Lights, Camera, Big Brother: The Expediency of Hi-Tech Surveillance
Part of a larger work on bringing Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four into the Technical Communication classroom.
Overview of Surveillance Technology
- Hi-tech surveillance as a plot device
- Montage of coolness and hyperreal techno fetishism
- Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quotation:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (2).
- Technological Determinism: the idea that a technology is created in a vacuum devoid of social need; often, a lone inventor or team “discovers” a tool that changes social values.
- “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought” (Orwell 174).
- Doublethink is “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy” (Orwell 32).
- “…the imaginary freedoms of creativity and transformation offered by communicative capitalism” (Dean 3).
Social Construction of Technology
Spoiler Alert: surveillance technologies are undemocratic
- Ideal assumption of democracy being rule by the people.
- Rhetoric of democracy is the discourse people profess to support democracy but do so in name only.
- Planned obsolescence is the business model that requires products to wear out or need routine replacement to make people buy the newer gadgets.
- I’m not asking you to live off the grid; I’m asking you to critique the system, the grid itself.
- Marshal McLuhan claims, societies have commodities that are givens that the community accepts, which “create the unique cultural flavor of any society” (21).
- Mark Fisher claims that “control only works if you are complicit with it” (22).
- Anthony Giddens Structuration Theory: “…all forms of dependence offer some resources whereby those who are subordinate can influence the activities of their superiors”’ (16).
- The fact Giddens published this in 1984 is just a coincidence…
- “Two Minutes Hate,” which Winston describes as an event “that one was not obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in” (Orwell 16).
Hi-Tech Surveillance in Film
- Enemy of the State (1998)
- Ocean’s 11, 12, …
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- Fast & Furious franchise (mainly Fast Five  and later)
- Audience Assumption: Technologies used by the good for benevolence; technologies used by the bad for malevolence.
- Fallacy of Neutral Technology
- Technology not created in a vacuum.
- The internet did not democratize information the way pre-2000 theorists thought.
- Replicated inequality and enhanced the digital divide, white supremacist radicalization, and terrorist funding.
Neoliberalism and the Rhetoric of Democracy
- “Communicative capitalism…as the materialization of ideals of inclusion and participation in information, entertainment, and communication technologies in ways that capture resistance and intensify global capitalism” (Dean 2).
- The Party of 1984 knew the people’s activities because they “programmed” the population to pursue them.
- We’re socialized to be over consumptive zombies, never satiated, never fully critical of our pseudo-choices.
- The irony of democracy winning out over socialism’s “costly, deadly, failed experiment in the 1990s” because of the “extensions in communication have been accompanied by, indeed rooted in, amplifications of capitalism” (Dean 93).
- The “concept of communicative capitalism designates the strange merging of democracy and capitalism in which contemporary subjects are produced and trapped” (Dean 22).
- Furthermore, “the deluge of screens and spectacles coincides with extreme corporatization, financialization, and privatization across the globe. Rhetorics of access, participation, and democracy work ideologically to secure the technological infrastructure of neoliberalism” (Dean 23)
- Erich Fromm, in the “Afterword” to 1984, published over a decade after the novel’s release in 1961, pointed out the farce in claiming a democracy invests so heavily in armaments, which can destroy the world’s population (264).
Films provide us the fantasy of technology in the proper hands…
- Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)
- Dominc Torreto’s crew (FnF franchise)
- The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Clarke, Arthur. C. Profiles of the future. London: Indigo, 2000.
Dean, Jodi. Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Duke UP, 2009.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, 2009.
Fromm, Erich. “Afterword.” 1984. The New American Library of World Literature, 1961.
Giddens, Anthony. The Constitution of Society: Outline of a Theory of Structuration. U of California P, 1984
McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Signet, 1964. 7-21.
Orwell, George. 1984. The New American Library of World Literature, 1961. (Originally published in 1949)
Spalding, David B. Reproduction of Wah Chang’s Communicator for Desilu Productions’ Star Trek television series.