[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:11] Last week I started talking about protest literature, and in particular the kinds of literature that is written specifically for the purposes of trying to change culture.
[00:00:22] Protest literature is often ascribed as any form of communication, whether it be something that's written, but also an artistic piece, maybe a photograph or some sort of painting, anything that engages in social consciousness for the purpose of moving someone else to action.
[00:00:41] For as long as there have been uprisings and protests and all these sorts of rebellions, writers and artists have been in the center of the mix. We are the ones who are spurring society on to change.
[00:00:57] Usually it is the artist who is calling attention to the things in society that are sick. It's like we're putting our little thumb on the heartbeat of society and going, "Oh, there's something not, well here. Oh, this is sick and it needs to be fixed."
[00:01:12] So these episodes are sort of dedicated. To these types of literature and acknowledgement of the ongoing struggles that we are seeing all around the world. That we've seen all around the world for decades, for generations, but that also seem to be really prevalent today because in my discussions with a lot of writers and artists, there is a great deal of concern and discouragement and confusion about how now ought we to live in face of what's happening today in society?
[00:01:51] How does this change our mission or our calling or does it? And these are the types of questions that I see people asking, as certainly within this community that I am trying to address, in part by discussing this very specific type of literature called protest literature. So I hope that this is helpful for you.
[00:02:14] Now, if you remember, last week I talked about something that Richard Wright said, which was that all literature is protest. You can't name a single literary work that isn't protest. So because of the uncertainty of the definition of what actually constitutes protest literature, we have a wide range of norms that can help us classify what is in fact protest literature perhaps from other types of literature and what they're meant to do.
[00:02:44] So because of the uncertainty of the definition, this gentleman named Stauffer, who was the head of this particular meeting that took place back in April to discuss what is or what constitutes protest literature, he came up with a set of norms that could help classify what, in fact, ought to be constituted as protest literature, trying to differentiate this type of literature from other types so that we're not just all lumping them together.
[00:03:13] Stouffer defines it, first, as language that changes the society and self. And I'll unpack that in a minute. The second thing he talks about is how this particular type of literature becomes a catalyst, a guide, or a mirror of social change. So even though all literature can, in a sense, be defined as protest literature, a specific part of this classification is that its literature meant specifically to change culture.
[00:03:48] It is specifically written for the purposes of changing culture at large. The author has to have that goal in mind. It can't be coincidental. It has to be intentional on the part of the author.
[00:04:02] See, there are books that have maybe coincidentally made it into our colloquialisms or maybe have changed society in a way, but maybe they weren't meant to do that on behalf of the author.
[00:04:14] So, author's intention is very important here, and the author needs to have a specific goal in mind to change society or individuals within that society from the very start.
[00:04:27] So, in the last episode, I gave five examples of what I think are incredible pieces of protest literature, works of art that have absolutely impacted culture and changed the trajectory of culture. It has changed the way we've gone. Really, really powerful stuff.
[00:04:48] But today I want to discuss one of my favorite all time works of protest literature, which I know you're familiar with, and which you're probably hearing more and more about because of the overlaps with our society today. And that is 1984, published by George Orwell.
[00:05:07] So, George Orwell published this in 1949, and it's a classic dystopian nightmare. There are some eerie predictions that are made in this novel, and the crazy thing is that I would say a lot of these have come true.
[00:05:25] For example, one of the most defining characteristics of 1984 is the surveillance state, which is captured by talking about Big Brother. Right? Big Brother is watching. Big Brother becomes the ultimate expression of the surveillance state. The state is watching. We are constantly being surveilled. Nothing is private anymore. We're being watched.
[00:05:51] In fact, the concept of Big Brother has become so synonymous with omnipresent surveillance that we even have taken it for granted now. We even had a reality show by that name, Big Brother, where all the contestants were under constant surveillance, and that was part of the game show.
[00:06:11] Now, the book features tele screens. If you remember in the book, there were tele screens everywhere, and they served dual purposes. They had multiple reasons, these devices. They played on a steady stream of televised propaganda. So there was a lot of constant stream of everything going on in the world, but it was all propaganda to lead the people to understand a particular narrative of the world.
[00:06:41] But it also recorded everything that was going on. Constantly recording, constantly recording, so nothing would be missed.
[00:06:50] Now these tele screens were present in. The middle class and the upper class homes, but they weren't featured in the prole homes, P R O L E, prole homes, because the government didn't really care what the poor people were doing anyway. They didn't care about those people.
[00:07:08] Today, we have something similar going on, don't we? We have our tele screens with dual purposes. We have our mobile phones where we get to see all sorts of content on social media and otherwise, but we also get to record everything. In fact, our cell phones now have taken the place of a lot of cameras out there. We can make movies now on our cell phones because the cameras are so good. Nobody even carries cameras anymore. We just have our cell phones.
[00:07:36] So they both record everything that's going on, but also they are the way that we consume everything. They've created a world where it's safest to assume everything is recorded, always. That were always going to be caught just like in 1984.
[00:07:56] Like the tele screens, they can even be used for government surveillance. As the FBI proved in 2006 when they used the alleged mobster's phone as a roving bug, they were able to hack in and turn on and record the microphones of the individual devices that people had. So, It is safest for us to assume that we are being surveilled 24/7.
[00:08:22] We've actually been so predisposed to it that we've been trained. We are no longer shocked by it. Our privacies have been taken away systematically, but we've been, we've been okay with it. Like the proverbial frog in the water that heats up a little at a time. We didn't realize how hot it was until it was too late.
[00:08:43] Aside from the roving bugs, though, there are spy programs, right? We have phone metadata collection being done by Facebook and Instagram and social media, Twitter, all these things. We're able to collect all of these pieces of data.
[00:09:01] TikTok, this was the whole thing with TikTok, right? It's why we are so concerned about TikTok and what are the Chinese getting out of this and what are they doing, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
[00:09:11] There's also even us watching television and what choices we make to consume also becomes a way to surveil us. Everything we do, every click that we have.
[00:09:24] Facebook has over 50,000 data points on each person. They know exactly. They know you better than you do. They know exactly what you look at. They're able to target you as an audience.
[00:09:39] Now, this is great if you're doing some sort of advertising and you wanna use Facebook as a place to advertise because they have more ways to target a specific audience than anything that's ever been created. This is the power of Facebook.
[00:09:55] But it's also really creepy because if you're over here in this other place and you happen to click on a little ad that you saw, how many of you noticed that then all of a sudden ads for that particular thing just keep popping up. It's magic.
[00:10:11] Sometimes you don't even have to click on anything. I swear to high heaven. There are times when I'm just talking about a particular thing and the next thing you know those things start popping up in my feed. How creepy is that?
[00:10:26] Big Brother is watching.
[00:10:29] We are used to this now, but it's still kind of creepy. The whole point is that all of this internet surveillance, metaphone, data collection, all of these things, this wiretapping capabilities, 1984 isn't so much a thing of the past. Hmm.
[00:10:55] Now in the book 1984, all of these devices, all of these screens that are present everywhere, doing both of these things were created by a crazy totalitarian state.
[00:11:09] And in conjunction with that, there was something developed called newspeak. Remember this? Newspeak, which is a truncated version of English, where words are strung together and abbreviated to create new words. In other words, it's basically how we text today. Am I right? It is exactly what he predicted in 1984.
[00:11:35] It's kind of crazy. Now, newspeak is far more sinister in its purpose than say text slang. You know, b r b, be right back, or l o l, you know, all these things. So it is more sinister and it's meant to control the populace and control their language, but, presumably grammar nerds may find them similarly deplorable.
[00:12:02] In 1984, news speak is a deliberately limiting language. It is intended to make revolutionary thought impossible, and the way that it does that is it scrubs the words for revolution from the common vocabulary.
[00:12:22] What is happening today? What's happening today is we are in the process. Well, this isn't happening through texting. This is happening through the machine, through the political machine.
[00:12:34] Language is being limited. We can no longer, apparently, and I'm not going to say this of course, but we apparently are not supposed to use the word mother anymore. It's birthing persons. How crazy is this? We're not gonna have Mother's Day, we're gonna have Birthings Persons Day. It's ridiculous. But these are the types of things that are happening. This is newspeak. It is newspeak.
[00:12:59] Now, you might not think that the word Mother has much to do with Revolution. But I disagree. It's these types of concepts that give us our individuality. It gives us a place that gives us something to hang our hats on. It gives us values. In many ways, it is the religious thought behind those words that gives it the power.
[00:13:22] And once you make it illegal to use some of these words or all of them, or whatever the case may be, then you have scrubbed the language for those words that potentially have the power to incite, revolt, or rebellion. And you've created a class of people that are cattle and sheep and are willing to go along because they don't even have the language to be able to revolt.
[00:13:48] Now, I don't think this is gonna happen in our generation, but down the road, remember what I said last week, it takes a long time. It took 40 years for the abolitionists to be able to get the original ideas into motion so that we saw the fruit of it in action, so that it could actually bear fruit in society.
[00:14:14] So think about what's happening today. It may take 40 years, but eventually there will be a society, a group of people who no longer have the words for rebellion.
[00:14:26] That is happening unless we start fighting now and don't allow that trajectory to continue.
[00:14:34] Okay, so the point is a lot of the things that are happening today are similar to a lot of the things that happened in 1984.
[00:14:44] So in the novel, 1984, newspeak is a language which includes words that are essentially cut off or shortened. And then they are strung together to create new words. And the purpose is to limit the usefulness of the human language, to get rid of words that allow people to think for themselves, that allow people to speak about things like revolution.
[00:15:07] And once you get rid of the words, you thereby prevent those people from revolting against the government. It gives the government more control. The idea is that language allows you to form ideas. That you otherwise couldn't form. That is paramount to this whole idea, and it was proposed by a gentleman named Benjamin Lee Wharf.
[00:15:29] It became a pervasive belief. We believe this. I believe this. Without language, we can't actually articulate certain ideas.
[00:15:39] Ideas are powerful. That's what we've been talking about since the beginning of this podcast. That story is actually an outworking of ideas, of belief systems, of worldview.
[00:15:52] The most predominant feature of a story is its worldview because in the story, the worldview is getting life, it's getting legs, it is breathed into existence, and then the people adopt that worldview depending on what is being espoused and how well it is being espoused.
[00:16:12] We often adopt beliefs that we don't even know that we've adopted simply because of the stories that we've consumed. And that's both incredible and powerful, and frightening because sometimes we just don't even know some of the false worldviews, or some of the false beliefs that we've adopted as we've encountered certain types of stories.
[00:16:38] Okay, so going back to 1984, one thing that's important to note is that this idea that language allows you to form ideas, form thoughts that would give you the basis for some sort of revolution. What research have found is that you can actually still have ideas, even if you don't have the word to express those ideas, even if you don't have the language.
[00:17:02] So that's an interesting thing. In other words, language may not affect what thoughts we have. However, what the research shows is it does seem to affect the thoughts that we remember. So based on that, the assumption in this book is that limiting all thoughts about revolution by getting rid of relevant words might be possible, but it would be through the process of memory, not the thoughts themselves.
[00:17:35] Now let me show you how that works. The use of non-standard language, which is what we're talking about here, newspeak, right? Newspeak, which becomes a truncated language that limits our ability to recall or use various words. The difference between the novel and reality today is that the language alterations and truncations may not have resulted directly from the government to control us or to control our thoughts. However, these shortcuts have had an impact on literacy. They have found their way into language in recent years, and it has indirectly affected literacy and language comprehension, and it has directly impacted communication and public discourse.
[00:18:28] Some people even argue that it has led to a generational socioeconomic standard which has caused a divide in terms of communication, which could result in differences in understanding, differences in comprehension, difference in job categories.
[00:18:45] It could have vast impacts across the board of what the future looks like for a number of Americans, simply because they have been so entrenched in newspeak through social media. Isn't that fascinating?
[00:19:01] It limits their ability to produce. It limits their ability to think clearly. It limits their ability to engage in deeper discourse and deeper types of discussion.
[00:19:13] For example, if you've ever read some of the books from say, I don't know, the early 18 hundreds or 19 hundreds where these are people that are working on farms, and yet their reading comprehension is incredible. It is so difficult to read a lot of these things that were just taken for granted back then.
[00:19:37] And now we look at that stuff and you would think we would be more enlightened. We would be smarter. We would be better able to understand those things, but we can barely even penetrate it because our own reading comprehension has gone down because we have all of these shortened, easier terms and we're dumber. That's what it boils down to. We're dumber than we used to be.
[00:20:04] Okay, so we're not even halfway through right now. All the things that I wanna talk about with 1984. So we will continue this next week and we will continue diving into these concepts. And it's important. It's important because again, we're talking about narrative, we're talking about story, we're talking about reality, and we're talking about protest literature.
[00:20:26] So all of this has to do with the stuff that we're telling, the stories that we're telling, the things that we're consuming, and the things that are happening in society today. It might be a little bit of a tangent, but I think it's an important one. So if you find this interesting, please join me again next week where we will continue our discussion of 1984.
[00:20:47] In the meantime, if you are a screenwriter, I want to invite you to check out my class Formatting as an Artform. This is one of the best classes on screenwriting in existence, and I would encourage you to check it out. All you have to do is go to the website, thestorytellersmission.com/formattingasanartform.
[00:21:06] There should be a link in the notes section. Go there, check it out, because it's on sale right now for the lowest price ever. And if you want to be a screenwriter that has the power to change the mind of the people in culture, then this is a class you're going to want to take.
[00:21:23] In the meantime, thank you so much for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.