The song “1984” is a protest song. It is an adaptation of GeorgeOrwell’s book that has the similar title. Bowie rebels against bigbrother, from Orwell’s book. The inspiration of the song derivesfrom Winston Smith, a character in the book. The lyrics cautionWinston about the coming dystopian future, which will be governed bybig brother. However, Bowie does not only caution Winston, buteveryone that listens to the song.
In the first line of “1984”, Bowie says “someday they won’tlet you, so now you must agree” (AZLyrics). The singer iswarning about a future when people will not have free will. This isbecause they will become brainwashed by the dystopian government,just like Winston is brainwashed by big brother. Bowie urges peoplenot to accept any form of dictatorship when they are able to enjoyfree will. Hence, people must rebel any oppression, for instance bygovernment. In order to urge people to rebel, the singer uses wordslike “you’ve read it in the tea leaves, and tracks are on TV”(AZLyrics). To read from the tea leaves is a conventionalmanner of envisioning what will happen later. In addition, tea isalways rationed during war, like in England. Hence, Bowie uses thetea leaves example to warn listeners on what to expect. The tracksbeing on television relates to Orwell’s book, where citizens aremonitored by government and their actions are tracked on television.
In the second verse, Bowie warns that “They’ll split your prettycranium, and fill it full of air and tell that you’re eighty, butbrother, you won’t care” (AZLyrics). It is clear that thewords have been carefully chosen to demonstrate what happens whenpeople are brainwashed. The singer uses these lines to emphasize onwhy people should be concerned about a dystopian future. In thechorus, Bowie is concerned that people will just allow themselves tobecome oppressed. By saying “you said it would last, but I guess weenrolled” (AZLyrics), he is talking about the characters inOrwell’s “1984” that have joined the army and become members ofthe government that is oppressing them. In the song’s bridge, Bowieintroduces a different character, one that is ready to rebel theoppressive system. He sings “I’m looking for a vehicle I’mlooking for a ride. I’m looking for a party I’m looking for aside. I’m looking for the treason that I knew in 65” (AZLyrics).The singer sings about a character that seeks an escape from theircurrent society. The individual can either take a ride to a newplace, or form a party that rallies against dystopia. There is clearreminiscence to 65, probably 1965 when he was part of a society thatwould rebel the repressive system.
Comparison with Society
“1984” compares to our current society in so many ways. Bowiesings about a society that is controlled by the authoritarian bigbrother. In the society, people are constantly monitored as isevident by “the tracks on TV” (AZLyrics). The singerrefers to television screens in Orwell’s novel, which are used inairing government propaganda. However, the screens are as well usedin monitoring the life and activities of citizens. In our currentsociety, the act of government spying on its civilians is somethingcommon. It is not just government that spies, but also organizations.For instance, websites such as face book are able to access theprivate information of their users. The government monitors theactivities of civilians through the “National Security Agency”,which records calls people make through phones. Governments also havethe freedom to hack into their civilians computers. We are surroundedby surveillance cameras all over, be it at workplaces, schools ormalls among other places, which spy on daily activities. Bowie isurging people to rebel against infringement of their privacy.
Still on the issue of privacy, Bowie uses the illustration ofbrainwashing to talk about people who have been made to believe in aregime, such that they do not question its oppression. He says,“They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air”(AZLyrics). Bowie is referring to a society that is unable toquestion why some things happen as they do. This compares tosociety’s continuous use of new communication gadgets. People areobsessed by the use of tablets, smartphones and are crazy aboutsocial media. The organizations behind these technologicaldevelopments, praise them for how they have managed to make our livesbetter. People are able to communicate fast, take pictures and shareon face book. It has become possible for relatives to locate eachother from social networking sites, where they constantly exchangeinformation. As a result, society has come to believe that thesetools are very important. However, they are oblivious of how the sameorganizations promoting these technologies use them to spy on users.By encouraging people to share more information online, it becomeseasier to learn about the individual. For instance, an individual’sprofile on social media can be used to locate where they live, workor school.
The singer warns of the “savage jaw of 1984” (AZLyrics).He refers to the government that is focused on ensuring it controlsits people by inflicting fear. The use of the words savage jaw may bereferring to something or a leader that is merciless. Today, societyhas to constantly deal with the war on terror. The rise of terrorgroups makes it impossible for people to live in peace. Terrorisminflicts fear in citizens, because they do not know when terroristsmay decide to strike. As a result, most governments have implementeda “war on terror”, which has no apparent end. Also to someextent, the US can be said to be endangering the lives of itscivilians through its many military conflicts. First it was in Iraqand Afghanistan. Now the government is becoming involved in Syria andLibya. These military actions endanger the lives of people, forinstance, supposing Syria was to join forces with Libya andreiterate.
The issue of doublethink is apparent in the song. Bowie talks of thepeople, who enrolled into the military, according to Orwell’s book,are the same people now seeking ways to escape from the government.The singer is referring to the characters who at one time supportedthe government that they now desire to rebel against. It compares toour society today where people have mixed opinions on what theysupport. For instance, activists may be in support of abortion, whileat the same time support the move to have abortion clinics regulated.In another illustration, the same government that will support therights of people is the same government that will infringe in theirprivacy.
AZLyrics. David Bowie Lyrics “1984”, 2016. http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/davidbowie/1984.html