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Opinion

‘This Is Just Like 1984’: GameStop and A Dystopian Novel

Whenever Big Tech, government, or any large institution does something that restricts people’s actions and behavior, an instant cry is raised on all corners of the internet, cable news and radio talk shows: This is just like “1984”! But what is “1984,” and how relevant is it to the GameStop/Robinhood situation?

‘1984’, a 1949 novel by George Orwell

“1984” is a dystopian novel by British writer and democratic socialist George Orwell. Published in 1949, it is a response to Stalinist Russia and a caution against the dangers of totalitarian governments, invasive governmental surveillance, propaganda and the rewriting of the historical past. The novel is set in drab, futuristic Britain where non-conformity is forbidden, and the Thought Police rout out anyone who questions the current system.

Many of the terms invented for “1984” – Big Brother, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, doublethink – have entered common parlance and are used regularly to describe political and cultural events and trends. At the time of its publication, numerous other novels warning about the dangers of totalitarianism were being published – including “We,” “Brave New World,” and “Fahrenheit 451” – but “1984” remains the most commonly referenced in the media and popular culture.

GameStop, Robinhood and Wall Street

Robinhood’s and Big Tech’s responses to the rise in GameStop stock has been compared to “1984.” Why? The situation is a case of large corporations curtailing an individual’s freedom and ability to trade on the stock market. It looks like Big Tech is siding with Wall Street, controlling the stock market from the influence of individuals who want to buy and sell stocks.

The U.S. government also has indicated that they are keeping an eye on the situation and its effects on the stock market. However, multiple congresspeople from opposite sides of the aisle – most notably both Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ted Cruz – have spoken out against both Wall Street’s manipulation of the stock market.

What does GameStop have to do with ‘1984’ then?

People who compare current events to “1984” usually are trying to draw a parallel between the totalitarian society depicted in this book and the power government or corporations have to regulate people’s behavior today. However, these comparisons often fall flat if examined; for one, Big Tech and Wall Street are privately run corporations, not an all-powerful government. And the Soviet Union, Orwell’s inspiration for the Party and Big Brother, no longer exists, let alone exerts such total control. There are also many different viewpoints on this issue that are being expressed by both average Americans and Congresspeople on multiple platforms, so largescale and governmental suppression of expression also does not apply.

So, is “1984” relevant to today’s political and cultural landscape, particularly to the stock market? Like most broad statements, the answer really is “It depends,” but before you compare a current event to “1984,” you might want to ask yourself if this is actually a relevant comparison. There’s a “Brave New World” of other dystopian novels to reference, after all!

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