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If You Think Orwell is Too "Left Wing," I Think You're Too Daft

08/23/2012 08:42 EDT | Updated 10/22/2012 05:12 EDT
Le livre de Poche

By claiming that erecting a statue of George Orwell in front of the building of the BBC in Oxford Circus in central London is "too left-wing" an idea, Mark Thompson, general-director of the British Broadcasting Corporation, is effectively saying that the fight against censorship, the fight for honesty and clarity, and Orwell's "sworn, downright detestation/Of every despotism in every nation," (fine, Lord Byron's words, but they still apply here) are effectively "left-wing" ideals.

If that is the case, then we would all do very well to become a bit more "left-wing" ourselves.

Baroness Joan Bakewell of the George Orwell Memorial Trust - and veteran BBC broadcaster herself - approached Thompson, and proposed that they erect a statue of one of the 20th century's greatest man of letters in front of the building of the company he used to work for - fighting Nazi propaganda in India, no less. But Thompson refused, saying "Oh no, Joan, we can't possibly. It's far too left-wing an idea."

Now, there are two potential reasons for why Thompson would utter such an imbecility. One of them is that he might very well be a bumbling bureaucratic bore, the type which believes a news organization ought never champion, or at the very least, honour, an employee who -- gasp! -- has an opinion which some might disagree with.

The second possible reason is that Thompson does not understand Orwell. If this is the case, which it most likely is as the only "too" one could accuse Orwell of being is "good," then what we have here is a man who is completely unable to separate a man from his politics. Not personal life; politics.

Was George Orwell a socialist? You bet he was. Could he be characterized solely as such? Not on your life.

What Thompson fails to see in Orwell was that he was not a man who toed the party line, but rather, toed the line of honesty and integrity (two supposed values in journalism.) While other socialists would bend over backwards and alter their opinions to accept the brutalities of Stalin's Soviet regime, Orwell wrote Animal Farm which provides a brief history of how things came to be in the USSR by way of a story so simple that a child could understand, and in English so bare that it could be (and was intended to be) translated quickly and easily into a variety of languages for a better propagation of the warning of certain types of communism.

In his essay, "The Benefit of the Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali," Orwell claims that "One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being." This notion of being able to hold two opposing thoughts at all times is one of the reasons why we can still study Ezra Pound regardless of the fact that he was a Jew hater, or marvel at Manhattan, although we know Woody Allen to be an incestuous little creep; the life does not invalidate the work, and at the same time, the work does not excuse the life. It seems a bit odd to have to compare one's socialist leanings with Dali's penchant for human excrement, or Pound's raging anti-Semitism, but at the same time, it's outstanding that today, there is a debate surrounding honoring George Orwell in front of an organization whose purpose, it seemed, was to deliver honest reporting to the masses.

Maybe its Orwell's populist nature which offends Thompson, but it is Thompson's desire to pigeon-hole Orwell which offends anyone with a modicum of respect for the man who penned that old book called Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell's life was one of struggle in the truest sense of the word. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Down and Out in Paris and London, as vibrant as they may be, are carefully crafted works that show the pain and sweat that went into Orwell's work (and this is to say nothing of essays such as "Confessions of a Book Reviewer.") Works such as Animal Farm that come wrapped in laurels today only barely made it to the printing press, or escaped the German air raids.

Dead with tuberculosis at the age of 46, Orwell never lived to see his legacy, and how certain of his predictions would come to light in the strangest of ways (another topic). So if Baroness Bakewell and the Orwell Memorial Trust wish to have a statue of the perennial British writer erected on the grounds of the BBC, then let them. It would certainly do better for the reputation of the BBC than having someone like Mark Thompson at its head.