By all accounts that stage version of George Orwell’s “1984” is not an easy night at the theater. The Washington Post reports that the torture scene, where the story’s protagonist Winston Smith is beaten and tormented with live rats, is causing people to vomit, scream, and in one case engage in a Fist Fight.

Guards have been placed around the Hudson Theatre to monitor audience reaction, and no one below the age of 14 is admitted. In other words, box office gold.

What is so special about ‘1984?’

George Orwell, whose previous novel “Animal Farm” was a satire taking down communism, published “1984” and explored the themes of totalitarianism further.

The book is set in a world dominated by three tyrannical states, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia which are in perpetual war with one another. The power of the state over its citizens is absolute, and dissent is punished savagely.

The story revolves around a minor bureaucratic functionary working for the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith, who is tasked with altering public records to align with whatever the ruling party decrees is true at the time.

He starts to write a diary describing his personal thoughts and engages in a forbidden love affair with a fellow functionary named Julia. Eventually and inevitably Smith is arrested, tortured, and broken. The novel has never gone out of print and is taught in schools around the western world.

It was adapted to film twice, most recently with John Hurt and Richard Burton.

‘1984’ in the age of Trump

It is perhaps no accident that “1984” has enjoyed a revival in recent years, with book sales soaring, and the play by all accounts a hit production, Of course, who “Big Brother” is depends on one’s point of view.

The producers of the play are pretty sure that it is Trump and has even highlighted the supposed connection in advertising. Other people tend to pick their least favorite political figure as a stand-in for the dictator of Oceania.

The parallels between the world of “1984” and the real world are a little tenuous at best.

Orwell never conceived of an Internet where all the information of the world (and plenty of disinformation) is available at a few keystrokes. The free access to information that the Internet provides would be inconceivable in Oceania. If anything, the modern world features more political strife rather than conformity,

Trump makes a rather weak Big Brother as well. Big Brother was an almost mythical person, unapproachable, like a god figure to be worshiped, Trump, if he is anything, is all too human, reviled and admired in equal measure.

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