Control can be influenced in many different ways, especially through language. Language is a form of communication that can be extremely powerful when misused. Control through language is a weapon of mind control and an abuse of power. In this review I will be discussing the different examples of ‘Control through language’ that we can find in the novels Nineteen eighty four, The handmaid’s tale, the film Minority report and the poem Fake plastic trees written and sung by Radiohead.
In the novel Nineteen eighty four written by George Orwell control is enforced through language. In this dystopian novel control through language is one of the most important messages. It’s the central means of human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing. In Nineteen eighty four the party overwhelms the mind’s capacity for individual thought. Language is very important in Orwell’s novel because in a dystopian world where everything is made unpleasant, even language becomes something controlling over people’s thoughts and actions. One way the party manipulates individuals into control through language is when they organise furious displays of hatred against the parties political enemies. The people are manipulated into hatred and forced to yell at images of enemies. Another example of this is newspeak which is the official language of Oceania. It was created as a form of control by the party. By controlling everyones thoughts and forcing a new and improved language, the party can also control the actions of people who are forced to speak words made by the party. “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” This quote perfectly explains how the party is controlling even the thought of people by limiting the words that they are allowed to speak. The range of consciousness will slowly become smaller and smaller as each year there will be fewer words to express one’s train of thought. Newspeak consisted of new words such as vaporised to replace the word murdered. By doing this the party has the power to control what people think. For example the party uses the word vaporised when they want people to think bad people just disappeared or vanished other than them thinking someone killed the person in order to murder them. This takes away emotion and prevents citizens from having the freedom of thought within their own minds and gives the party more power to control thought crime and rebellion against their authority.
Similar to Nineteen eighty four where there is always someone watching and a constant control through language, The Minority report directed by Steven Spielberg expresses the same idea of people always watching your thoughts and actions. In this film murder is predetermined by the precogs which can see crimes before they are committed. Their ability to see these murders before the actual death was the creation of a new corporation called pre crime. In this dystopian world murder is prevented and the visions of the three miracles control the community and save lives. However, these three sets of eyes are always watching even the evil thoughts of people that they can lock away anyone with a bad thought. This introduces the visual language technique, motif and how eyes are a constant symbol of surveillance and control. For example there is a specific spider scene where electronic spiders are released into apartments to search the individuals eyes and see their identities. The director uses a birds eye view camera angle during this scene to create the feeling of being watched by eyes and controlled through the surveillance of eyes. I think this is unfair as everyone has bad days where they feel alone and have thoughts that they may not even commit to. “In 2054, the six-year Precrime experiment was abandoned. All prisoners were unconditionally pardoned and released, though police departments kept watch on many of them for years to come. Agatha and the twins were transferred to an undisclosed location, a place where they could find relief from their gifts. A place where they could live out their lives in peace.” This is an example from the film where at the end they realised how they were controlling the ever changing future. Prisoners who never actually committed murder were captured because the gifted saw their thoughts. Nineteen eighty four had a similar concept, thoughtcrime which banned opinion on the ruling government or intentions to act against the party. This is similar because both texts had a controlling government or organisation which captured or executed people before they actually committed their thoughts.
Another dystopian society is one written by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s tale. In the novel the ruling government is overtaken by a fundamental regime. The language in the novel has changed as it is very religious and controlled by the church. This is controlling over the people as they are forced to use biblical terms as the official language. In the novel the states soldiers are called and seen as “Angels” or “The eyes of god” which encourages individuals to show their devotion to god and the regime. Through enforcing this new vocabulary, Atwood shows how the use of language gives the state control over the thoughts and actions of others. Throughout the novel there are signs of christianity such as shop names like “Loaves and fishes.” Even these simple words capture the individuals and force them to live by the bible. “I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them into my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious.” Sex is forbidden in this society because pleasure is seen to be unnecessary. The protagonist, Offred is tempted by the commander in her house when he bribes her with a forbidden game, scrabble. he lures her desires and abuses the power that society gave him to gain power over Offred. The words they used while playing the game such as gorge and crisp are part of the old language that could be used to describe forbidden desires. This relates back to Nineteen eighty four and how the party created a new language called Newspeak to prevent individuals having desire or thoughts against the party’s authority. Again in the film, Minority report this kind of control is also found where individuals are always being watched and monitored just like Offred in this novel, the handmaid’s tale.
In the song Fake plastic trees written and sung by Radiohead I found the connection of control through language once again. In the song it describes the real world and how it is like a dystopia where people are oblivious to all the fake things around them. In the song it talks about “fake plastic love” and if you pretend and fake to love someone it will wear you out. It explains what is expected of us in real life and how we are constantly trying to fill these expectations in every aspect of life. The song is mainly explaining how we feel the need to find love. “She looks like the real thing. She tastes like the real thing. My fake plastic love.” This is an example from the song which shows how people are controlled by the word love and all the expectations of it. Radiohead is also controlling our thought through these lyrics by describing love as plastic because plastic is so uneconomical and fake that it is unhealthy for the world. This is similar to the text explained above, the Handmaid’s tale where control is enforced through the church and the language of the bible. They are connected through this idea of control through language because they both manipulate people and the society in their dystopian worlds to think their words and way of living is appropriate and what is expected in life. In Fake plastic trees it manipulates the listeners to think that our expectations from society are fake and plastic similar to the novel The Handmaid’s tale where it also manipulates the people through the language of their christianity and loyalty to the bible.
In conclusion after exploring this idea of how language can control a society I have realised and learnt how the influence of language affects my life and the society I live in today. Dystopian texts are warnings for the readers to understand what might happen if power was in the wrong hands. I believe by reading and watching these four dystopian texts my mind has been opened to the ideas of language and how powerful people and groups in my world can take advantage. These texts have revealed how different political parties in the world will try to influence citizens to see their point of view by using persuasive language. This really opened my eyes to how I may let language control my everyday life.