Publisher's Note: This blogs reflects a fictional narrative.
What follows is an imaginary discussion with Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the script for the award winning film Network, and Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell. Whenever possible, their words were taken verbatim from their respective and considerable bodies of work.
I hope you see their relevance to today's media and online marketing industries. Their eloquence necessitates splitting this discussion into two parts.
Jaffer Ali: Today we are honored to bring two literary giants together for a long overdue discussion. These prolific writers and social critics left behind much for us to digest. For our purposes here, we asked Mr. Orwell and Mr. Chayefsky to contrast and compare their respective seminal works, 1984 and Network,with an eye to what is happening in today's media-driven world. Thank you gentlemen for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers.
Paddy Chayefsky: I would first like to say how much in debt I am to Mr. Orwell. I was a young man when I first read 1984 and I had regular nightmares about one day waking up in a place called Oceania.
George Orwell: That is very kind of you Mr. Chayefsky.
PC: Please call me Paddy
GO: Thank you. And I must say, when I first viewed Network, I experienced a curious sense of déjà vu.
JA: If we can break from this love-fest for a few minutes, I'm sure our readers would like to know just how prescient each of you believe you were with 1984 and Network?
GO: Well, thankfully I didn't live long enough to hear my nom de plume associated with all things oppressive. Apparently it is rare indeed these days to avoid references to this or that being "Orwellian." But on a more serious note, it is difficult to observe 21st-century thought and attitude and not conclude that societal and technological perversions have exceeded my wildest dreams…or I should say nightmares?
JA: How so?
GO: Well, for starters, this generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that preceded it, and wiser than all those that will follow. As Mark Twain reminds us, this happens with every generation, but today's generation has such a lack of historical perspective, the past, for all intents and purposes, has been figuratively wiped out.
PC: George, can I call you George? I think I know why this is the case. Because less than three percent of the people read books! Because less than fifteen percent read newspapers or even consume news online! The only truth folks know is what they are fed over the television or computer. Right now, there is a whole generation that never knew anything that didn't emanate from some virtual source.
GO: It certainly is the case that to see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle. I once said, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." When I wrote 1984 sixty years ago, the techniques of controlling information were nothing like those we see today.
PC: I am glad you said that. I do not believe your novel envisioned such collaboration between government and the private sector. Back when you were writing, totalitarian governments controlled media out in the open. Everybody knew it. But not so today. Case in point, just a few years ago the U.S. government briefed 150 generals on exactly how the Pentagon wanted to sell the war in Iraq. They were then dispatched to be the sanctioned sources for all media. George, if you don't mind me saying this, you idealized the media because you trusted people like Edward R. Murrow. You never envisioned the private sector as government propagandists .You never considered how or why The New York Times would hire someone like Judith Miller (Pentagon groupie) to promote a government agenda… or imagined someone like Karl Rove paying $250,000 to a journalist (Armstrong Williams) to promote the party line. As far back as 1979, my friend Carl Bernstein broke the story that 400 journalists were on the CIA payroll. Propaganda has now become even less transparent than it was in the days of Stalin when EVERYONE knew the news was "cooked."
GO: Your point is well taken. Totalitarian government was the burning issue of the day back in 1949. Today I see the collusion between government and the private sector spawning a new breed of oppressive fascism, the offspring of an inseparable union between business and state.
PC: Precisely. You and yours perceived world events in terms of nations and peoples. But today there are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of currencies. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is this nameless, faceless global currency exchange that defines the totality of life on this planet. That is the nature of the world we have created for ourselves.
JA: That's quite an impassioned response, Mr. Chayefsky. Are you suggesting that the private sector has replaced the public sector as society's villain?
PC: Now is not the time for naiveté. Public officials are bought and sold like any commodity. If you wanted to maintain illusions, you should have interviewed Judith Miller and Karl Rove, rather than George and me. Those who perceive any meaningful daylight between government and big business are either not paying attention, or are selectively blind.
PC: Ask yourself: Who received $700 million in bailout money from the Bush Administration? The very same guys who received three times that amount from the Obama Administration, that's who! Our capacity for trust allows us to be easily seduced through clever political language and a media that appears free, when in reality it's all theater, bought and paid for by the highest bidder.
GO: Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.
JA: Mr. Orwell, I believe you're exaggerating. Do you also feel compelled to indict the free-market processes that fuel our consumer culture?
GO: Please remember, all this cyber nonsense is new to me. But it doesn't take a genius to understand that behavioral targeting is about as bad as it gets. I'm not sure it's even advertising. What I do know for certain is that behavioral targeting represents a complete violation of our personal lives. And it gets worse the more we expose ourselves to its misguided purpose.
PC: I must caution you George, when you mention behavioral targeting, you're meddling with the primal forces of nature. You may think you've merely commented on an ill-conceived business practice, but in reality an entire online industry has placed its eggs in this one basket. Take companies like Choicepoint, Datran Media and Axciom for instance. They have accumulated huge databases of personal information on private citizens. I know that at least two of these companies have large contracts with the government to furnish this very information.
JA: Are you both in agreement that behavioral targeting technologies are unethical, perhaps even immoral?
GO: I believe the potential consequences of this new science extend beyond their moral implications. Ill-considered or unconsidered technologies are inherently dangerous. I have read what purveyors of behavioral targeting (BT) have to say about their craft and they're either impervious to the truth, or purposely silent regarding their own fears.
To be continued next week…
About Jaffer Ali Jaffer Ali is CEO of Vidsense, The Video Snack Network. With more than 100,000 advertiser-friendly video clips licensed from major film and TV studios, the Vidsense Video Snack Network of more than 50,000 safe-for-work websites delivers millions of qualified visitors directly to advertiser websites on a pure Pay-Per-Visitor (PPV) basis.
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