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Reviews by Phil Shropshire
2024, Written and Drawn by Ted Rall, NBM Publishing
"Scattered about the city were the three organs of the
corporate-government complex: Independent technologies, which owned all the technology
companies and licensed new ones. Populist Party headquarters which concerned itself with
stifling independent thought. Freedom media enterprises, a multinational that owned and
censored the press, radio and web tv.
"Scattered about the city were the three organs of the corporate-government complex: Independent technologies, which owned all the technology companies and licensed new ones. Populist Party headquarters which concerned itself with stifling independent thought. Freedom media enterprises, a multinational that owned and censored the press, radio and web tv.
--Ted Ralls replacements for the Ministries of Truth, Love, Information and Plenty in his new book 2024.
It could be stated that Orwells 1984 isnt the best written science fiction novel everyou could pick out random pages in just about anything by Delany and Pynchon and find more radiant heartbreaking poetry than in all of the Orwell canonor that it even had the best science speculation for its timeWells, after all, did walk the Earthbut it could be argued that 1984 is the most important book of speculative fiction written, possibly the most important book ever written in the age of nation states and mass media.
Thats because the book provides a key public service: It gives you a philosophical framework to understand the lies and the hypocrisies of the stateleft, right, imperial or deist, commie or capitalist. The worlds of Oceania and Big Brother give you the thematic clue that tells you not just that Theywatching you with their citywide face recognition software wondering why youre walking there and talking to that known subversiveare lying to you, but how They go about it, using the tools of Thought Crime (Ever so relevant in these DMCA and Mandatory Filtering days) doublethink, Ingsoc, Big Brother, the Ministry of Truth and the Two Minute Hateapparently directed at Iraq this days In fact, if you surf the internet youre constantly buffeted by Orwellian terms and ideas. Now, thats influence. Harry Potter is a good read but nobody uses its ideology of spells and witchcraft to describe the Big Lies of institutions and states.
Its such an important book that of course people would attempt to work with his ideas directly, and thats precisely what Ted Rall, a brilliant cartoonist with a mean streak and biting wit, has done with his new graphic novel 2024. This isnt so much a sequel to 1984 but a directors cut that reinterprets the original material. The book features a kind of pop culture overlay, or updating as one critic referred to it, placed upon the now familiar Orwellian conceits. Where we once had the evils of the state and a kind of programmed fascistic path, Rall gives us the consumer society and mega corps and an individual who never really questions the machine to begin with. Ralls Winston never even bothers to start his secret diary at all. Hes too enamored with stock options, the continuous knick-knacks (always at bargain prices) of the Consumer Age and the inane ultra violent offerings of Web TV. While the concluding truth of Orwells Winston Smith was We are the dead, Ralls reconstructed and completely consumer cultured Winston Smith can only spout Whatever. Ralls fascist state doesnt even need a Big Brother (the one element thats conspicuous by its absence in 2024) the consumer cultures mind control is so efficient.
the first time this sort of thing has been done. Anthony Burgess gave us a bizarre sequel
to 1984 called 1985 (Reviewed by none other than Martin Amis in a bit of
weird Brit lit synergy here:), which was
half-novel, half criticique to hear Amis describe it. And Terry Gilliams film Brazil
feels a lot like 1984, down to the claustrophobic mood of doom and decay filled by
British civil servants.
Ralls version is definitely a rewrite of sorts. All your fave characters are here: OBrien, Julia, even those fanged rats in a cage although they are brought to you via virtual reality goggles. For example, instead of War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, we get:
Assumptions Permit Imagination
Knowledge is Impossible
Exploitation is Benevolence
Instead of OBriens seminal work
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism you get Why
Everything Sucks: The Deconstruction of Neopostmodernism. Har har I guess. You get
the vibe right?
Ralls Winston still has his job of rewriting history and throwing stuff down the memory hole. But hes got computer networks and pdas and broadband to work with as opposed to Orwells quaint pneumatic tubes. Subjective reality just isnt what it used to be once Winston finishes his work. Dead punker Stiv Bators was either a musician or a Nobel Prize winner, thanks to Winstons work. The 2008 election could have been annulled after Buchanan won because of a third party run by DeBeers but who knows thanks to the Media Groups constant rewrites. Family Circus artist Bill Keane wins the Pulitzer Prize, again according to Winston. And now that paper is a thing of the past the collective cultural memory proves to be a tad more malleable. Thats the kind of fun and chicanery you can expect at Ralls Media Group, his extrapolation of Orwells Ministry of Trutha very realistic extrapolation in this Rupert Murdoch/AOL/Microsoft world that we now live in (All companies that have since merged in 2018 to form Ralls singular company Indietech Figures.).
The above is an example of the Ted Rall Parody style in action.
Does this work as art? Well, let me say for the record that I personally enjoyed this work because I believe that Ted Rall, along with Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Boling, with that Boondocks guy (Aaron MaGruder) and Liberty Meadows artist Frank Cho right behind them, is one of the better print cartoonists out there. Hes probably in the first rank of political cartoonists and his rage is never predictable. Though not in the Watchmen or Maus range, 2024 is entertaining. But it's not perfect. For one, even though Rall is a great writer, he's just a so-so artist. No one would ever confuse his line with Art Spiegelmans or Chos. In the future, hed probably be better off letting someone else draw, say Bill Sienkiewicz or Kyle Baker on their off days. Two, the sitcom one-liner tone, which kind of works for his editorial cartoons, might not be appropriate for even a reinterpretation of 1984. Its kind of like Mel Brooks doing 1984. Sure, itll be a laff riot but it changes the tone of the work into something different, and not necessarily better. Woody Allen could probably pull off an entertaining laff riot version of 1984 that was thoughtful and funny but you could argue that he already did that with Sleeper, with its Orgasmatrons, butler droids and cloned noses
The other problem has to do with the same kinds of perception problems that the novel had to deal with and that big unanswered question: Was 1984 a novel about the excesses of communism or capitalist birthed fascism? If you believe that 1984 was more about the excesses of capitalist societywhich I believe, just to betray my own biasesand that the Orwells idea of the War Machine is a precursor to the Military Industrial Complex of C.Wright Mills fame, then Ralls take is for you. If you believe that Orwell was writing about those evil commies, then you might miss the point of a world where theres just one media company, one tech company, and one party. I definitely recommend it for all Orwell and Rall fans. Im not sure if it works entirely as art, but its politics and its speculation seem to be on target, which is what made 1984 great to begin with.
Beginners, Written by David Smith and illustrated by Michael Mosher,
Orwell for Beginners, Written by David Smith and illustrated by Michael Mosher,
Writers and Readers
If youre as obsessed about Orwell as I am, then you might want to pick up the comic Orwell biography called Orwell for Beginners, published by Writers and Readers. I learned all kinds of things about how his ideas developed, his personal history, and what a courageous figure he was. The big insight I gleaned is the reason why people are always confused about whether he hates capitalism and communism is answered in this biography: He clearly hates everybody and has very good firsthand reasons for doing so! He hates capitalism because he lived as a starving writer in both France and England and wrote about the darkside of capitalism firsthand. Hes also witness to the darkside of imperialism when he lived in India, where he works as a cop by the way. I never would have figured Orwell, or Eric Blair as he was truly called, to be a cop. (There has to be a movie there somewhere, set in India, Blair--played by Liam Neeson--as the very cynical cop, investigating murders and corruption, practically writes itself )
He hates the commies because even though he technically fought with them during the Spanish civil war the forces of democracy were sold out because of odd and despicable tactical positioning on the part of Stalin. This results in the forces of democracy being starved and a lot of Orwells friends being dead. Thus, begins his long hatred of Soviet style politics. Like I told you: Hates Everybody.
Does it work as art, he asks again? Well, its not really cohesive in that McCloud or Eisner way. It kind of feels like text n pictures thrown together. But its still a satisfying read, almost must reading for all Eric Blair fans. I have to confess I enjoyed it more than the Rall parody.
Odds N Ends: Well let me join the masses who thought that the A.I. websites offered a more compelling story than the film. One of the things that the film missed or didnt envision is that the AIs didnt all smile while you poured acid down their throats. Some of the AIs fight back and fight back effectively. The story on the sites was also much broader and not based on what I thought was the flawed premise: the machine who just wants to be loved. Hey droid Ive got news for you: the blue fairy doesnt give that to most people, why would it give it to you? I just didnt think it was a very interesting question or an interesting film, which shocked me. I cant ever remember being so disappointed by a Speilberg film. In the future, maybe theyll be a show on the telly and if so they should base it on the AI sites, which gave me a much broader sense of the AI world than the movie did. This does not bode well for Minority Report. Also: congratulations to Alan Moore for his recent Eisner scripting wins for Promethea. Dont forget to pick up the newest issue of Promethea, 15, by the way. There's a chilling scene in 15 where its clear that the character is watching and reading you. I've never seen a comic writer who can jar me with his pacing like Moore. This is Moore at his best, comparable to Watchmen and definitely better drawn.