It’s 2014 – Are We Watching Big Brother?

Good Morning, Mr. Orwell is a force to be reckoned with. To think that audiences around the globe could watch a live broadcast of a multi-media avant-garde variety show is amazing. Granted, some of the footage was previously recorded, but the broadcast was still live, global, and beyond its time. This all happened on the first day of 1984, exactly 30 years ago.

I am lucky enough to have been able to visit the 30 year retrospective on this massive and awesome satellite installation. Photos of the exhibit, other NJP works, and well, all of my photography, can be found here.

Paik, being a pioneering in television and video art, would not agree with George Orwell’s rather dystopic Big Brother society he wrote about in his 1949 book Nineteen-Eighty-Four. Paik says Orwell “was only half-right” and I agree with him – to an extent. Even today, while privacy is certainly a thing of the past (at least in many ways), we have still not reached the level of dystopic despair described in Orwell’s novel.

Nonetheless, much of Orwell’s vision has come to fruition, just in a systematically different way. For example, I am currently writing this entry in South Korea, a country that is “free.” But what does freedom really mean? Especially for a country only recently recognized on the global stage. That freedom, like all others, comes with a price tag, and small print. If I were to interject right here (“the South Korean president…blah blah blah…sucks and should be taken out of office…”), well then, my blog just might be taken out of office. You get the gist.

In South Korea, there is a level of policing on the internet, as well TV censorship, that is somewhat absurd, at least by U.S. standards. Adults are prohibited from visiting pornographic website online, and actors kissing on screen is often edited out before a public broadcast. In turn, we have Noam Chomsky side of things, and on the other hand we have Henry Jenkins. Ultimately, an educated balance is best, particularly when dealing with technological evolutions.

In some ways, however, Paik had an enchanted view of technology. Sure, he was “critical” of the system, but he was part of the system – be it the art galleries, museums or local TV stations that displayed his works. I think that Mr. Orwell is a brilliant piece, not because it criticizes the concept of big brother, as it does not take a political stance one way or the other; rather, because of the show’s innovative use of technology. Paik’s choice for title was sexy, simply because it was broadcast in 1984 and showing that the world had not become an utter mess like Orwell envisioned. Apple capitalized on the same “sexiness” of Orwell’s book, and had a wildly successfully launch campaign for the Macintosh.

The real importance of Mr. Orwell lies in that it was a rather successful broadcast, despite its unique style and technological complexity. This was the first time a global satellite television show was broadcast simultaneously throughout the world, including cities like New York, Paris, and Seoul. The show also included well-known avant-garde artists like Joseph Beuys and John Cage, who were introduced to thousands of viewers, who have never otherwise been exposed to avant-garde art. Moreover, the show’s viewers were experiencing all of this from the comfort of their own homes.

How is that for a new spin on big brother? He was certainly watching us, but not in the way originally envisioned. And he certainly did not think we’d eventually be watching him. Well, I’ve got news for you big brother…