If there was any question about the impact of Edward Snowden’s revelations about digital spying on Americans, the sales of George Orwell’s classic novel on Big Brother dispels them. It has moved from lower than 7,000 to #125 on Amazon’s best-seller list.
The anti-utopian novel was published in 1949. It is the story of a future society in which the world is trilateral: three tyrannies. Great Britain is run by a bureaucracy in which the ever-present Big Brother monitors the words and deeds of everyone through two-way television. There is no privacy. Anyone at any time can be observed by the state. The #1 slogan in the novel is “Big Brother is watching you.”
The book is a classic. Classic books do not have huge sales increases very often. Events from outside the realm of classic book reading rarely propel a classic book to huge, unexpected sales. Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing is the source of these new sales. His account of NSA, FBI, and CIA spying on our digital communications is so close to the novel that readers are buying it by the droves. Social media are doing it. People are making the connection.
The connection between sales and Snowden has been made by hundreds of columnists.
This lets us know that Snowden’s story is having enormous impact. It has traction. Readers are making the mental connection: “NSA is the arm of Big Brother.” When the public can make the connection between Snowden’s account of what is happening and what happens in a dystopian novel, the U.S. government has a problem.
The Bush-Obama Administration — for it is one administration on civil liberties — can pretend that this is a fad, that it will soon blow over. It won’t blow over. Snowden’s story is now permanently linked to the plot line in a classic book. The book will remain a classic. When people read it from now on, they will make the connection: Big Brother and NSA.
From the NSA’s point of view, this is the worst disaster in its history. This is worse than Matt Damon’s monologue in Good Will Hunting.
When the essence of your agency’s mission statement is “domestic spying in obscurity,” Edward Snowden is your worst nightmare.
Whenever readers read the novel from now on, they will think: “This is where we live.”
Of course, we don’t live there. Winston Smith, the anti-hero, works as a historian. He drops primary source documents down the memory hole, never to be seen again. With the World Wide Web, any of us can dredge the memory hole, 24×7. Google may be spying on us, but it lets us spy on Big Brother.
Big Brother has the capability of listening to us. Watching us in secondary. Our images will not be used against us. Our words will. Words matter in a court of law. Our words are now inherently public.
But we have the capability of watching Big Brother, words and images.
Big Brother has lost more legitimacy in the last 60 days than I recall in my lifetime. Scandal after scandal has hit Obama’s Administration: Benghazi, IRS, NSA, and now State Department procuring. The media are “piling it on.” The public always loves a scandal. This Administration has them by the boatload.
Obama is fast turning into Billy Conn. He can run, but he can’t hide.