarianism is more popular than ever and fewer than ever seem to understand it. A feminist retelling of the book, ‘Julia’ was recently approved by the Orwell Estate (the author had no biological children) which was last seen handing out copyright violations to people printing ‘1984’ on their t-shirts. Like calling someone ‘Hitler’, referencing Orwell and 1984 has become slang for something someone doesn’t like.

And often it’s the totalitarians who accuse their critics of ‘Orwellianism’.

After Nina Jankowicz, the head of the Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Disinformation Governance Board’, a real-life Ministry of Truth institution, had to resign, an interview with her was headlined “one woman’s Orwellian experience with disinformation”.

When the 5th Circuit Court banned the government from telling tech companies whom to censor, Matt Schruers, the president of the CCIA, a trade industry group that includes Google, Amazon and Facebook, argued that, “there’s nothing more Orwellian than having the government demand that certain viewpoints are distributed in the name of free expression.”

Censorship had become speech and speech censorship. Preventing the government from censoring the public was actually ‘Orwellian’ while repression was the true freedom.

The black-only and gay-only nights of 1984 on a Berkeley stage show where it all went wrong.

1984 at the Aurora Theatre presumptuously lists George Orwell as a collaborator when his only contribution to the production would have been causing minor earthquakes by rolling in his grave. While the original novel is timeless, the stage production is already badly dated by its origins as a protest against the Iraq War by Michael Gene Sullivan, a director at the African-American Shakespeare Festival and an actor and blogger “committed to developing theatre of social and economic justice.” That sounds like something out of Oceania.

On his Instagram page, Sullivan can be seen posing in a t-shirt with a red star and ‘Revolution’ on it, under a keffiyah draped around his neck, while warning that access to his show requires “proof of vaccination”. If there were an award for fitting the most signifiers of totalitarianism in one short video clip, the writer of the stage version of 1984 would have a lock on it.

The stage production is a torture session. Literally. Sullivan’s big idea was to jettison most of the novel’s focus on life in a totalitarian society and instead takes place while Winston Smith is being tortured on stage with accompanying flashbacks acted out by his torturers.

Appropriately enough, 1984 isn’t actually 1984. Written in 2003, Sullivan was obsessed with the idea of the wrongness of waterboarding Islamic terrorists in Gitmo. The production was taken up by Tim Robbins, then a fixture of the anti-war movement, and became an anti-Bush rallying cry. Like so much of the anti-Bush culture, there’s been much less interest in 1984 since then.

Sullivan, who is currently decorating his Instagram with pro-terrorist and anti-Israel protests, wanted to make 1984 about denouncing the interrogators of Al Qaeda terrorists as “these people who were the torturers were walking amongst us. That might be the person you’re on the bus next to. And they were told that they were good Americans. So I wanted to make ‘1984’ not just about Big Brother, but really about the society that accepts this.”

Winston Smith has been rebooted as Osama bin Laden. And America is Oceania.

In the un-Orwellian version of 1984, the totalitarians who actually torture people are the good guys while the democracy that resists them are the bad guys. That’s why in an age when the entire cast of 1776 have been recast as multi-racial women, including a black Ben Franklin, the cast of 1984 consists of white and Latino actors. The staging goes so far as to try to make the audience complicit in the torture session to deepen the idea that all of America is guilty.

But in a country, state and city run by leftists, who is Big Brother? It’s a question that the distorted staging of 1984 suffers from as much as the attempts to make Google or Nina Jankowicz into the victims of a Big Brother determined to stop them from abusing power.

If ‘BIPOC and all-LGBTQ evenings of a play in defense of Islamic terrorists, and the censorship of political dissent are the new freedom, who is torturing whom exactly?

“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men,” George Orwell famously observed. He also wrote in ‘Politics and the English Language’ that “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” 1984 and Animal Farm are so effective because they are written in clear and simple language that immerses the reader in its world.

1984 the stage production is insincere for exactly that reason. It breaks up a straightforward narrative into flashbacks and then fragments the whole thing even more by having Winston’s interrogators act out scenes from his past in the style of ‘Man of La Mancha’ that here serves no purpose except to confuse the core message of the dishonesty of living a life under tyranny.

In the novel, totalitarian language is complex, it’s closely regulated by the government and constantly changing because clarity might allow people to figure out what is really going on.

A totalitarian movement that wants to pass off government censorship as freedom and racial segregation as liberation needs to complicate things because otherwise people might figure out what is really going on. Such a movement might appropriate 1984, not to spread its message, but to suppress it by replacing signal with noise until no one understands what’s going on.

Throw up a feminist retelling of 1984 and a stage production which reimagines 1984 as a commentary on the wrongness of fighting modern day fascism, and it becomes easier to describe the head of the Disinformation Governance Board losing her job because the people she wanted to censor fought back as a victim of ‘Orwellianism’.

Totalitarians lie and they make language itself into a lie. Their purpose in confusing meaning is to invert the truth so that slavery becomes freedom and lies become truth.

After taking part in pro-terrorist rallies, Michael Gene Sullivan argued that, “Republicans are hoping that Jewish Americans will forget those deep ties to Nazism, and will instead focus on the fact that some Democrats disagree with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians”.

Supporters of the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust by Hamas, which emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement backed and funded by the Nazis, are just expressing a mere “disagreement” while those who oppose the mass murder of Jews are the real Nazis.

How do you get to the place where slavery is freedom, lies are truth, Osama is Winston and Jews are the Nazis? Inversion goes beyond bias or distortion to reframe the argument so that everything is backward. Racism becomes anti-racism and men are the victims of sexism for not being allowed to be women. Flip the perpetrators and the victims, and government censorship becomes speech. Inversion refuses all arguments by eliminating the original definitions.

Like replacing 1984 with a racially segregated restaging that carries the opposite message.

1984 anticipated a world in which the most fundamental human concepts could not even be articulated because the words for no them no longer existed. The Left is trying to create that world, as it was trying to do in Orwell’s day, no longer by renaming things, but by replacing them. Men are the new women, Muslims are the new Jews and government censors are the new oppressed. Dissenting speech is violence, but leftist violence is speech.

This ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ approach to politics and culture has seen a mass replacement of works, with classic books being reedited, films and TV series being replaced with sequels and prequels that eliminate them from existence, and of people and ideas who are swapped out. Outwardly from a far distance the culture may look similar enough, but peer at it more closely and it’s as if the whole thing had been replaced by aliens or ChatGPT.

Things with familiar names have come to carry the opposite meanings that they once did. Every value, belief and piece of art has either been inverted or soon will be. Even 1984.

You can still go see a cautionary warning about totalitarianism on stage, just make sure you have the right skin color and sexuality. Leave your ‘wrongthink’ at home and remember that Big Brother is always watching. But he’s not Big Brother anymore, now he’s Big Victim.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

Thank you for reading.


  1. Anonymous3/1/24

    BRAVO Daniel

  2. Anonymous6/1/24

    Nothing as complicated as all that. The culture of Islamic lying has infiltrated the West. The Enlightenment has now expired and lost its momentum, the heritage of Catholic totalitarianism stripped of its religious accoutrements, is resuming its trajectory with assistance from the core of leftism, bald mendacity. Lies are the natural state of human society. Whether it be about god(s), social classes, social pedigrees, the weather, medicine, wars or political paragons. The US body politic, borne out of the Enlightenment, is failing under the weight of this same social assault and collapse. America is run by criminals, perverts, terrorists and liars.



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