Future imperfect: mass and mobility in Williams, Orwell and the BBC's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Sean McQueen

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George Orwell s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the paradigmatic Anglophone dystopia, and its political inspiration has been widely contested, especially by Marxist and socialist critics. Fredric Jameson and Raymond Williams both critiqued Orwell s attitude towards the masses, and considered the novel a hostile critique of socialism. This essay will build on Andrew Milner s theorisation of dystopia and his renewed socialist reading of Orwell. Cinematic and televisual treatments of Orwell bear the impress of the novel s political indeterminacy. This essay will extend to these adaptations Milner s rereading of Williams, Jameson and Orwell, and his hypothesis that the subjunctive future perfect is the logically informing tense of dystopia . With a shift from novel to television, Orwell s telescreens acquire a new relevance. Since Williams took exception to Orwell s representation of the masses, and conceived of television as a technology of mobile privatisation, I take special interest in the BBC s controversial 1954 televisual adaptation, with reference to his Television: Technology and Cultural Form. Drawing on historical evidence and textual analysis, I assess the BBC production s troubled political inspiration and reception.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74 - 92
Number of pages19
JournalKey Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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