The inaugural session of a new lecture series on campus kicked off Wednesday afternoon with journalist turned novelist Jonathan Greenberg, author of America 2014: An Orwellian Tale.
During a visit to Annenberg Hall with an intimate group of about 20 students, Greenberg spoke about his novel’s parallels to George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian political satire written by the English novelist in 1949. America 2014 focuses on the Orwellian aspects of the Bush administration and depicts a future run by a leader similar to Orwell’s Big Brother.
Greenberg’s visit to Temple was part of journalism professor Linn Washington’s new lecture series, “Journalist as Author.” Greenberg – who goes by the pen name Dawn Blair (Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair) – is the first author to visit Temple and speak about his career as a journalist and his segue into writing fiction.
“Bush’s America is becoming like Orwell’s 1984,” Greenberg said. “America 2014 is written as a sci-fi thriller. It gives people an idea of what the future will bring.”
During his visit Wednesday, Greenberg emphasized the Bush administration’s use of “doublethink,” defined by Orwell as the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both as truth. In 1984, the three slogans of the Party are “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.”
Greenberg likens doublethink to “perception management,” a concept defined during the Reagan administration. Perception management is the practice of maintaining a favorable public view of the government. To do this, the government only has to secure the beliefs of a segment of the base that will sway the election, but does not necessarily have to command the majority.
“Never before has an administration lied so much to the public,” Greenberg said. “There is a mass hypnosis of support of President Bush without awareness of the facts.”
Greenberg recited a laundry list of Orwellian aspects of the Bush administration including Bush’s proclamation that he can protect the U.S. from another terrorist attack even when the evidence shows he failed to prevent the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“One of the most Orwellian aspects of the Bush administration is when he switched America’s enemy from [Osama] bin Laden to [Saddam] Hussein,” Greenberg noted. “The enemy is switched when it is convenient for the administration.”
America 2014 and 1984 are similar, but Greenberg’s novel is unique. The novel takes place 10 years from now when President George Bush is serving his fourth term. The Constitution has been replaced with the “Patriotic Citizen’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,” and America is now known as “God’s United States.”
Winston Smith, the main character in Greenberg’s novel, works for the Department of Homeland Security writing advertising propaganda. In 1984, Smith rewrites history by altering news stories. Both Smiths join the resistance movement, but after that Greenberg’s novel differs from Orwell’s.
“In 1984, you never knew whether there was a resistance or if it was just the government scooping out the dissidents and brainwashing them,” Greenberg explained in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “This book is a bit more hopeful – more than 1984 – which has no hope.”
Greenberg modernized Orwell’s version to give the novel a more American flavor and to draw distinct parallels to the Bush administration.
“America 2014 was written in the U.S. in 2004, and 1984 was written in England in 1949,” he said Tuesday, “but both share the same totalitarian vision of how this could happen here.”
Greenberg has been touring with his novel at college campuses across the country for his “Bush 1984 Tour” during which he is giving away 1,984 copies of the novel to college students. Greenberg’s only stipulation is that if students like the book, they have to pass it along to an undecided voter before the election.
Greenberg is the first writer to participate in the “Journalist as Author” series and Washington plans for it to be an ongoing project.
“Bringing novelists here brings new ideas to show students how to secure their role in the watchdog mission,” Washington said. “It will also show journalism students how they can pursue other avenues in journalism, and one is writing a book.”
Greenberg agreed. “I think journalists as authors are an interesting breed,” he said. “America 2014 is fiction, but it did require regular journalistic research to look into the law and political information.”
Greenberg has written for several magazines and newspapers including Forbes, New York, Mother Jones, the Washington Post, The New Republic and Playboy. He has written one work of non-fiction, “Staking the Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty,” and edited “Buying America Back,” a collection of essays. He is chairman of a self-created Internet company. Greenberg also received his Master’s Studies in Law from Yale University.
The next “Journalist as Author” event will be Nov. 3 with David Lindorff in Annenberg Hall, room 302.
Barbara J. Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.