The Truth lies in Oceania: “1984” and “The X-Files”

Happy happenstance is when you complete “1984” and catch the first two episodes of “The X-Files” reboot in the same week. Think about them too long, though, and a sickly feeling might overcome you.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in “The X-Files.” Credit Ed Araquel/Fox

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in “The X-Files.”
Credit Ed Araquel/Fox

Reading George Orwell’s tale of a government’s all-consuming need to meddle destructively with humankind and the lengths we would go to make them stop was me fulfilling the first Shelf Improvement1 book challenge of 2016. The task was to reread a classic book (something 50 years old or older) that you read in school. Orwell wrote “1984” in 1949. I first read it nearly 35 years later.

Nineteen eighty-four

Reading “The X-Files?” I did that for the aliens, growths, creepy siblings and dry, subtle humor alluding to the many years that have passed since season 9 aired to a world without — for the most part — social media. Yes, creator Chris Carter’s story of FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigating strange phenomena successfully managed nine long seasons without a hashtag. In part, the show’s success stems from Carter’s mission statement, “It’s only as scary as it is believable.”

According to John Ross of Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, Orwell’s success in making “1984” believable in part had to do with his health. In 2005, Ross published a study in asserting Orwell’s bouts of bacterial pneumonia, dengue fever and tuberculosis “made him a better and more empathetic writer, in that his sense of human suffering made his writing more universal.”2

Did Orwell’s ill health make his work predictive as well as well as universal? Is “X-Files” believable because it skirts close to the realm of possibility?

Many argue whether art imitates life or life art, and I don’t care to rehash that fight. I do know, however, that watching what’s happening worldwide with governments and technology (who’s listening to whom?), watching “The X-Files” and rereading “1984” make it clear that conspiracy theorists aren’t to be taken lightly.

“X-Files” special agent Mulder (played by David Duchovny) reinforces that thought when he rants that aliens aren’t the problem, but sketchy humans who misuse nano-, bio- and other technology are the problem. He and an Alex Jones-like character (played by Joel McHale) cite FEMA concentration camps, weather control and a collection of additional questionable actions that conspiracy theorists have proven true as proof that the public indeed is being manipulated. The question is by whom? The government? Well, that’s a big unwieldy entity. The unknown conspirator, like Big Brother, seeks to use innovative minds to destroy a way of life and control the future.


Side note: I am a tech geek… with an English degree. I am far from technologically savvy; however, I am curious. I write news stories and fiction about tech; and I believe there are some brilliant people using technology, like virtual reality headsets for terminally ill children, for positive transformation or inspiration. That said, I believe technology can be effective without being invasive.


In “1984,” everyone has a telescreen. Those on the other end of the telescreens regulate every portion of the collective lives, what they said and did as well as what they might say or do.

“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.” George Orwell, “1984”

A few years ago, “Dateline NBC,” “20/20” or one of the other be-scared-be-very-very-scared TV news magazines revealed the ease in which hackers can access an individual’s computer to listen and watch them unawares through the PC’s camera.

Nowadays, we purposefully allow invasive technology into our homes — to make life simpler. On the low end of the spectrum (I think), my television learned what time I most frequently turn it on; so, according the Sony manual, it turns on faster during those times.  Early last year, reported on the privacy statement associated with Samsung’s “smart,” voice command-enabled TV. 3 According to the statement, Samsung might collect what users were saying when the TV was listening (even if it wasn’t a direct command), transcribe that information and send it to a third party… to improve service.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” George Orwell, “1984”

For a while, there was some hoopla in the news about Samsung’s statement. Eventually, the company apologized, and then the news faded away without word of people destroying their televisions or of the market seizing from the dearth in purchases. Life went on. We accepted tech’s new role.

A few days ago, I called a bank and its telephone artificial intelligence informed me I needed to set up a voice-recognition password to use the service. For some reason (baaaa), I did. I repeated a phrase three or four times until the computer recognized and possessed a record of my voice.

Today, a source copied “Amy” on an email, requesting “she” send us a meeting invite. Shortly afterward, I got an invite from Amy Ingram, an artificial intelligence service, which negotiated times and days until we came to an agreement on when we would meet.4

Simpler? Maybe. Better?

The book and television episodes were entertaining and enlightening; but the more I reflect, the more I realize they are downright scary visions of our possible futures. Think about it too long and I can’t help but want to put a beer bottle on my doorknob.5

So what do we do? Toss our TVs, laptops and tablets on the trash heap? Swap our smartphones for landlines — if they still install them in your town?  Dump our everything-enabled cars for a Deuce and a Quarter — if you can find one that hasn’t been “upgraded”? I mean, I love my Sirius and rear-view screen, which was developed (at least in part) to decrease the number of accidental deaths and injuries.

A friend and former news colleague, Gary, is notorious for restoring what a group of us call “serial-killer” cars. Steel monstrosities that take a half a city block when parked. Currently, he is driving a 1979 Buick Electra 225 with original parts (all working) and an interior that’s just a few swatches away from DayGlo green. Gary has a plan to outwit all the connected sheep like me.  When all other vehicles like choreographed swimmers are traveling down the highway — synced with the road, traffic lights, each other and the mothership — he’s going to cruise. He will barrel through traffic; because as, he put it, the tech-enabled cars are going to part like the sea when they predict (wrongly) he’s going to hit them if they don’t.

But would he ever leave his location-enabled cellphone and Facebook friends behind? Unlikely. Could he outrun the neighbor’s drone? The Electra is too easy to spot. And what about his kids, should he ever have them? Will he disabuse them of the thought that visiting a Disney park is an American-given right just because of the “magical” wristbands that “enhance” the Disney experience (and send use data back to the company)? 6 Don’t count on it.

The point is this: Fiction or not, “The X-Files” is a good reminder that we need to speak up and speak out when we know the creep (illegal human experiments7) and conspiratorial factor of industrial, medical and whateverical technology is too high. Otherwise, it won’t be long before we are living in a more extreme version of Orwell’s Oceania with Blade Runners as Thought Police.

“Replicants are like any other machine – they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” “Blade Runner”8

1 Shelf Improvement: Take the Classics Challenge.
5 “Conspiracy Theory”:
8 “Blade Runner”:

Life happens: My Sense of an Ending

Credit JDurham /

When I was about 13 years old, I was at least 10 pounds shy of 100 and still several clicks away from my dream height of 5-feet. Around this time my parents, brother, and I attended our family reunion at a park where there were games, goo gobs of food and cousins galore in a variety of colors and sizes. I was the same age as a few of my cousins and, admittedly, those were my favorites. When we came together, we did it in grand fashion with big hugs and kisses and declarations of love along with promises not to stay away from each other so long.

After a while, one such cousin suggested we get on the see-saw (or teeter-totter depending on your regional phraseology). Not thinking, I sat down; and then he sat down. Hard. I flipped up in the air and flew about 10 feet, landing eventually in a field away from the action. When I came to, he, along with everyone else, was standing over me.

What happened? Life, and I let it.

I began thinking about how often we let life happen to us and what that means after finishing “The Sense of an Ending,” for which author Julian Barnes won “The Man Booker Prize.” I am still deciding whether I enjoyed the book; the characters are mostly self-satisfied or seemingly uninspired with few likeable qualities. But days later I am still thinking about it. That must mean something.

SPOILER ALERT (Stop here if you don’t want to know more): “The Sense of an Ending” is the story of Tony Webster; we start while he is a schoolboy and follow him to revelations in middle age. The mother of an ex-girlfriend in Tony’s youth wills him five hundred dollars and the diary of a friend who committed suicide. As Tony makes various attempts to acquire the book, he begins reflecting on his past; but his past is not how he remembers it. Tony, we discover, or surmise, may not be the innocent party: His history, subconsciously it seems, is revisionist history.


“What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realized? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? (Barnes, “The Sense of an Ending”)

What does it mean to let life happen to you? Does it mean there is no winning or losing? No choices or challenges? How many of us really control or direct our lives? Some talk of creating a five-year plan. Do you know five people with a five-year plan? What about a two-year plan?

On screen, the morally challenged Francis Underwood, the star manipulator in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” goes after life with verbal machine guns firing off underhanded deeds. He makes his future in full Hitler fashion. For him, getting caught unaware is an inexcusable flaw and his wife, Claire, is there to make sure it does not happen, at least not more than once. So Frank plans and follows his personal plotline until he accomplishes his reprehensible goals.

That dedication is a good thing, right? Short answer: Depends on the goals.

Personally, I found jealous Othello to be boor, blowing smoke in the form of long soliloquies when really he was just a gullible fool. Yet, the eponymous drama, in my estimation, is brilliant and arouses questions, like did the famous Moor let life happen to him? Was he unwittingly duped into murdering his wife? Or did he consciously choose to believe Iago?

As a child, my dad signed me up for baseball, mom for piano. I ran track until I let my grades fall. I got married, divorced and made other foolish decisions. Eventually I got a B.A. in English and wrote my heart out. In need of employment after graduation, I took a job the college career office found me, working at a national retailer selling hundred-dollar sneakers to female gangbangers with butterfly tattoos. Eventually, I took a better paying job and then another, until I discovered I was a journalist. It was exciting, challenging and educational, an experience I will never regret but did not plan it.

Now, at least according to other people’s timetables, I am middle aged; I am also unmarried, childless, and have not published the great American novel. I go to church regularly and read my bible daily. Did life happen to me? Maybe. Or was the very act of letting things happen a choice? Have I, by not sticking to my original plan of being a great American author, ruined my chances of seeing my dreams come true? Possibly. Do I regret it? Sometimes.

I had emergency surgery back in the 90s. A week later, after the friendly fuzziness of morphine started vanishing from my system and I was nearing the ability to whine without pain, my mother looked up from her crocheting and said, “It’s just more material for your book.”

Life may have happened to me but I have more material for my book than some who have followed the linear way, with all its smooth contours and shiny doodads. Still, I have been taking more chances lately, making purposeful changes, and doing things because they feel right and not just because I have a great capacity for survival.

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.