Dina Leygerman is a high school teacher who teaches George Orwell’s novel 1984 to her students every year. Before she does, with the assistance of other teachers and the school’s administration, she turns her classroom into a totalitarian regime to give the kids a taste of life in Oceania. Rules are strict and favor is given to students who report on rule-breaking by their classmates.
I tell my seniors that in order to battle “Senioritis,” the teachers and admin have adapted an evidence-based strategy, a strategy that has “been implemented in many schools throughout the country and has had immense success.” I hang posters with motivational quotes and falsified statistics, and provide a false narrative for the problem that is “Senioritis.” I tell the students that in order to help them succeed, I must implement strict classroom rules.
However, when Leygerman tried the experiment this year, the students weren’t having it. They rebelled. They protested. They fought harder as the rules became more onerous.
The President of the SGA, whom I don’t even teach, wrote an email demanding an end to this “program.” He wrote that this program is “simply fascism at its worst. Statements such as these are the base of a dictatorship rule, this school, as well as this country cannot and will not fall prey to these totalitarian behaviors.” I did everything in my power to fight their rebellion. I “bribed” the President of the SGA. I “forced” him to publicly “resign.” And, yet, the students did not back down. They fought even harder. They were more vigilant. They became more organized. They found a new leader. They were more than ready to fight. They knew they would win in numbers.
An upcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein asks if authoritarianism can happen in America. The experiment in Leygerman’s classroom and the inspiring movement started by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL suggest perhaps not. The nation’s youth, raised on The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, are reminding the baby boomers that considering what their own parents went through in the Great Depression and World War II, they should fucking know better than to slam the door on succeeding generations.
This is the book women will be whispering about to one another in Trump’s America-an all-too-real vision of our country under a totalitarian theocracy where women are stripped of their rights and kept around only as breeders or servants.
There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real.
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic…
1984 was my favorite book for a long time — I first read it when I was about 10 years old and reread it every year or two well into my 20s. I haven’t read it in more than 10 years…perhaps it’s time for another go.
Here’s Kevin Staab, Tony Hawk, and Greg Smith watching a 1983 video of free style skateboarder Rodney Mullen. “Look at him just creating modern street skating, right there”. “Yeah, he goes through this run twice. I’ve seen this video before.” The 1983 version of Tony Hawk makes an appearance at around 3:50 trying to figure out how to ride 2 boards.
In the excesses of satire one may take a certain comfort. They provide a distance from the human condition as we meet it in our daily life that preserves our habitual refuge in sloth or blindness or self-righteousness. Mr. Orwell’s earlier book, Animal Farm, is such a work. Its characters are animals, and its content is therefore fabulous, and its horror, shading into comedy, remains in the generalized realm of intellect, from which our feelings need fear no onslaught. But ”Nineteen Eighty-four” is a work of pure horror, and its horror is crushingly immediate.
After yesterday’s post on Ghostbusters (“Don’t cross the streams”), I got hit with a few follow-ups worth following up:
When I said 1984 was arguably “the biggest/most important year in modern cinematic comedy,” I meant mostly because of the ridiculous amount of money comedies made that year and how those surprise blockbusters affected how comedies were made afterwards.
Still when you add This Is Spinal Tap, which also came out in 1984 but didn’t make very much money, you really could make a case that it really could be the best/most influential year for movie comedies.
I particularly like Simmons’s note about college basketball (maybe even more relevant today):
College hoops meant something in ‘84. You stayed home on Monday nights to watch the Big East. You knew the players because they had been around for years. And since guys stuck around, you could follow Ewing and Georgetown, Hakeem and Phi Slamma Jamma, Mullin and St. John’s, Pearl and Syracuse, MJ at UNC … these were like pro teams on a smaller scale. I’m telling you, a Georgetown-St. John’s game in the middle of February was an event. These moments aren’t even possibilities anymore. They’re gone.
My favorite document of 1984 (sports or otherwise) is undoubtedly Sparky Anderson’s Bless You Boys, his running diary/memoir of the Detroit Tigers’ amazing season that year. It’s about baseball, but so many other things — life, death, perspective. I wrote about it last year for The Idler when Sparky Anderson passed away.
One last “what if?” note from Simmons:
Rolling Stone was offered the chance to buy MTV, and Sports Illustrated was offered the chance to buy ESPN. Both magazines decided against it.