“Good cannot exist without evil, since evil is necessary as a counterpart to good.” A theme that many dystopian pieces present is the loss of individualism due to control of the state. This idea is created to shock the reader into the realization that their free will is at risk of being taken from them without their knowledge so that the authoritarian figure can remain in power and enforce their policies without opposition. Individual choice is shown to be taken by oppressive methods disguised as a beneficial solution to society’s problems like in Minority Report with PreCrime and A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Technique. They appear to promote goodness but in reality, it’s only the option of committing any evil that is eliminated. However, with the removal of evil comes the removal of all good actions. Without the option of evil no one chooses to be good, we only go down the path already designed for us. The image and symbolism of the watchful eye is a technique used by dystopian creators George Orwell, Steven Speilberg, Anthony Burgess, and the band Radiohead to symbolise the loss of individualism. The constant observation that the eye represents reminds the characters and reader that they have no choice and are under the control of an authority figure.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, invasive methods are used to strip the citizens of Oceania of their individualism. The imagery of the symbolic leader Big Brother is posted in many public spaces in order to remind the main character, Winston, that he is being watched at all times “the black moustachioed face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house-front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own.” In this totalitarian militaristic state, citizens are expected to accept the word of the Party and Big Brother. Winston begins to question the Party’s legitimacy and silently rebels as an act of regaining individuality and for the first time rejects the “choices” the Party has forced onto him. Throughout this journey the symbolism of Big Brother’s watchful eye remains present, reminding the reader that this self-discovery is futile. The thoughtpolice exist to preserve public support of the Party by vapourising any person that has opposing ideologies or commits “thoughtcrime”. The presence of the thoughtpolice removes the possibility of individuality because unorthodox thoughts are punished “Orthodoxy means not thinking–not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” While the origin of the Party is unknown, we are told that their aim is to simply have control of every individual, resource and piece of information to ever exist “We are interested solely in power, pure power.” by manipulating the population’s ability to express themselves as individuals and view them as a collective. A surprising amount of characters are comfortable or complacent with this unremitting surveillance and oppressive to the frustration of Winston and the reader which can be explained by this quote “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” The population would rather stay blissfully ignorant of the freedom they could have alongside happiness.
The opportunity to make morally good decisions isn’t threatened more than in Minority Report. Set primarily in Washington DC in the year 2054, a system called PreCrime was created for the purpose of preventing murder. It uses mutated humans with psychic abilities called “Precogs” to receive visions of the future. PreCrime shows many similarities to Nineteen Eighty-Four’s thoughtcrime system other than just their names. Both punish people that have yet to commit a crime. Preventative methods disallow choice and personal improvement because the option of making the right decision is forcefully taken from them and they’re punished before even making a mistake. The quote “My father once told me, “We don’t choose the things we believe in; they choose us” spoken by the director of PreCrime, Lamar, represents the determinism an authoritative figure has over free will – that our options are already decided for us. Protagonist, John Anderton is trying to prove his innocence, being accused of a murder he hasn’t yet committed. On his journey through futuristic Washington DC, eyes are displayed all over the city on holographic advertising. This appears meaningless at first, but to the viewer, it signifies extreme surveillance and the inability to live freely; much like in Nineteen Eighty-Four with Big Brother posters. Uniquely, in Minority Report eyes also represent the identity of an individual. In this dystopia “iris scanners” exist over the city to monitor all citizens. Eyes represent the personal identity and the iris scanners have control over this without consent; once again signifying the loss of individualism by cause of an authority figure “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess discusses the cost of losing individualism has on morality. The main character, Alex is arrested after a violent night of murder and rape. In order to shorten his sentence, he agrees to take part in a procedure called the Ludovico Technique; a method of associating violent impulses with crippling nausea. He is forced to watch videos of violence and sex while being injected with nausea-inducing drugs “But I could not shut my glazzies, and even if I tried to move my glazz-balls about I still could not get like out of the line of fire of this picture” The theme of eyes being used to show loss of individualism is exhibited through this quote. His eyes are manipulated against him to strip him of his ability to choose. The Ludovico Technique opens a discussion of morality and choice, Burgess aims to make the reader realize that good cannot exist without evil and that to be good we must choose “The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”. Alex is said to be cured but he believes that he is not a better man than he was before “Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”. The Ludovico Technique is similar to Minority Report’s PreCrime in the way that they are both disguised as beneficial to society by preventing crime but in reality, it strips people of their humanity. Our humanity comes from our ability to choose whatever choice that may be “Goodness is chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.”. It is also similar in how an individual’s eyes are used against them and force them into obedience.
The lyrics of ‘2+2=5’ by Radiohead demonstrate how this loss of individualism is taken and holds the public responsible. The line “You can scream and you can shout it is too late now because you have not been payin’ attention” clearly states that we are not currently being attentive to the power of the systems that guide us and that we’re being complacent with our freedoms being infringed upon. It also claims that when we realize that we have lost control, we will no longer be in a position to do anything about it “Don’t question my authority or put me in a box”, so we must act now. “Payin’ attention” contributes to the theme of eyes as it describes how we are not being observant to the risks. This line is repeated multiple times in an attempt to make us recognise this truth, almost as if it’s a plea. This song includes the lyric “And two and two always makes up five”, a direct reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”. This line means that as long as the group in power has total control they have complete authority over the truth that they can bend to their favour. The reference to a dystopian written in 1948 is a way of expressing how the same concerns still exist in today’s world. Radiohead embraces the ultimate theme that we are oblivious or complacent to our individuality being taken from us and acts as a warning for us not “Payin attention”.
The purpose of dystopian texts like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Minority Report, A Clockwork Orange and 2+2=5 is to alert people of the signs that their freedoms and individualism are being threatened. The danger of losing individualism as shown prominently in A Clockwork Orange is the risk of losing moral choice. While morality is completely subjective, we have generally agreed upon global rules that benefit us and promote genuine goodness. If we lose the ability to choose freely for ourselves and explore our options then we remove what makes us human and the opportunity for personal development. These dystopias come about by a slow and subtle corruption that isn’t noticed until it is too late, but there are warnings – like the imagery of the eyes presented in the texts. The symbolism of the eyes is to remind us of the looming presence of the authority’s power and that the characters are being watched. As warned by the creators of these texts, we need to become more aware of the symbolic parallels that may exist in our own society or face having our individualism taken from us “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”