I cannot imagine a more apt metaphor for the American public’s disillusionment than those advertisements on television that show placating images of smiling, happy people swimming in clear blue water while a disembodied voice describes the deadly side-effects of the pills it’s selling.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press just released the results of the first poll on the public’s opinion since 29-year-old Edward Snowden leaked classified information on the U.S. government agency’s sweeping domestic surveillance program. “A majority of Americans – 56% – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorisms,” Pew reports.
It’s always safe to err on the side of skepticism with these things. I have a hard time buying that such a small sample size could accurately represent the feelings of over 300 million people (then again, I’m not a statistician). But really, it’s not surprising if Americans are largely indifferent to one of the most blatantly Orwellian news events in recent memory. On a related note, all these black-humor references to George Orwell’s 1984 may be missing the mark.
If we must look to literature for clarity on these results and what they say about our sad state of affairs, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is much more appropriate. If you haven’t read that one, the key differences between Orwell’s and Huxley’s dystopian depictions is summed up in an easily digestible/rebloggable comic strip by one Stuart McMillen.
You can tell Americans as much as you want about all the evils their government are responsible for – even emphasize the fact that, by extension, we are all responsible for these actions, as far as our government is comprised of our fellow citizens and each and every one of us supposedly has some sort of power to exert over how things are run. In Huxley’s view, it is not censorship we should be afraid of, but our own indifference.
Caring about things that are going on seemingly outside of your immediate control or that seem not to impact you directly is hard. It is especially hard when there are so many other things to do or watch or think about. Our brains are full up on the trivialities, on the image of the smiling, happy people swimming in the clear blue water, of the things we would rather be doing than doing anything about the bad news we hear every day that only gets worse.
They can go ahead and tell us all the side effects while they watch us swallow the pill. We like to be “informed”; it gives us something to talk about. More entertainment. But our priorities fall squarely in the promised period of sunshine and leisure before those side effects kick in.