Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Site Note: Daily Rev is in the process of migrating to the Movable Type platform, because Blogger beta is just too cranky for our taste. We'll have more to say about that come Geek Wednesday, but fortunately, we have alternatives, thanks mainly to our resident geek, Nearly Redmond Nick, who is taking over the technical tasks because I had fouled them up so badly.

We are also fortunate to have Mr. McKenna available for providing perspective amid moments like these. Today, he joins us with the first of a two-part piece on a writer who has suddenly become quite topical these past six years or so...

As Brian said yesterday, we want to examine corruption – money, influence and power. Our focus will be corporate America. But first, I want to explore the means. From my perspective, it was the corruption of language that led us down our current path. Not that we haven’t seen corruption before, we have – but the means have changed. Where corruption was formerly an entirely backroom matter, now it comes out in the open. Who could have guessed?

It turns out, the great writer George Orwell was pretty clear about how language might change to enhance the taking of power. He wrote two works that focused on political language. They were once part of the standard high school curriculum 40 years ago. Are they now?

It was in the middle of the cold war when our freshman English class encountered Animal Farm. His other great work, 1984 was taught later, perhaps in my Junior year. At the time, we thought that the primary lesson of both books was the fairly obvious one about the danger of totalitarianism. Now that the cold war is long over, I’m curious what current day readers derive from either work. Of course, books don’t teach lessons, at least not entirely, and even when they do, the lessons are complex. Still, both focus on political language. If you listen to our 24/7 media, you will see that the era of (1984’s ) Newspeak has arrived.

As I’ve said before, I’m a corporate soldier and have ample opportunity to enjoy modern corporate prose. For those of you who don’t get to read much of this stuff, it has changed a lot in the past 30 years. Corporate speech was once the direct, detailed speech of engineers and financiers. It has since morphed into power point driven bullet points and (it is my thesis) this speech is the father of the sound bites that have replaced genuine political thought.

In both of Orwell’s novels, political leaders use slogans to manipulate. In Animal Farm, the slogans come as part of the novels exposition. In 1984, language is a subtext. The Oceania government is engaged in creating a new language – NEWSPEAK – a simplified English where our extensive vocabulary is replaced by neologism (doublespeak, thoughtcrime, doublethink) or otherwise eliminated altogether. As subtle communication becomes impossible, lies become undetectable – for who can tell if a sound bite is true or false. True in 1984 and true today.

Here are a few slogans from 1984:




Sound compelling, don’t they? A perverted form of Haiku. Juxtaposition creates the appearance of genuine meaning.

To continue with my thought from above, over the past 30 years, business speech has changed substantially. The popularity of the personal computer had something to do with the change. So too did the new software. Thus the Microsoft Office suite temps us with useful hints, spell check and grammar check. Then there is power point. I’ve heard that one mid level commander in Iraq has banished Powerpoint from his operation. It makes it way too easy to appear to say something meaningful.

--T. McKenna

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