Rick Wakeman’s Prog-Rock Opera Adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984


We’ve seen sales of George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare scenario 1984 peak in recent months. Millions of readers seek to understand the brave new world we live in through Orwell’s vision. Parallels abound. We might reasonably ascribe to the ruling party in the U.S. and its media apparatus the slogan “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” But our experience of reality never fails to validate that old saw about truth and fiction. As Case Western Reserve professor of history John Broich writes, “2017 is stranger than Orwell imagined.”

The state doesn’t need a Ministry of Truth to censure the information that reaches us. We are simply overwhelmed with “alternative authorities and realities” who delegitimize the facts and accelerate “the decline in standards of evidence and reasoning in the US electorate.” A sad state of affairs. But in every decade since the publication of Orwell’s novel, critics, journalists, and pundits have seen evidence of his dire forecast. In the titular year itself, Manhattan College professor Edmond van den Bossche summed up the general tenor in The New York Times: “In our 1984… the warnings of George Orwell are more than ever relevant.”

Van den Bossche wrote of NATO and the UN. But he might have written about MTV and CNN— both in their infancy—who birthed 24-hour cable news and reality TV. What Orwell understood about state power, later thinkers like Guy DeBord, Roland Barthes, and Jean Baudrillard built careers writing about: the importance not only of surveillance, but also of spectacle that blurs the lines of truth and fiction as it overwhelms our senses. It’s largely this key theme, I’d argue, that has rendered 1984 so attractive to some of the most spectacular of musicians, including David Bowie—whose attempts to make an Orwell concept album formed part of his Diamond Dogs—and Rick Wakeman, the virtuoso prog-rock keyboardist of Yes fame.


Source/More: Open Culture

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